Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority

Lake Borgne Gulf Sturgeon Monitoring and Habitat Characterization

Several areas of the northern Gulf of Mexico are critical habitat for Gulf sturgeon, many of which overlap with aggressive coastal restoration activities. However, there is limited understanding of whether habitat use and restoration activity overlap which can lead to lengthy reviews through state and federal agencies.

The Challenge

Gulf sturgeon’s range includes areas of the northern Gulf of Mexico including Lake Pontchartrain and the Pearl River system extending east to the Suwannee River in Florida. The National Marine Fisheries Service has designated several areas of the region as critical habitat for Gulf sturgeon, which denotes areas that require special protection under the Endangered Species Act.

At the same time, there are multiple restoration projects either being built or planned in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Limited understanding of where and when Gulf sturgeon are using habitat that could be in or near restoration project areas means some projects will require lengthy review to protect these habitats.

Although there is some understanding of what factors likely influence sturgeon distribution, including salinity, temperature, and substrate type, no models exist that quantify the relative influence of these factors, or which can be used to project that distribution in space and time.

This project, in collaboration with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Louisiana State University, aims to monitor Gulf sturgeon movement in Lake Borgne and Lake Pontchartrain to better understand and characterize Gulf sturgeon habitat preference. This project is supported by the Louisiana Trustee Implementation Group and the Department of the Interior with oversight from the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

The Approach

In order to better understand Gulf sturgeon habitat needs, acoustic receiver data were used to track the movement of sturgeon in Lake Borgne and combined with observational data and the outputs of a hydrodynamic model to develop a habitat suitability model for Gulf sturgeon. The hydrodynamic model is being developed and covers the northern Gulf of Mexico and includes Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Borgne, Mississippi Sound, and Chandeleur Sound.

Information developed from this work will help inform the development of a Habitat Suitability index for Gulf sturgeon which will lead to better coordination between protecting this habitat when it is needed and coastal restoration activity.