The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is funding and participating in a federal research partnership that has launched an intensive 3-year program to improve assessment studies of protected marine species in the Gulf of Mexico.
The initiative is using aerial surveys, ship-based surveys and satellite tagging to collect the best information possible on the abundance and distribution of marine mammals, seabirds and sea turtles in the Gulf to inform federally mandated environmental assessments related to offshore energy and marine minerals development.
The partnership, known as the Gulf of Mexico Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (GoMMAPPS), was recently finalized through signed agreements between the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Southeast Region;, and the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Wetlands and Aquatic Research Center. The initiative is officially recognized as a research partnership through the National Oceanographic Partnership Program.
Together, these federal agencies will collect the best information possible on protected marine species in the Gulf, including spatial and temporal information from near-shore to the outer extent of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.
BOEM’s Environmental Studies Program (ESP) funds “use-inspired” research to inform its decision-making processes. To this end, BOEM ESP funding of GoMMAPPS will help enhance information that will help in the mitigation and monitoring of impact-producing factors, including underwater noise, vessel traffic, entanglement, trash and debris, discharges/produced water, and accidental spills. BOEM is contributing $7.5 million incrementally over 4 years; other partners are contributing vessels and staffing.
Stakeholder and public engagement, including annual outreach meetings, are an important component of the GoMMAPPS initiative as it moves from its planning to fieldwork stage. The data collected should provide additional information for the long-term restoration and recovery of the Gulf ecosystem.
A project webpage has been launched and will provide frequent updates on fieldwork and outreach events. The presentations on the website provide the science plans that detail the field surveys, including methodologies, survey designs, anticipated data analyses and modeling, and data management and dissemination. A data management framework is being developed to ensure that data stewardship guidelines are implemented and that resulting datasets are made publicly available to support decision-making on protected species in the Gulf.