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2008 Nancy Foster Cruise
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Mission Summary
NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

Gray’s Reef National Marine sanctuary was established in January of 1981.  Since then, scientists have worked on many areas of research to learn more about the area, however there is still much that we do not know about Gray’s Reef.  This mission contributed greatly to filling some of the gaps in our understanding of the sanctuary and the waters that surround it. 

Acoustic receiver deployed and ready to listen for tagged fish

Acoustic receiver deployed and ready to listen for tagged fish.

During the Gray’s Reef Expedition 2008, scientists focused on four projects.  First, the crew of the R/V Nancy Foster and students from College of Charleston collected and refined multibeam data to produce maps of areas adjacent to the sanctuary.  Second, NOAA’s NCCOS team continued studies of marine debris through establishing monitoring sites and observing previously established sites.  The NCCOS group also began work on a monitoring program for tracking the movement of red snapper, gag and scamp grouper.  And finally, researchers from Georgia Southern University conducted reconnaissance work for future establishment of invertebrate monitoring sites.  Results from each of these projects can be used to help make an overall assessment of the sanctuary.

A team of four educators worked along side the researchers, assisting with each project and exploring ways to bring this experience back to classrooms and to other teachers.

The following summarizes what was accomplished with each of the above components of this very productive cruise:

Seafloor Mapping: As Leg 2 of our scientific cruise concludes, scientists are considering what has been accomplished on their particular project.  Greg McFall, Chief Scientist on the cruise, has been supervising the sea floor mapping project.  Except when divers have been in the water or when the ship was deploying and retrieving equipment and people, multi-beam sea floor mapping has been ongoing.  Over the course of Legs 1 and 2 of the cruise (13 days), approximately 24 square nautical miles of additional sea floor outside Grays Reef National Marine Sanctuary were mapped (for reference, Grays Reef sanctuary encompasses 17 square nautical miles).  While the mapping data will need additional analysis, Greg says they are learning much more about the geology of the area around Grays Reef which will provide important geologic connections to the Reef.  Mapping revealed "a lot of sand" according to Greg, but with many new interesting places outside the Reef that could be live hard bottom.  If this is confirmed by scuba diving, these would be excellent areas to compare with those live hard bottom areas that are in Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.  New unusual and unidentified areas were also mapped, providing additional diving destinations to explore and describe.

Marine Debris: The NCCOS team, Laurie Bauer, Matt Kendall, and Mark Monaco continued work evaluating marine debris within Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary.  Their objectives for this cruise were to survey and mark five new transects to be used as marine debris monitoring sites and to monitor four previously established sites (September 2007).  Although dive schedules were altered because of weather conditions, the team was able to complete eleven dives focused on marine debris monitoring.  Eight of these dives were used for either establishing new transects or monitoring previously established transects.  Three dives resulted in ledges that were not located or unsuitable conditions for establishment of transects.

Five dives were used to establish new transects for monitoring.  All five of the new transects were established.  Two out of the five new sites were located at high ledges in high traffic areas, and the team expected to find debris at these two sites.  Of these two sites only one of the sites did have debris.  Divers recovered 34 pounds of debris from this site.  At the second site expected to have marine debris, no debris was found.  The remaining three new transects were established in high traffic areas on low ledges.  No debris was found at these three sites. 

Three dives were devoted to monitoring transects established at sites in September of 2007.  All three of these sites are located in low traffic areas and were expected to have little to no debris.  No debris was observed at any of the three sites.  The NCCOS team will continue monitoring of both previously established and newly established sites for marine debris.

Steve and Chief Bosun Greg Walker releasing a tagged scamp grouper

Steve and Chief Bosun Greg Walker releasing a tagged scamp grouper.

Fish Tagging: Sarah Fangman, Matt Kendall and Mark Monaco, of NOS/NCCOS, had a very successful tagging trip. One of the many duties on their itinerary was to catch, tag and release fish, specifically scamp and gag grouper and red snapper. They had hoped to do this with both traps and hook/reel fishing. Unfortunately the fish weren’t going for the traps, so fishing was the only capture method.  In similar projects in the US Virgin Islands, traps had worked very well, with fishing not being the preferred capture method.

Staff from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources – Coastal Resources Division were the fisherman for the week, and are owed a great deal of thanks for their invaluable contributions to the project (they are: Spud Woodward, Eric Robillard, Donna McDowell, Russell Parr, Doug Haymans, Kirby Wolfe, Joel Flemming, Chris Kalinowsky, Dawn Kirdel, Geoffrey Meeks, Billy Riddick).  The R/V Joe Ferguson with Captain Todd Recicar and Vessel Operations Coordinator Chad Meckley were their “fishing charter.” The team did a fabulous job catching target species.  There were many others that came in on lines (trigger, black sea bass, etc.), but only the two grouper and red snapper species were to be kept for tagging. At the end of the cruise, the final tally of tagged fish was one red snapper, 6 scamp and one gag grouper.

Eric Robillard holds a recently caught scamp that will be tagged and released while Spud Woodward continues fishing at Grays Reef.

Eric Robillard holds a recently caught scamp that will be tagged and released while Spud Woodward continues fishing at Grays Reef.

In the midst of catching and releasing fish, four receivers were deployed at four different ledges that were in a line, approximately 200-300 meters apart. Gray’s Reef staff will retrieve the receivers in a few months and download the data on where the eight fish have been moving. The team will then evaluate the data and determine if the receiver array needs refinement.

