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Widespread rocky reef occurrence in the central English Channel and the implications for predictive habitat mapping

TitleWidespread rocky reef occurrence in the central English Channel and the implications for predictive habitat mapping
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsDiesing, M, Coggan, R, Vanstaen, K
JournalEstuarine, Coastal, and Shelf Sci.Estuarine, Coastal, and Shelf Sci.Estuarine, Coastal, and Shelf Sci.
Keywordsbenthic assessment, benthic habitat, benthic terrain modeler, BTM, continental shelves, English Channel, Europe, geohab, Habitat, reefs, rocks, seafloor mapping, sediment transport

Reefs are one of the marine habitats listed in Annex I of the European Union's Habitats Directive, which aims to establish a coherent European ecological network of Special Areas of Conservation. EU Member States are required to prepare and propose a national list of sites for evaluation under the scheme, but currently the occurrence of reefs in the United Kingdom's nearshore and offshore areas is not well documented. Here we report on our search for rocky reefs in the central English Channel, which unexpectedly revealed an extensive reef system covering an area of 1100 km2. Prior to our work, it was generally perceived that the seabed in this area comprised mostly gravel, with a few isolated rock outcrops.

Our approach to determining the location, extent and character of these reefs incorporated broad, medium and fine-scale analyses over a 3200 km2 area of seabed, using single- and multi-beam acoustic data, ground-truthed by underwater video and stills imagery. A benthic terrain model was developed in ArcGIS to map topographic features at the broad and medium scales. Biotope assignments were made at the fine scale through detailed analysis of video footage obtained from 30 sampling stations. The study area has a complex geological history and lies at the centre of a major bedload-parting zone. Together, these strongly influence the seabed character and the distribution of biotopes. An integrated assessment of the physical and biological features was used to map the study area to level 4 of the EUNIS habitat classification system.

Similar physical conditions exist in other areas of the UK continental shelf, raising the prospect of predicting where other rocky reef systems might occur. In the absence of a co-ordinated national seabed survey programme, such predictions, coupled with interpretation of existing single-beam bathymetry data, can help prioritise areas where limited survey resources could be most effectively deployed.

Short TitleEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf ScienceEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
Alternate JournalEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science