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Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS)

The Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS) provides a common language for marine science and management and a template for translating existing habitat classification schemes to a common framework so that mapping results can be more easily compared and integrated. The CMECS classification framework is composed of two “settings” (Biogeographic, and Aquatic), and four “components” (Water Column, Geoform, Substrate, Biotic), plus descriptor modifiers and an integrated unit called Biotope. CMECS is applicable at multiple scales, and facilitates the integration of multiple datasets. The ability of CMECS to integrate marine units from different sources is valuable to regulators and policy makers who often need to bring together complex environmental and biological information into a common dataset to make informed decisions. CMECS was developed by NOAA, NatureServe, EPA, and USGS and is endorsed by the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC).

Application of CMECS in the Northeast United States

In the Northeast United States, efforts are underway to better organize and integrate marine spatial data to support ocean planning and management efforts. An important step in this process is translating existing data to a common language, so heterogeneous data can be viewed in a common, region-wide framework to better facilitate decision-making. In order to continue this process, we tested the utility of CMECS in crosswalking and mapping legacy classified benthic habitat data at the local (1:5,000), subregional (1:250,000), and regional (1:5,000,000) scales. The results of this work will be useful in understanding how the standard can be used to maximize the utility of existing data and in developing methods to aid in crosswalking.
In this project we crosswalked 40 existing classification schemes to CMECS and provided crosswalked CMECS maps for a select few schemes/datasets. At the local scale (small scale estuary-specific) we assessed the utility of CMECS to bring together high-resolution benthic information for Boston Harbor (Massachusetts). At the subregional scale we translated datasets assembled for marine spatial planning efforts in Rhode Island and adjacent federal waters as well as representative schemes from Maine, New Hampshire and Connecticut into the CMECS framework. At the regional scale we applied the classification to The Nature Conservancy’s Benthic Habitat Model from the Northwest Atlantic Marine Ecoregional Assessment (NAMERA) and The National Estuarine Research Reserve System Classification (NERRSC) scheme. All of our methods, results, crosswalks, maps, challenges and recommendations are documented in the final report and supplementary crosswalk table spreadsheet.


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