Many countries have classification standards for their environmental resources including criteria for classifying coastal and marine ecosystems. Until 2012, the United States just had a nationwide protocol for classifying terrestrial and aquatic habitats with no national standard for marine and most coastal habitats. In 2012 the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS) was implemented to address this need. In the past, coastal and marine classifications were developed at the regional or local level. Since its inception, the CMECS has not been applied in many geographic areas. My study was one of the first to apply the CMECS to the benthic habitats in the nearshore Northeastern Gulf of Mexico. Sidescan sonar mapping and dive surveys were completed at 33 sites at depths 10–23 m. Hardbottom and sand habitats characterized the study area, and the underwater surveys revealed hard corals, sponges, and macroalgae as the dominant taxa on the hardbottom. The CMECS was applied to the overall study area rather than each individual site or groups of similar sites because habitat and environmental characteristics, primarily outside the context of the CMECS, appeared to influence the distribution of taxa across sites more than the CMECS geoform, substrate, and water column components. The CMECS worked well for classifying the entire study area, but was not adequate for classifying the complex fine-scale habitats and temporal variations observed; modifications to the CMECS could help resolve these issues.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited