One of the most challenging aspects of undertaking environmental impact statements (EIS) is determining the distribution and abundance of aquatic organisms such as corals, for which there is limited survey data on their occurrence. In particular, understanding how the specific environmental conditions of a particular geographical area - potentially being approved for natural resource extraction - may or may not support corals and other marine biota. Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions conducts EIS guided by surveys from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and provides an estimation of the type and density of corals and other aquatic species likely to be found within its client's proposed oil and gas project area. In order to make appropriate management recommendations and to suggest suitable mitigation actions, Wood requires a better understanding of the ecology and distribution of corals offshore Newfoundland. Therefore, this proposal aims to develop unique probability models of suitable habitats for corals. The new knowledge generated will include predicted areas of high coral density and the identification of the most important environmental variables that determine coral suitable habitat. This new information will be incorporated within Wood's EIS which will permit the targeting of offshore activities more efficiently to avoid interactions with corals.
Following recommendations from Wood we will select three coral species for which species distribution models will be estimated: a shallow water, a deep-sea specialist, and a species with a wide depth range. With the technical help of Wood professionals, we will obtain occurrence data from DFO in a format suitable for modelling. Using environmental data such as depth, slope of the seabed, velocity of tidal currents, temperature, wave height, and substrate type, these distribution models will be able to predict the location of the most suitable habitats to sustain them. This work will fill a knowledge gap that results in sometimes-inappropriate management recommendations, therefore Wood will benefit from the research outcomes, as well as the natural resource sector, and government regulatory agencies responsible for approving natural resource extraction.