Updated ESIs to Improve Disaster Response and Planning

In addition to causing devastating damage to manmade structures, the strong winds and waves of Post Tropical Cyclone Sandy caused considerable change to shorelines in the northeast, particularly in the metropolitan New York area, northern Long Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey. In the wake of Sandy, under the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, funds were allocated to update OR&R’s existing northeast ESI maps to reflect changes caused by the storm and to add information that would enhance the maps’ value when another disaster strikes. You can read more about the ESI updates in this OR&R Blog post.


You can see representative coastal habitat in a large wildlife conservation area managed by Bass River State Forest at the north end of Brigantine Island, a popular beach destination located on the New Jersey coast. (NOAA)

Hitting the Road for the South Florida ESI Review


Before NOAA OR&R releases a new Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) atlas, it provides a rigorous review and testing of the data. It’s particularly important to review the draft product with key data providers to insure that the resources mapped are as accurate as possible within the ESI product. Biologists at our contract partner, Research Planning, Inc. (RPI), recently conducted a “road trip review” of the ESI data for South Florida. Jen Weaver, a biologist for RPI, provides an overview of that adventure. Thanks, Jen.


                                       Manatee sampling red mangrove leaves.                                             Source: Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC). Photo: John Parker.


Chris Boring and I, from RPI, and Richard Knudsen, from Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), recently traveled through South Florida to review the draft ESI data for that region. It was a busy week – in 5 days, we drove 1,000 miles and met with state, federal and NGO scientists! The draft product was well-received by all and the comments we received were really helpful. RPI conducted a digital only review for the two draft Florida ESI products (Panhandle and South Florida) with data providers throughout the state. Participants were willing and able to successfully review the draft ESIs in this format without the use of draft hardcopy ESI maps.

Among the state and federal agencies and NGOs we consulted, and who provided input or data to the new product, were:

The staff at the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center was particularly excited to see their data used in a new and interesting way. There was interest from our data providers in making this a dynamic product and being able to access the data using a Web service. Just a few more great ideas for the future of ESIs!


Zeroing in on Threatened and Endangered Species

I’m happy to announce a new ESI product – the Threatened and Endangered (T&E) Species Geodatabases!  The T&E geodatabases comprise a subset of the original ESI data, focusing on the coastal species and habitats that are federally and/or state listed as endangered, threatened, protected, or as a species of concern. The complexity of ESI data can make it difficult for those who use the data intermittently to quickly extract the information they need. These T&E databases will offer a more user-friendly option to access some of the most critical biological information for a region.

The geodatabases are offered on our ESI Downloads page, but read on to learn more about them.

The T&E data are provided in a personal geodatabase format (.mdb). In addition, a map document (.mxd) and separate layer files are available. These replicate the standard ESI symbology and contain links to the supplemental data tables. Each geodatabase corresponds in coverage to an original ESI atlas and contains individual species layers (feature classes), along with the land/water interface (hydro layer) for geographic reference.


Some T&E species found in the Great South Bay of Long Island Sound

For each atlas, a map document (.mxd) has been created to incorporate all of the T&E species data. These documents, for use in Esri’s ArcMap software, use all of the standard ESI colors and hatch patterns. In the above example, you see Great South Bay from the Long Island ESI atlas. Polygons indicate where several threatened or endangered species occur in June, and are symbolized as shown below.


Sample legend for map above

The table of contents, shown above on the left side of the map, lists all the T&E species found in the Long Island atlas. At the top of the list, in bold, is the data frame name: Long Island T&E Species – 2009. Because the listing status is dynamic, each map document and data frame name includes the year of the atlas publication. As always, it is important to remember that the ESI data are a “snapshot in time.” The publication year is also included in each record of the feature attribute table, as shown below.


Sample feature attribute tables for two of the T&E species layers

The feature attribute tables include all of the basic information associated with each polygon, point, or line. The tables include fields for subelement (an ESI grouping of species with similar habitat preferences and feeding styles), common name, genus and species, threatened and endangered status, atlas publication date, concentration, seasonal presence, and life history summaries. There are also “month” fields, to simplify searching for presence of a species in a particular month or season.

Three related tables are available if more information is desired. These are the sources table, the breed_dt table, and the ThreatenedEndangered table. These provide search capability  within a species for monthly breeding activities and  information about the original data source.

Aside from viewing these data in the “canned” ArcMap T&E documents, they can easily be brought into existing map projects. Layer files are available that include the symbology, as well as links to the three supplementary tables if they are added to the ArcMap data frame. In the near future, these data will also be available within NOAA’s online mapping tool, ERMA, and as a separate map service. These additional products will bring ESI data to many users who lack access to Esri’s ArcMap.

If you have any questions about the new geodatabases, please contact us or post a comment if you think it may be of interest to others.

On the topic of comments, I want to thank all of you who wrote publicly or privately about the utility of the new ESI blog. I appreciate your feedback and am pleased to hear that we have an enthusiastic group looking forward to sharing information and ideas. So you know, due to personnel leave schedules, there may be a delay in the posting and response to any comments submitted over the next several days. I appreciate your understanding and look forward to hearing your thoughts on this new product and/or anything ESI!

Happy New Year to all!

Jill Petersen

Welcome to the new ESI blog!

Participants at the 2012 Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) workshop unanimously agreed that we need an easier way to share information and ideas amongst each other. My hope is that this blog will serve that purpose. I envision this as a forum where we can make announcements regarding new atlases, tools, and ESI products, but more importantly, I envision this as an opportunity to hear from all of you. As we found at the workshop, sharing what you are doing with the ESI data can benefit other users, as well as the data producers. Guest bloggers and comments on blog posts will be welcomed and encouraged!

On the topic of the ESI workshop, I want to thank everyone who made our time in Mobile, Ala. such a wonderful success! This includes those who attended and presented at the workshop, those who took the time to complete the pre-workshop survey, and those who helped with the logistics and planning. Thanks to all of you, we were able to improve our insight into the “who’s and how’s” of the current ESI product and garner valuable ideas of what might improve the ESI experience in the future.

Workshop participants from across the U.S. shared their experience and ideas to help define the future of ESI mapping. (NOAA)

We had a wonderful, amazingly diverse group of people gathered in Mobile. The 40 participants represented 12 coastal states and two countries. Federal and state governmental agencies, industry, and non-profit organizations were all represented. There were new faces, as well as the faces of a few ESI users who had attended the very first ESI workshop back in 1992. And we were among the first to use the new NOAA Disaster Response Center, which proved to be a wonderful venue for this sort of meeting.

We have been busy updating the workshop Web page. Presentations and notes from the break-out sessions are posted and available for download. Please check it out!

I hope this blog will keep our conversations and ideas flowing and I look forward to broadening our group to those who were unable to join us in Mobile. Watch for posts in the near future that will address the status of the ESI work in progress, announcements of new ESI work for 2013, and a new Threatened and Endangered “ESI” offshoot. I also have some guest bloggers in mind, so be forewarned—I may be contacting you soon!

Jill Petersen