Expeditions Unlock Secrets of Deepwater Corals around the Nation
Across the National Marine Sanctuary System, scientists delved far below the surface into the
world of deepwater corals in 2010. Research expeditions involving numerous sanctuary partners targeted these little-understood habitats in Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, Channel
Islands and Olympic Coast national marine sanctuaries on the West Coast; Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Georgia; and Papahānaumokuākea Marine National
Monument. Researchers on the West Coast missions used underwater robots and a submersible to document deepwater corals in and around the sanctuaries, bringing back never-before-seen images from Cordell Bank of corals 1,300 feet below the surface of the sanctuary.
At Papahānaumokuākea, divers used specialized equipment to descend as far as 250 feet
underwater, finding several new species and high concentrations of fish found nowhere else in
the world. Groundbreaking expeditions like these let us assess the health of deepwater corals
and help improve our understanding of their role in the greater ocean ecosystem.
Sanctuary Research enters the "Twilight Zone"
Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico is home to thriving
coral reefs perched atop underwater mountains called salt domes. Below the tops of these
domes — from about 150 to 500 feet deep — less sunlight filters down through the water
into the murky region known as the "twilight zone." The challenges of conducting research
at these depths have prevented scientists from exploring and studying it in detail, but
recent technological advances allowed the sanctuary science team to initiate an ambitious
program in 2010 to monitor habitats in the twilight zone in partnership with the University
of North Carolina - Wilmington, NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, and
the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution. The resulting information will be a valuable
resource in assessing and responding to threats like the MC252 Deepwater Horizon Oil
Spill, other oil spills, and declining water quality.
First-ever International workshop Dives into Undersea Corrosion
The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries hosted the first-ever meeting of international experts
on the science of shipwreck corrosion, Oct. 18-20 in Newport News, Va. The International Corrosion Workshop, organized in conjunction with NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration,
the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and CALIBRE Systems Inc., brought together nearly
100 scientists and historians with expertise in corrosion science, underwater munitions and
maritime history to discuss how marine corrosion affects a variety of resources and potential
threats. The workshop explored current methods and technologies, such as the Resources and
UnderSea Threats (RUST) database, that are used to assess the condition of metal shipwrecks
on the seafloor and to predict how quickly hazardous items like bombs and fuel tanks will
corrode in seawater. These discussions highlighted NOAA's proactive efforts to address and
spread awareness of corrosion-related threats both within and beyond sanctuary boundaries.
Gray's Reef Seafloor Observatory Tracks Ocean Acidification
In an ongoing effort to better understand and monitor the effects of ocean acidification
throughout the National Marine Sanctuary System, researchers at Gray's Reef National
Marine Sanctuary partnered with the University of Georgia in 2010 to develop and install
a scientific "observatory" on the seafloor of the sanctuary. Sensors on the remote station
record measurements like seawater pH, temperature, salt content and dissolved oxygen
levels, helping create a baseline for tracking changes in the ocean conditions in the sanctuary. Along with data collected by the National Data Buoy Center and the Pacific Marine
Environmental Lab, scientists will be able to use this information to learn more about how
ocean acidification and other climate-related shifts affect marine ecosystems over time.
Scientists Monitor Underwater Noise at Channel Islands Sanctuary
Last year marked the final year of the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries’ involvement
in one of the most intensive, continuous acoustic monitoring efforts in the National Marine
Sanctuary System, a five-year project documenting underwater noise in and around Chan-
nel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Marine scientists and managers are recognizing the
importance of sounds in the ocean and the potential harmful effects of noise on marine life
like whales and dolphins, but this kind of continuous research is essential to understanding
the issue more fully. Since its creation in 2005, the program expanded to include monitor-
ing of large ship traffic (the greatest source of marine sound) in 2007, and tagging of large
whales with acoustic monitors in 2009. This innovative use of technology applied to conser-
vation science stemmed from a partnership including the Scripps Institution of Oceanogra-
phy, U.S. Navy, NOAA Fisheries Service and groups like the Cascadia Research Collective.