By Shannon D. Whaley
Shallow, near-shore waters are used extensively as nurseries by juveniles of many fishery species. These same areas can be particularly vulnerable to damage caused by oil spills. Staff at the Center for Spatial Analysis are currently working with Research Planning, Inc. (RPI) in incorporating spatial distribution information on early life stages of fishes into the latest version of the Environmental Sensitivity Index mapping application for the southwestern portion of peninsular Florida. RPI’s Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) application is used throughout the United States for oil-spill contingency planning and response. In the event of an oil spill, maps of biological resources are combined with models predicting the trajectory of the spill to quickly and intelligently respond to and minimize its ecological impact .
Using long-term fisheries independent monitoring data collected in shallow waters (< 1.5 m depth) of Charlotte Harbor, we performed
ordination analysis of community structure to identify patterns in species composition and relative abundance along important ecological gradients. We used the most influential ecological/spatial gradients identified in our ordination analysis to develop maps of nekton abundance and distribution patterns. Results include maps that divide shallow waters of Charlotte Harbor into zones of relatively similar species composition. These zone maps can be used to examine relative densities and distribution of individual species deemed as having economic, cultural, or ecological significance.
A draft list of fish species to be included in ESI is currently under revision, and the next step will be a formal review of the species list and seasonal distribution maps by fish species experts. Incorporating maps of fish nursery areas will compliment data on many other taxa, including sea turtle nesting sites, bird rookeries, and seagrasses and wetland habitat already in the ESI mapping application.