Habitat maps are a useful tool to fisheries researchers and assessors but are not often available for a large scale project. Jodi Pirtle, a postdoc working for the Gulf of Alaska project, applies her seafloor mapping skill set to the Gulf of Alaska Integrated Ecosystem project to provide information on habitat.
Born and raised in Cordova, Alaska, Pirtle finds a lot of meaning in the work she is contributing to the project. “I've been thinking about this stuff my whole life,” she says. In the effort to better understand five species of commercially caught fish, Pirtle has been overlaying fisheries survey data on high resolution seafloor maps to get a better idea of the habitat preference of different fish.
“It's landscape modeling which has been going on a long time on land, now applied to the ocean,” says Pirtle who works at the NOAA Auke Bay Lab in Juneau. “We are taking GIS data of all kinds – kelp beds, geology, seafloor terrain – and merging that with fisheries survey data to generate habitat suitability models and maps.” This kind of work has gone on on a small scale throughout the Gulf but this is the first large scale Gulf wide project of its kind.