WHAT IS CMECS

Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS) Document

The Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS) provides a comprehensive national framework for organizing information about coasts and oceans and their living systems. This information includes the physical, biological, and chemical data that are collectively used to define coastal and marine ecosystems.

CMECS is designed for use within all waters ranging from the head of tide to the limits of the exclusive economic zone, and from the spray zone to the deep ocean. It is compatible with many existing upland and wetland classification standards and can be used with most if not all data collection technologies. These characteristics allow scientists to more easily use and compare data from various sources and time frames.

Frequently Asked Questions

One-Page CMECS Description

CMECS Structure

CMECS classifies the environment into biogeographic and aquatic settings that are differentiated by features influencing the distribution of organisms, and by salinity, tidal zone, and proximity to the coast. Within these systems are four underlying components that describe different aspects of the seascape. These components provide a structured way to organize information and a standard terminology. The components can be mapped independently or combined as needed.

The figure above illustrates how the individual CMECS settings and components can be combined to form biotopes, which are areas of uniform environmental conditions providing a living place for a specific assemblage of plants and animals.

The figure above illustrates how the individual CMECS settings and components can be combined to form biotopes, which are areas of uniform environmental conditions providing a living place for a specific assemblage of plants and animals.


The Sample Unit Gallery provides examples of various sites and how they would be classified using CMECS units. Each example shows a large-scale, ground view of the site with a location map and smaller-scale images to provide landscape context where appropriate. Additional samples will be added in the future. Users are encouraged to provide their examples to the CMECS Implementation Group.

In combination, the setting and component units can be used to identify biotopes, which are unique ecological units with biotic and abiotic elements.

The CMECS classification of settings and components that describe the seascape.

CMECS Catalog of Units

CMECS users can now search an online database of units by keyword, or browse to view each unit within a component. This database has been completed for the biogeographic and aquatic settings; the water column, geoform, substrate, and biotic components; and for all the modifiers. New units will be added to this database periodically as part of the routine update process.

Additional Information

CMECS was approved by the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) in August 2012. The standard was developed, tested, and distributed for peer review over a period of several years by the NOAA Office for Coastal Management, NatureServe, NOAA Office of Habitat Conservation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Geological Survey. As an FGDC standard, federally funded projects working with environmental data in the coastal zone should use CMECS as their primary classification system or include CMECS attributes for their data.

Since CMECS was endorsed as a dynamic content standard, it will be revised periodically using new scientific information and feedback from users. See the CMECS Maintenance section below to learn more about this process and how to provide input.

The CMECS Partnership

CMECS is the result of an ongoing collaboration among several organizations. The principal partners of the standard are listed here:

Contact Information

For technical assistance, general guidance, or to offer suggestions contact us at nos.ocm.cmecs_ig@noaa.gov.