Marine Bird Populations and the Gulf of Mexico Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (GoMMAPPS)

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The Challenge: The Gulf of Mexico has critically important breeding, staging, and wintering habitats for North America’s migratory birds. Unfortunately, limited information is available to quantitatively characterize species composition, distribution, and abundance of birds Gulf-wide, particularly for seabirds. The number of platforms and cumulative level of oil and gas activity in the northern Gulf exceeds all other Bureau of Ocean Energy Management regions combined. As a result, information on bird populations is important for assisting decision-making about offshore resource extraction and efforts to mitigate potential effects to avian resources.  

The Science: The GoMMAPPS ( Seabird Project is anticipated to be the most spatially and temporally extensive avian research effort in the northern Gulf of Mexico, and will document the distribution, abundance, and diversity of birds for the purposes of informing regulatory decisions that influence the conservation of migratory birds. A key component of this project includes identifying and determining how natural and anthropogenic variables of the northern Gulf influence birds in nearshore and pelagic environments.

There are two main components of the GoMMAPPS Seabird Project: (1) Design and implementation of aerial and vessel-based surveys to collect information characterizing the distribution, abundance, and diversity of birds in the northern Gulf; and (2) Model-based analyses of these data and other empirical data to interpret the influences of natural and anthropogenic variables on avian populations. The project will evaluate hypotheses about the presence and status of offshore oil and gas platforms; fisheries activities; micro-habitat or forage indicators; oceanographic features; and broad-scale weather patterns. 
The Future: Aerial-based surveys will take place during summer and winter seasons 2017-2019 in the nearshore environment out to ~50 nautical miles. These surveys will be conducted using USFWS Kodiak amphibious aircraft and span the entirety of the northern Gulf, from the Texas-Mexico border to the Florida Keys. Vessel-based surveys will be conducted cooperatively with NOAA staff on vessels conducting routine fisheries, plankton, and marine mammal surveys. A Final Report including analyses of all data collected, spatially-explicit Decision Support Tools, relevant models and scientific computing code, maps, and a database will be provided to BOEM at the end of this project.