Research in Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary

October 2017

From the surface, Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary might not look too different from the rest of the ocean -- but beneath the waves, you'll find a vibrant reefscape. Find out what makes this Georgia reef so special, and how researchers work to better understand the ecosystem.


Welcome to Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

Spectacular, isn't it?

So what's so special about this patch of water?

Just looks like water. Pretty much like every other patch of water.

Or does it?

Join us as we journey below the surface.

What we discover is an extraordinary oasis of life.

We find hundreds of species of fish, threatened and endangered species, an abundance of
sponges and corals, all drawn to this unique and essential hard bottom reef ecosystem.

Protecting this important underwater community requires careful study.

At Gray's Reef, researchers from many organizations come together to monitor the reef's health.

A key question they're trying to answer is what observed changes are due to natural variations versus human activities?

Aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster, a team of 14 scientists conducts round-the-clock research to monitor marine life in Gray's Reef.

This work tells the story of how healthy the sanctuary is and what may be changing.

This is one of the few places in the world where I can jump in the water and study the interactions of individual animals playing out over the course of the day and night in their environment and see predation in action, individual animals feeding on others. And
I work on higher trophic level predators.

Today we did a diving survey for the distribution of prey and predators and their behaviors along the reef, and recovered a time-lapse camera.

The time-lapse camera allows us to look at the abundance and behavior of animals over 24 hours.

Using fisheries acoustics we are able to characterize the distribution of predators and prey over different habitats and throughout the 24 hours.

First we pick a side to survey and then we go up and down with the ship with the echo sounder going and trying to characterize the area all over this side.

We are privileged to serve as stewards of Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

To fulfill this responsibility we need information.

Information about the health of the creatures and the habitats within this precious place.

We do this to ensure that Gray's Reef remains a healthy and thriving marine community for us, for the ocean, and because it's the right thing to do.

As we finish our dive to Gray's Reef, we return to the surface.

Once again, we see only water.

Or do we?

Our work is important because it reveals the invisible fabric of nature.

We're beginning to understand the interactions within and between species,
individual animals operating in the habitat, in the community here in Gray's
Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

It's important for moving forward to involve all the principles of ecosystem-based management, both for managing the sanctuary in particular and the larger region as the whole.

And it allows us to think about what sustainability means for the long-term in terms of conserving our natural heritage.

Now what do you see?