Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
View from the bow of the Nancy Foster. (Photo: Jody Patterson/Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary)
Have you ever dreamed of sailing uncharted waters, researching the countless species of animals that live there, dive with them in their environment and help protect them from exploitation and natural disasters? Well then, join the adventure!
NOAA is a federal agency that enriches life through science. Its' research goes from the atmosphere to the depths of the ocean floor as NOAA scientists work to keep citizens informed of the changing environment around them. The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is a division of NOAA under the National Ocean Service, the nation's premier science agency for oceans and coasts.
Cownose Rays. (Photo: David Patterson/Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary Volunteer)
The National Marine Sanctuaries are areas of protected marine environment which help to conserve our ecological and cultural heritage. Here in Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, we manage and research the ecology of 22 square miles of live bottom reef, located under 65 feet of ocean. On this reef, there are over 120 species of tropical and temperate fish, countless invertebrates like jellies, sponges and coral colonies, and threatened and endangered fauna such as Loggerhead Turtles and Northern Right Whales.
Sanctuary Advisory Council member Tim Tarver (L) and GA DNR volunteer fishermen (Photo: Jody Patterson/Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary Volunteer)
Through partnering with education institutions and scientific organizations, we have researched many aspects of this sanctuary; however with a staff of 11, fieldwork is where our greatest need is. Here's where YOU come into play.
The past couple of weeks have seen unprecedented volunteer efforts come to fruition with a total of 25 target fish caught, tagged and released. This effort in itself required at least as many volunteers spending their mornings skipping out to barrier islands and rivers to collect bait fish. That was only the prelude to the week and a half of offshore fishing conducted on three vessels, targeting select Red Snapper, Gag and Scamp Grouper for our acoustic tagging project. Approximately 65 volunteers assisted in this overall effort, including data collection and husbandry.
"I have been so excited about this trip, I really enjoyed today. I saw some amazing sites while out" says Sanctuary volunteer Rebecca Mouna. "I'm impressed with how well everyone communicates with each other and how smooth everything went. I hope you will consider me for future volunteer positions."
Team Ocean volunteer diver Keith Borden. (Photo: Sarah Fangman/Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary)
Now, if fishing isn't your forte, how about scuba diving? I've read that around 2.5 million Americans enjoy recreational diving. Our Team Ocean volunteer diver corps teaches the foundations of NOAA scientific diving to add to your advanced diving certification. These volunteers are helping us this week aboard the NOAA research vessel, Nancy Foster, with marine debris surveys on the reef, fish monitoring and habitat assessment. We currently have five trained Team Ocean volunteers who dedicate their time to helping our staff protect this pristine gem off the coast of Georgia. "I have one of the best 'jobs' on the ship" says Team Ocean volunteer diver, Randy Rudd. "I love to dive, and the scientists need diving assistants. I get to dive as many as 4 dives per day. I am 60 plus feet underwater assisting in a variety of underwater activities. What more could a diver ask for?"
UGA MAREX volunteers. (Photo: Jody Patterson/Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary)
If you aren't yet certified, like myself, there are many public events on the coast where we meet the public and educate them on the marine resources outside their doorstep. We have about 20 volunteers that come and help us give out information on what we are doing, where the sanctuary is and why we want to protect this area. In addition to our education component, we partner with a number of local conservation organizations to assist in watershed ecosystem analysis, restoration projects and cleanup efforts.
Each of these opportunities allows the public owners of this national treasure to jump into the adventure and promote their own sense of exploration that is innate in the human species. It takes a community to support and protect a community resource. Jump in to the adventure and find out how rewarding conservation can be!