Accurate maps are one of the fundamental tools needed to manage any resource but existing charts and maps are outdated. Federal, State, and local managers throughout the Pacific have placed a high priority on the development of new map products for these areas. Without these maps the baseline data required to detect changes in the distribution of coral reef communities are lacking for most moderate (20 to 100 m) waters in the U.S.-affiliated Pacific islands.
At the same time, coral reef ecosystems are experiencing high levels of stress from either human or natural causes. In the U.S. Pacific Islands, a growing population is placing greater demands on the coastal marine resources at the same time that global climate change and the introduction of alien species is further stressing these systems. The occurrence of an unexpected, major coral bleaching event in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in 2002 testifies to the severity and prevalence of threats to these ecosystems and their vulnerability.
Many management activities, such as the delineation of marine protected areas (MPAs),which are believed to be effective in preserving and enhancing the marine resources they are designed to protect, require detailed maps that characterize the substrate and biological communities associated with it. The overwhelming need for maps of coral reef ecosystem habitats is underscored by the endorsement by the U.S. Coral Reef Task Forces of the Coral Reef Mapping Implementation Plan, which calls for the comprehensive mapping of all U.S. coral reef habitats.