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2008 Cordell Bank Mission
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Scientific Diving

Jenny Vander Pluym, Research Technician
NOAA Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research

Habitat photos are taken along a transect line to document species - Amy Uhrin balances limited bottom time, conditions, and mission objectives. (Image: NOAA CCFHR)
Conservation and management of our nation's coastal and marine resources are important parts of the NOAA mission. It is necessary to conduct research underwater in order to observe the habitats and organisms that comprise these marine resources in order to better manage and protect them for future generations. One tool that is paramount to achieving these goals is scientific diving. Having the trained scientific eye underwater is sometimes the only method that can be used to make valid observations and take accurate measurements in certain conditions.

Don Field rolls out transect tape to define sampling area for fish count and habitat photos. (Image: NOAA CCFHR)
When picturing science, most people think of chemistry labs with test tubes, substances bubbling and spinning, as well as lab coats and goggles. Scientific diving takes the goggles underwater and places trained scientists into a variety of dynamic marine systems to identify, enumerate, collect, measure, and observe all aspects and processes of these communities. Conducting research on SCUBA requires the investigators to not only be well versed in their own scientific discipline, but also to be extremely well trained to work under the constraints of the marine realm. Time is the greatest limitation in dive-dependent projects, therefore scientific divers must be efficient and effective when planning and executing their research objectives.

Buoyancy control is imperative when working in protected areas to limit impact on habitat. (Image: NOAA CCFHR)
The overall objective of CCFHR's research in the Tortugas is to examine the effects of implementation of the Tortugas North Ecological Reserve (TNER). The establishment of the TNER, a no-take reserve, in 2001 provided the opportunity to examine the response of the fish and benthic communities to the creation of a refuge for exploited reef fishes. This research is completely dependent on diver conducted visual surveys of the fish community and photographic analysis of habitat from images also taken by scientific divers. Without dive operations it would not be possible to collect these data in this particular system.

Research tools can be sophisticated SONAR or the tried-and-true basics - underwater paper, a clipboard, and pencil attached with tubing so it won't float away. Don Field begins transect at the interface of reef habitat. (Image: NOAA CCFHR)
The inclusion of marine debris in the visual surveys is a direct result of trained scientists conducting this research underwater. The focus of the study was broadened to include marine debris due to diver observations at the many sites. This is just one important example of how scientific diving can not only accomplish important research but can also lead to significant discoveries in the marine world.

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