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2009 Battle of Atlantic Expedition

Exploring WWII in the Graveyard of the Atlantic

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Mission info 2007 Nancy Foster Cruise

Marine Life on Wrecks

The ocean is teeming with life and nowhere else in the ocean is life more abundant than on a reef. There are thousands of miles of natural reefs within our Earth's ocean, but there are also thousands of unique objects submerged below the surface that act as artificial reefs.

artificial reef
Come explore the abundant marine life on the HMT Bedfordshire. (Courtesy of UNC CSI and NOAA) Click here to view.
An artificial reef is a man-made, underwater structure that promotes marine life in areas that are otherwise generally featureless. It can be a structure that was built with the specific purpose of being a reef, or it can be something that didn't plan at all on ending up at the bottom of the ocean, such as a shipwreck! Either way, the structures offer an attractive habitat for many kinds of marine life to thrive.

artificial reef
U-352 teeming with marine life. (Photo: NOAA)
All along the coast of North Carolina, there are hundreds of shipwrecks that act as artificial reefs. Many of these shipwrecks become popular dive sites due to the abundance of marine life. The shipwrecks being explored during this expedition are no exception. Here are just a few examples of what you can find as you dive on the wrecks of the Outer Banks.

Sand Tiger Sharks

If you scuba dive on the Caribsea, not only will you have the opportunity to see a World War II vessel, but you will also observe the diverse marine life that now lives among her. One such animal is the sand tiger shark, a 10 foot long, grey-brown shark with sharp, pointed teeth. These magnificent creatures are usually found in groups near the bow and stern of the Caribsea. However, you are not guaranteed to see a sand tiger shark if you dive on the Caribsea. They are a migratory species and travel towards the poles in the summer and towards the equator in the winter.

According to NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, sand tiger sharks can be found in shallow bays or along the continental shelf at depths of 600 feet. However, more often, they are found in about 75 feet of water. The Caribsea lies in 70-90 feet of water, providing an inhabitable structure at an ideal depth for the sand tiger sharks. The Caribsea is also home to the organisms that sand tiger sharks feed on, such as small sharks, rays, fish, and invertebrates.

sand tiger shark
Sand tiger shark. (Photo: Paula Whitfield, NOAA)
While the Caribsea provides habitat for a number of sand tiger sharks, the overall population is declining and is listed as a 'species of concern' by NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service. There are a number of reasons this is happening. Pollution is threatening their habitat and the fact that they can be found in groups makes them easy fishing targets. Also, sand tiger sharks do not reproduce very quickly, and therefore cannot replenish their population as fast as it's being depleted.


What is as graceful and beautiful as a butterfly,

as ferocious as the most dangerous predator,

and delivers a painful sting with its

venomous spines?

A lionfish. (Photo: Paula Whitfield, NOAA)
The lionfish. This is another marine organism that inhabits the wrecks off the coast of North Carolina. While lionfish are very beautiful, they can also be dangerous. They have spines containing neurotoxins that can paralyze fish and be painful to humans. This beautiful creature is an invasive species. An invasive species is an organism that is found in an area outside of its natural habitat and has adverse effects on its new environment. Lionfish reproduce very quickly and are known to be extremely aggressive. Therefore, they are capable of rapidly reducing native reef fish populations. Lionfish are native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans and were most likely introduced to the Atlantic Ocean through releases from private aquaria. They can now be found as far north as Rhode Island and as far south as Columbia.

You can help NOAA scientists track lionfish by reporting a sighting here.

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