Fish and Habitat Community Assessments on North Carolina Shipwrecks: Potential sites for detecting climate change in the Graveyard of the Atlantic


Paula E. Whitfield1 Roldan C. Muñoz2 Christine A. Buckel1 Lauren M. Heesemann3

1NOAA, NOS, NCCOS, Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research
2NOAA, NMFS, SEFSC, Beaufort Laboratory
3NOAA, NOS, ONMS, Monitor National Marine Sanctuary

The Monitor National Marine Sanctuary (MNMS) was the nation's first sanctuary, originally established in 1975 to protect the famous civil war ironclad shipwreck, the USS Monitor. Since 2008, sanctuary sponsored archeological research has branched out to include historically significant U-boats and World War II shipwrecks within the larger Graveyard of the Atlantic off the coast of North Carolina. These shipwrecks are not only important for their cultural value, but also as habitat for a wide diversity of fishes, invertebrates and algal species. Additionally, due to their unique location within an important area for biological productivity, the sanctuary and other culturally valuable shipwrecks within the Graveyard of the Atlantic are potential sites for examining community change.

For this reason, from June 8-30, 2010, biological and ecological investigations were conducted at four World War II shipwrecks (Keshena, City of Atlanta, Dixie Arrow, EM Clark), as part of the MNMS 2010 Battle of the Atlantic (BOTA) research project. At each shipwreck site, fish community surveys were conducted and benthic photo-quadrats were collected to characterize the mobile conspicuous fish, smaller prey fish, and sessile invertebrate and algal communities. In addition, temperature sensors were placed at all four shipwrecks previously mentioned, as well as an additional shipwreck, the Manuela.

The data, which establishes a baseline condition to use in future assessments, suggest strong differences in both the fish and benthic communities among the surveyed shipwrecks based on the oceanographic zone (depth). In order to establish these shipwrecks as sites for detecting community change it is suggested that a subset of locations across the shelf be selected and repeatedly sampled over time. In order to reduce variability within sites for both the benthic and fish communities, a significant number of surveys should be conducted at each location. This sampling strategy will account for the natural differences in community structure that exist across the shelf due to the oceanographic regime, and allow robust statistical analyses of community differences over time.

Key Words:

Shipwrecks, Fish Community, Habitat, North Carolina, Climate, Baseline Data, Graveyard of the Atlantic, Benthic