What’s That on My Beach, Chia Habitat?


With decades of Chia Pets® having been released into the environment, it was only a matter of time before they began to band together and colonize new places. Fortunately, they are a beneficial resource and coastal managers are now looking for ways to inventory these valuable habitats. But how do you capture all the elements of these complex features? Many classification systems force you to decide whether it’s “the chia” or “the pet.”

Chia Pet
Figure 1. Chia Pet (Lab Conditions)
Chia Habitat
Figure 2. Chia Habitat (Field Conditions)

Take the Figure 2 above, a wetland scientist might consider this to be a salt marsh. To a state shellfish program member, they might be considered colonized mussel reef. To a coastal geologist, this might be considered a remnant marsh platform on a low energy beach. In each case, these terms would convey some aspects of these features but leave out important information.

The Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard

The Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS) is designed to address situations like this without being exclusive. CMECS provides a comprehensive national framework that includes all the physical, biological, and chemical data that collectively define our coasts.

CMECS lets a user characterize features like those above in the context of four Components that describe the seascape: Water Column, Geoform, Substrate and Biota. It also enables the use of co-occurring elements which allow information on secondary constituents in an area to be captured.

Rather than having to map this feature based only on the vegetation present (chia) or only as part of a shellfish bed (pet), CMECS allows all the biological entities, their physical morphology, geomorphological setting, and the underlying substrate to be captured. It is understood that data collection efforts may choose to focus on only one of the components, either the chia or the pet. There is no requirement to collect data for all components in any individual application; however, data developers are encouraged to populate as much of the larger CMECS structure as possible.

In CMECS, the features above would be categorized as follows:

  • Biogeographic Setting: Virginian
  • Aquatic Setting: Estuarine Coastal; Intertidal
  • Biotic Component: Low and Intermediate Salt Marsh
  • Co-Occurring Element: Mytilus Reef Biota
  • Substrate Component: Mussel Reef Substrate
  • Geoform Component: Beach
  • Supplemental Note – “Chia Habitat”

Try CMECS and Capture What You May Have Been Missing!

Don’t miss the pet when mapping the chia, use CMECS to tell the whole story. The full CMECS classification can be downloaded at the CMECS website. There you’ll also find helpful example habitats and other information. The CMECS Catalog is an online database of all the CMECS units. Users can browse the full classification and search for keywords. Scientific references for the units are also included.

The CMECS development team is available to answer any questions or work with you to apply CMECS in your project. They can be reached via email at nos.csc.cmecs_ig@noaa.gov

We hope that you’ll find CMECS helpful in your project and for sharing your results.

Happy classifying!

Chia Pet® is a registered trademark of Joseph Enterprises, Inc. in the United States and other countries. Chia Pet trademark and image are used with permission.

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