By Mitchell Tartt
Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
For my first visit to Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, I am told we have exceptional diving conditions this week. Visibility is over 30 feet, water temperature is around 73 degrees, the seas are calm with 2 foot waves and chop, and there is minimal current. These conditions are not typical for the Sanctuary this time of year, so I feel fortunate for the opportunity.
A Guitar Fish. (Photo: Mitchell Tartt/Office of National Marine Sanctuaries)
I am based out of the headquarters of NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries in Silver Spring, Maryland, where I am a member of the Conservation Science Division. I am also the National Diving Coordinator for the ONMS and the Unit Diving Supervisor for the divers in my office. I joined the sanctuary science staff this week to support their research and to experience firsthand the natural wonders of the Sanctuary.
We started off with a bang on our first dive with a visit from 8 scalloped hammer heads and a guitar fish as we surveyed several locations for fish we hope to catch and tag with acoustic transmitters. Gag and scamp grouper, and red snapper are our target species. These are sought after fish in the recreational fishing community. We want to improve our understanding of their behavior so we can better manage the sanctuary. If successful, our researchers will be able to track the movement of these fish around the sanctuary.
Dr. Scott noakes laying out transect line to monitor the site.(Photo: Mitchell Tartt/Office of National Marine Sanctuaries)
Later in the week we conducted surveys for marine debris at predetermined locations around the sanctuary. Gray's Reef staff uses this information to characterize where visitors to the sanctuary are going, and what impacts they have on sanctuary resources. My Dive buddy, Dr. Scott Noakes layed out the transect line we used to set our monitoring site. Keith Borden, one of our Team Ocean Volunteer Divers also helped out with the dive.
My time on the cruise ends tomorrow, and new staff will join the cruise on Saturday. We worked hard this week, and hard work will continue for three more weeks as the research continues. The crew of NOAA's R/V Nancy Fosteri is a spectacular collection of people. Collectively they run an exceptional operation. Without their expertise and commitment, our accomplishments on this cruise would not be possible. We owe them our deepest gratitude.