Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, located 17 miles off the coast of Georgia, will be conducting a research mission aboard the NOAA ship Nancy Foster beginning May 5th and continuing until May 20th. Please join us as we report on the activities and findings of this exciting mission!
Atlas map of Gray's Reef.
The cruise will be conducted in two parts (referred to as "legs"), each with a separate team and set of objectives. The primary goal of this expedition is to gather information to better understand, manage and protect the natural resources of Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The first leg, May 5-11, will focus on mapping the seafloor and scuba diving on newly discovered areas to conduct fish assessments, benthic habitat mapping and photographic documentation. The second leg, May 13-20, will involve fish tagging, marine debris monitoring, invertebrate monitoring, and more mapping activities. Education and outreach activities will be simultaneously conducted with the scientific activities of this expedition.
Mission Leg 1:
An example of the invasive species lionfish. (Photo: NCCOS)
The first objective of this leg of the mission is to conduct seafloor mapping and identification of benthic (bottom) habitats in the waters north of Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary. Our goal is to learn more about the resources surrounding Gray's Reef. The second objective is to conduct SCUBA diving operations on specific areas identified during mapping operations. The goal of these dives will be to survey for lionfish (Pterois volitans,) an invasive species), identify different habitats and photograph these new sites. Finally, we hope to promote public understanding of the sanctuary and its resources through outreach and education activities undertaken by Teachers-at-Sea.
Mission Leg 2:
Acoustic tag that will be surgically implanted in fish during the second half of the expedition. (Photo: Vemco).
Acoustic receiver that will be used to listen for tagged fish. (Photo: Vemco)
The first objective of this leg of the mission is to capture (using hook and line and traps) red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), gag grouper (Mycteroperca microlepis) and scamp grouper (Mycteroperca phenax) and surgically implant acoustic tags for tracking purposes. Each of these tags emits a unique "ping" allowing researchers to track individual fish for over a year. The tags are tracked by an array of receivers that will be placed around Gray's Reef during the cruise.
Another objective of this leg of the expedition is to monitor bottom dwelling invertebrates inside Gray's Reef. Divers will establish permanent monitoring stations that will allow them to return to the same place and track changes in invertebrate populations over time. Scientists will also establish marine debris monitoring stations and conduct marine debris surveys. The purpose of this effort is to describe the types, abundance and accumulation rates of marine debris within the sanctuary. Finally, we intend to continue mapping and education activities begun in the first leg of the mission.