State-federal partnership updates map of vital fish habitat


State and federal partners, led by the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership (APNEP), have published a map of the extent and density of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) in North Carolina’s sounds during 2013. SAV, also known as seagrasses or underwater grasses, improve water clarity and quality, decrease shoreline erosion, and are an essential habitat for many fishery and wildlife species.

“Mapping and monitoring of this important habitat is essential to understanding the health of our sounds and critical to proper management of many important east coast fisheries,” states APNEP Director Dr. Bill Crowell.  Mapping SAV in the Albemarle-Pamlico estuary was done through a combination of aerial flights and ground truthing with boat-based surveys.  This survey was made possible through strong collaboration by members of APNEP’s SAV Team. Team lead Dr. Jud Kenworthy states that “the survey would not be possible without the diverse expertise of the Team and the willingness of partners to contribute staff and infrastructure to conduct the surveys.”

This map provides an update to the higher salinity areas of a 2006-2008 SAV map that was the first to detail the location of underwater grasses along the entire North Carolina and southern Virginia estuarine coastlines. The addition of the 2013 map will allow APNEP and its partners to begin detecting trends in the region’s underwater grasses – if the resource is growing, declining, or if it remains relatively stable. This information will guide the development of protection and restoration strategies for the region’s submerged aquatic vegetation. 

APNEP plans to follow the release of the 2013 map with a more extensive analysis of the extent and density of the region’s underwater grasses, to be published in late 2019. In addition, during the summer of 2019 the partnership has undertaken another set of aerial flights and boat-based surveys. These data will be used to publish a third SAV map, which will provide a more complete picture of the state of submerged aquatic vegetation in the Albemarle-Pamlico region.

“I am pleased to see mapping and monitoring of SAV, a key recommendation of the Coastal Habitat Protection Plan, continue to progress,” states NC Division of Marine Fisheries Director Steve Murphey. “By understanding how SAV distribution is changing over time, the division is better able to manage SAV-dependent fishery species, such as spotted seatrout, red drum, blue crab and bay scallops. SAV is an excellent indicator of overall ecosystem health; by protecting this habitat, we can improve the resiliency of the entire coastal ecosystem.”

Funding for the project was provided to APNEP by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with field and technical support by the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Beaufort Laboratory, and from numerous volunteers.

The 2013 mapping information, as well as an updated 2006-2008 GIS layer, are available online at the DEQ ArcGIS Online website. For more information, check out APNEP’s website or contact Kelsey Ellis, the partnership’s Communications and Outreach Specialist, at (919)707-8743 or



This press release is related to: