Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Marine Affairs and Policy (Marine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Liana Talaue-McManus

Second Committee Member

Maria L. Estevanez

Third Committee Member

Marilyn E. Brandt


In 2008 an initial benthic habitat map was completed by the contractor Avineon, Inc. The National Park Service South Florida / Caribbean Network (SFCN) conducted an accuracy assessment of the map and found the overall habitat identification to be acceptable. However, upon further inspection, the soft-bottom habitat classifications displayed a relatively high level of accuracy, while the hard-bottom habitats were below an acceptable level. With the acquisition of new higher resolution side scan sonar data and 2054 field data points from multiple sources, the 2008 map was revised and improved by utilizing these new data sets to produce the 2010 Dry Tortugas benthic habitat map. The 2010 Dry Tortugas benthic habitat map was developed using 13 mapping classes and 1709 polygons totaling an area of 26,229 hectares. All “Unknown” areas (10,444 hectares) in the 2008 map were identified, the line work for the hard-bottom areas was fine-tuned and a mapping layer was developed showing those areas which have a higher potential for fish and benthic biodiversity. In addition, a final bathymetry layer for the park was developed by merging the existing light detection and ranging (LiDAR) and newly acquired side scan sonar/bathymetry data. The current management plan for the Dry Tortugas National Park (DRTO) marine areas focuses much of its effort on the Research Natural Area (RNA). The intensive amount of research effort placed on the RNA has also accomplished the research needed for the rest of DRTO because current research and monitoring efforts are split equally between areas of the DRTO that fall within and outside the RNA to make for a balanced comparative study design. In February of 2007, National Park Service (NPS) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) developed a science plan to assess conservation effectiveness for the RNA in conjunction with the rest of DRTO and the two nearby existing marine reserves. The implementation of the science plan has been accomplished through collaboration and cooperation of federal and state agencies, academic scientists, and NPS. The new benthic habitat map and corresponding products will help in showing what types of marine habitats are located in the Dry Tortugas National Park and provide the ability to track whether management interventions are effectively protecting the environment and associated resources.


benthic habitat; GIS; photointerpretation