The ship and her crew left Savannah this morning on her way to North Carolina for their next adventure. Our gear has been offloaded and everyone has made their way back home (our team dispersed from Florida to New England). Now we have a moment to reflect on what was accomplished during our two weeks in the sanctuary. And we begin the hard work of processing the enormous amount of data that was collected during our cruise. Two weeks of gathering information at sea can result in many months of data analysis, so while the ship has gone, the work is really only beginning!
Lieutenant Commander Dan Simon, who served as Captain of the ship during the Gray's Reef cruise, gives a tour of the bridge during the Open House. (Photo: Jody Patterson (GRNMS))
Looking back at our objectives for this cruise, we are thrilled with what we were able to complete thanks to fantastic weather and a lot of hard work. Over seventy people had a hand in making this cruise a success, and we are grateful to each and every one of them. In addition to the ship and her three launches, we had the support of three other vessels that came offshore from Savannah to support the mission. On board was a cadre of talented fishermen from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources as well as a host of volunteers that helped with fish handling and data collection. Skilled Captains Jay Fripp, Chad Meckley, and Todd Recicar spent many long days on the water helping us to get our missions accomplished.
With respect to our scientific objectives, we were pleased that Laurie Bauer and her Team Ocean partners Mike Mullenix and Jeff Hart were able to complete all nine marine debris monitoring sites. In addition to training the Team Ocean volunteers how to conduct the surveys, the group was able to clean the accumulated debris which had collected at the sites in the past year. Now our local divers will be able to conduct the annual assessments thanks to Laurie’s guidance and instruction. Our fish tagging efforts resulted in eight more fish “wearing” acoustic tags and swimming about in the sanctuary (one red grouper, one scamp, two red snapper and four more gag). Devin Dumont and Karin Paquin took excellent care of our fish and made sure they were all ready for surgery and then ready to be released back into the sanctuary. Along with Dr. Matt Kendall and CJ Carroll we deployed ten more acoustic receivers to detect these tagged fish, as well as the fish we tagged during last year’s cruise. We’ll go back out to the sanctuary in a few months to download the data from our deployed receivers and begin to learn about where these fish are spending their time.
Becky Shortland of Gray's Reef NMS begins a tour during the Open House. (Photo: Jody Patterson (GRNMS))
Drs. Peter Auster and Laura Kracker also came away from the ship with new information.
This year they implemented a multi-faceted approach to understanding species interactions by linking direct underwater visual observations via divers along with hydro-acoustic approaches that can operate at multiple and larger spatial and temporal scales. During this cruise their team completed 20 surveys involving 3-4 divers resulting in over 55 hours of bottom time at three primary sample sites. Twenty fish community surveys were conducted as well as observations of 72 predation events. Video and still imagery was collected that documents a wide range of direct and indirect species interactions.
Four deployments of a high resolution sonar imaging system demonstrated the efficacy of such technology to observe distribution and behavior of fishes at spatial scales larger than those possible using visual techniques alone (12 m distance from sensor). Sixteen fisheries acoustic surveys were conducted during diurnal and nocturnal periods to quantify the distribution of biomass as influenced by seascape features and diel period. Additionally, three sanctuary-wide grid surveys were conducted at night to build upon surveys initiated by Dr. Kracker in 2008.
Only a small part of the crew that made this cruise possible: the ship-based science team. (Photo: Chad Cary, NOAA)
As if accomplishing our research objectives was not enough, we also had numerous education and outreach goals for this cruise. Toward that end, we held an Open House on the Nancy Foster while she was docked on River Street in Savannah. For four hours on Friday afternoon, staff from Gray’s Reef and Officers from the ship provided tours of the Nancy Foster to members of the public. We also hosted two media visits during the cruise, in an effort to spread the word about Gray’s Reef and the research underway in the sanctuary. Involving Teachers-at-Sea, Phillip Hull, Daniel Leuthner and Rodney Tumlin in the cruise also helped us to bring the experience to students. Finally, this expedition web site was our way to involve you in our mission as well! And this wouldn’t be possible without the dedication and talents of Valarie Thorpe and Katalin Zakar, our webmasters!