Modeling Marine Bird Habitat in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

Submitted by atripp on

The northern Gulf of Mexico is a dynamic environment, serving as critical habitat for marine bird species and supporting substantial yet spatially variable oil and gas activity. Under-monitoring of marine birds in the region has constrained the ability to mitigate, anticipate, and respond to potential stressors such as oil spills, pollution events, or tropical storms. Recent vessel-based surveys of seabirds associated with the Gulf of Mexico Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (GoMMAPPS) have resulted in the most spatially and temporally extensive seabird monitoring effort to date. From April 2017 – October 2019, 14 surveys with GoMMAPPS seabird observers documented seabird occurrence and abundance across ~40,000 kilometer and ~2,000 hours of survey effort. This effort yielded ~7,000 observations representing ~31,500 individuals of 67 marine bird species. Preliminary results suggest a a large number of the continent's black terns (Chlidonias niger), the 11th-most injured seabird species in the Deepwater Horizon post-spill assessment, use the Mississippi River Delta as staging, migratory, and non-breeding habitat for up to eight months of the year. Although commonly associated with tropical coastal environments, observations of brown booby (Sula leucogaster), were widespread in pelagic Gulf waters, even more so than the regionally breeding masked booby (Sula dactylatra). Most notably, unexpectedly frequent observations of black-capped petrel (Pterodroma hasitata), a species currently petitioned for protection under the Endangered Species Act, were also made. Models characterizing the habitat use of marine birds in the Gulf are being developed using models created by the HYCOM (Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model) consortium. This consortium is composed of multiple institutions that use satellite and ocean-derived data to create three-dimensional depictions of the ocean. The fine resolution of HYCOM model output (hourly to daily, 1/25º) and range of outputs facilitate the development of habitat models relevant to ecological and management scales. Ongoing work will provide much-needed insights into the distributions and habitat use of marine birds using the northern Gulf of Mexico. This enhanced understanding can inform future traditional offshore energy development (including oil and gas), as well as potential alternative energy development (including wind, wave, and current energy).


Author Name
Patrick Jodice
Author Email