The area of potential shallow-water tropical and subtropical coral ecosystems in the United States
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Geographic information system-based analysis was used to derive comprehensive, consistent estimates of the potential area of broadly defined, shallow-water, tropical and subtropical coral ecosystems within the territorial sea and exclusive economic zone of the United States. A coral ecosystem is composed of habitats including unconsolidated sediment, mangrove, hermatypic coral, colonized hardbottom, and submerged vegetation, and major structural zones like reef crest, lagoon, and fore reef. This broad definition reflects the importance of both reef and non-reef habitats and structural zones in the function of these ecosystems. Nautical charts, published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of the Coast Survey, provide a consistent source of 10-fathom (∼18 m) and 100-fathom (∼183 m) depth curve information. The 10-fathom or 100-fathom depth curves are used as surrogates for the potential distribution and extent of shallow-water coral ecosystems in tropical and subtropical U.S. waters. An estimated 36,813 sq·km area has been identified where coral ecosystems can potentially be found in waters less than 10 fathoms (18 m) deep. In addition, an estimated 143,059 sq·km area has been identified where coral ecosystems potentially can be found in U.S. waters at depths down to 100 fathoms (183 m). Results also indicate that previous studies underestimated the extent of potential coral ecosystems for some locations in U.S. tropical and subtropical waters by as much as 100% and that the regional distribution of coral ecosystems has been incorrectly reported.