Merging multiple shapefiles into a single shapefile

Question: I have multiple shapefiles of underwater forms (coral reef, outcrop, sandflat, etc) that I would like to combine into a single shapefile. This would make the data easier to manage and I would use a column in the attribute table to delineate each form, rather than have each be in a separate shapefile. How would I go about doing this?

Answer: First, all the data have to be of the same type (e.g., polygon).  Then you can use the Merge tool (ArcToolbox -> Data Management toolbox -> General toolset) to combines your multiple input datasets of the same data type into a single, new output dataset. You could also use Append, but the Merge tool has the advantage that it creates a new dataset from all the combined data. In contrast, Append appends multiple input datasets into an existing target dataset.

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