The Future of Marine Habitat Mapping

Report Launched by European Marine Board for Advancing Seas and Ocean Science

©Francesco Ungaro

©Francesco Ungaro

On June 17th, 2024, the European Marine Board (EMB) launched its Future Science Brief No. 11 on ‘Marine habitat mapping’ in Brussels. This significant report underscores the critical need for accurate and extensive marine habitat maps to support a variety of marine policies and ambitions, including the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the European Green Deal.

The Importance of Marine Habitat Mapping

Accurate marine habitat maps are essential for understanding and managing marine ecosystems. These maps are vital for policy implementation and environmental conservation. However, large areas remain unmapped, and existing maps often lack sufficient biological detail. Most current maps tend to focus on physical aspects, while higher resolution maps are necessary to better represent the linkages between the seabed and water column, and to consider the marine environment.

Key Highlights from the Report

The report highlights current methods and future trends in the acquisition of data from the seabed and water column via remote sensing and direct, in situ techniques. It discusses combining data to produce maps using modelling approaches and presents recommendations for adopting fit-for-purpose habitat classification schemes. It also provides an overview of what has been mapped and where within the European sea-basins, highlights the need to increase the quality and resolution of marine habitat maps. It identifies critical gaps in habitat types and geographic extent, including the coastal areas, the deep sea, Natura 2000 sites and other Marine Protected Areas across all regional seas. Finally, it describes the need to improve the assessment and communication of uncertainty and confidence in maps, and to make maps more easily accessible to a variety of stakeholders to increase their value for end-users and to the public for Ocean literacy.
Some of the key recommendations in the reports are to:
  • ▪ Advance novel methods to increase the resolution of biological information within marine habitat mapping
  • ▪ Focus on repeat mapping to understand temporal change, especially in ecosystem hotspots
  • ▪ Promote the standardisation of mapping methods and outputs
  • ▪ Encourage publishing of marine habitat mapping data according to the Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR) principles
  • ▪ Support public-private research collaboration for the development of cost-effective mapping tools
Our hyperspectral imaging technology offers the potential to collect more detailed and efficient in situ mapping data.

Our hyperspectral imaging technology offers the potential to collect more detailed and efficient in situ mapping data.

Hyperspectral Imaging and AI

The report specifically discusses the limitations of traditional methods for higher-resolution mapping of the seafloor and the potential for new technology, like Hyperspectral Imaging, Photogrammetry and AI, core elements of PlanBlue’s technology. We’re very pleased with the endorsement for our work through their recommendation that “in the future, in situ data collection should aim to decrease costs through the greater use of autonomous platforms (i.e. AUVs) and AI for image processing”. For those more familiar with us you will spot PlanBlue’s technology in the image on page 21.
The authors support our message with their conclusion that the application of AI techniques, such as machine learning and deep learning, have the potential to contribute to and revolutionise many aspects of marine habitat mapping, from the acquisition of data through to the production and interpretation of end products, including automated image analysis. We would like to thank European Marine Board for the great work they are doing to advanced this field of work and highly recommend to everyone to read the full report.
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