Sanctuary Researchers Investigate Whale Sharks in Gulf of Mexico
Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary researchers partnered with three other organizations to investigate whale shark movements among reefs and banks in the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. During a five-day expedition, six whale sharks were located using a spotter plane. A satellite tag was deployed on one of the sharks, allowing scientists to observe its daily movements. A second whale shark was tagged by staff within Flower Garden Banks sanctuary boundaries. Knowledge gained during these investigations will help resource managers take an ecosystem approach to managing valuable Gulf resources.
Exploration of Uncharted Deep-sea Ecosystems Using Innovative Technology
In collaboration with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, sanctuary scientists obtained the first underwater images of Bodega Canyon, north of Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Using an autonomous underwater vehicle, the team observed the canyon habitats on the sloping edges of this prominent underwater feature that drops over a mile in depth. The new imagery revealed a diverse array of fishes and invertebrates, including some deep-sea corals and sponges, highlighting the ecological importance of the canyon’s deepwater habitats.
Channel Islands Mooring System Monitoring Continues
Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary research staff maintain a network of 14 mooring sites around the islands that record currents, temperature and acoustic tag activity. The data are used to characterize oceanographic conditions in the sanctuary. Records of tagged fish, such as sevengill sharks originally tagged in San Francisco Bay, indicate connectivity between west coast sanctuaries. In 2011, staff divers serviced the moorings from R/V Shearwater and R/V Sharkcat. This mooring system represents a sanctuary partnership with the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans and California State University, Long Beach scientists.
Research Divers Monitor Florida Keys Corals, Remove Marine Debris
As part of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s zone monitoring program, researchers from the sanctuary and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington monitored 280 sites in the upper Florida Keys. During their 269 dives, sanctuary staff surveyed corals, urchins and sponges and removed 500 pounds of marine debris. This research has annually been documenting changes in the sanctuary’s coral reef community since 1998. Long term monitoring results show populations of protected elkhorn and staghorn corals appear to be holding steady, while long-spined sea urchins are on a slow recovery.
Fagatele Bay Sanctuary Releases Climate Impacts Report
Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary released a document in 2011 titled “Climate Impacts to the Nearshore Marine Environment and Coastal Communities: American Samoa and Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary.” The document identifies potential climate impacts in American Samoa and the surrounding region over the next 50 years. The study found that global and regional changes to the marine environment associated with climate change may have significant consequences for coral reef ecosystems, coastal communities and maritime heritage resources relevant to the sanctuary. This information will inform priority management actions for the sanctuary to take in response to the impacts of climate change on natural systems and human activities within the sanctuary.
Farallones Sanctuary Scientists Search for Deep-sea Corals, Sponges
Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary researchers, in partnership with NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and the U.S. Geological Survey through the Coral Reef Conservation Program, conducted multi-beam sonar surveys aboard the R/V Fulmar and mapped bottom topography and substrate types in the sanctuary. These maps will be used in 2012 to target areas for deep-sea coral exploration and characterization, using autonomous underwater vehicles and remotely operated underwater vehicles. Exploration data will be used to identify deep-sea coral habitat.
Research Area Established in Gray’s Reef Sanctuary
With the publication of a final rule on Oct. 14, 2011, the southern third of Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary off the Georgia coast was designated a research area, where scientists can study how human activities and natural processes affect the sanctuary’s marine resources. This new research area is specifically designed for conducting controlled scientific studies where critical variables can be controlled over long periods of time. Fishing and diving are prohibited in the lightly used, eight-square-mile research area; vessels are permitted to travel through it without stopping.
Seafloor Mapping Improves Understanding of Olympic Coast Sanctuary Habitats
Nearly 500 square miles — 15 percent — of Olympic Coast National Marine sanctuary was mapped in 2011, making it the most productive mapping endeavor in the sanctuary’s 17-year history of seafloor mapping. Sanctuary staff obtained detailed multi-beam bathymetry images revealing seafloor habitats, providing critical information to inform management decisions and help focus future research efforts within the sanctuary. The work was conducted aboard two vessels, the sanctuary’s R/V Tatoosh and R/V Pacific Storm. Sanctuary staff will continue mapping efforts in priority areas within the sanctuary using recently acquired mapping equipment installed on the Tatoosh.