As with any research and testing, you need to be flexible, as this kind of work is an ever changing/evolving process.  In the future, the team hopes to increase fishing effort so that the number of tagged fish increases.  They hope the team from Georgia DNR is willing to come back out, as they proved to be a talented group of fishermen (and women)!

Invertebrate Monitoring: The goals of the dive team from Georgia Southern University, led by Dr. Daniel Gleason, were:

1.     check-out dive for new graduate student Kenan Matterson

2.     check-out and first ocean dive for new graduate student Lauren Divine

3.     introduce Kenan and Lauren to common benthic invertebrates observed at GRNMS and to techniques used in quadrat surveys

4.     conduct survey to determine presence/absence of climax benthic community at GRNMS

During their week on board the R/V Nancy Foster, the team completed 11 dives.  They surveyed five new sites and completed greater than 130 quadrats.  They discovered that there was no consistently dominant community; however, the sponge, Ircinia felix, was present and abundant in all quadrats surveyed.  Lauren and Kenan were approved to dive and by the end of the cruise were comfortable identifying species and collecting data on their own quadrats.

Teachers At Sea: The four educators that joined this expedition offered enormous enthusiasm and curiosity to the team.  Their assistance with all aspects of the mission helped ensure success.  Scientists greatly appreciated their good questions as well as their willingness to help with any task (including the smelly job of baiting the traps)!  The following are their impressions of the experience:

Kathryn Kornberg

My experience on the R/V Nancy Foster has in many ways surpassed my expectations.  The scientists aboard the ship have been more than willing to share information about what they are doing and have even graciously offered data for use in the classroom.  Both the scientific crew and the ship’s crew have been very welcoming and willing to help us as teachers benefit from the cruise in as many ways as possible.  It has certainly been an eye-opening and enjoyable experience to truly understand life on a ship.  The greatest rewards of this event have been what I have gained that I will be able to take back to my classroom to share with my students. I have increased my own understanding of marine environments and scientific research as well as life on a ship.  Using these experiences, lessons created this week, and anecdotal stories, I hope to increase their appreciation of the time, planning, and thought processes required for scientific research.

Steve Desper

Begin with questions and hypotheses, design a plan, collect data, and begin the process of analyzing the data.  Do that in an excited atmosphere with scientists, expert crew, students and teachers.  Put that on a magnificent research vessel 33 km off the coast of Savannah on Gray's Reef and you have the excitement, elegance, and challenge of science.  Like the scientists who will have collected data enough to keep them busy for months, this cruise has provided the "data" and experience that will inform a teacher’s curriculum and instruction for months or years to come.  Fascinating work "in the field" is often a direct and effective motivator for students learning science, especially those who are reluctant learners.  The science "stories" that we will be able to share with our students, and the inquiry-based activities we will be able to build from our experience will enrich our standard curriculum immensely.  And not just students will benefit; sharing our experience with other teachers through workshops and curricular units will spread the word.  This cruise experience has truly been a "once in a lifetime" opportunity for me and I am most grateful to you for inviting me.

Beth McGovern

My experiences on board the R/V Nancy Foster have far surpassed whatever goals I thought I had prior to beginning this journey.  I really tried to envision life aboard the Foster, but couldn’t imagine what my role would be as an educator.  I feared a lot of down time—I even brought the entire 6th year of a favorite TV series on DVD!  If all else failed, I could look busy while watching TV on my laptop!  I also feared that the teachers might not be welcomed by the scientific and ship’s crew.  I was afraid we wouldn’t be allowed to assist with research and that was in fact really my goal.  I really wanted to bring a sense of the research conducted back to my classroom, and if I couldn’t get close enough to experience it, it might be difficult to relay that information to my students.

Boy, was I ever wrong!  I have been offered so many opportunities on the Foster, from stringing menhaden garlands, holding grouper during surgery, and releasing tagged fish to using real data to create innovative lesson plans to take home to my students.  I have asked a multitude of questions, which were all answered graciously, without judgment.  So cool when teacher becomes student!  I fully realize it would be easier for these researchers to accomplish their goals without me in tow, but they have been kind and incredibly generous.  And on a slightly sappy note, I feel I have made some friends, and some connections which might come in handy the next time I have a question about multibeaming, debris monitoring, or benthic invertebrates.  In fact, I may just go home and take a dive class!

A final word from the Chief Scientist

Packing so much science and education into a single cruise is never easy.  No matter how you plan your day there will inevitably be deviations from the day’s expectations.  With so many people on board the vessel and so many different aspects of independent projects ongoing it becomes challenging to keep everything moving efficiently.  The officers and crew of FOSTER helped immensely with the operational aspect of the projects and everything came off without a hitch.  Ultimately, we could not have accomplished nearly as much as we did had it not been for the efforts of Sarah.  Sarah was the one responsible for: logistics for the majority of the tagging and trapping efforts; for ensuring that the fish were well cared for while aboard the ship; tracking the data generated from the tagging project; for seeing that our website had postings everyday; that the educators had the opportunity to become engaged in our science activities; served as the liaison between the science needs and the ship’s capabilities; coordinated the arrivals and departures of VIPs, guests and media and probably the biggest challenge…ensuring that I didn’t lose my mind while chasing my tail.  With so many things going on in a day, there were sometimes that I couldn’t move five feet across the ship without fielding another question.  I could not have pulled this cruise off had it not been for her willingness to take on major aspects of this cruise.


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