Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary: Long Term Monitoring in
Stetson Bank - June 2006

Sea Hare
Sea Hare. (Photo: Emma Hickerson/FGBNMS)

The Flower Garden Banks NMS research team (Emma Hickerson, G.P. Schmahl, Doug Weaver, Kyle Byers, and Emily Platzer) conducted its annual Long Term Monitoring Research Cruise during June 19 – 21, 2006.  Seventeen participants including the FGBNMS research team, as well as volunteers and scientists from Texas A&M University (College Station and Corpus Christi), Bainbridge College (Georgia), REEF and Azure Photography conducted 147 dives.  This is the 16th cruise to photograph repetitive stations, conduct video surveys, and conduct diadema and lobster surveys.  A total of 43 photostations were found and photographed, which was an encouraging result because of concerns that many photostations would be lost as a result of Hurricane Rita in the fall of 2005.  Only three photostations that were photographed in June 2005 were not found.  

Sea Conditions

The sea conditions while on the cruise were: two to four - foot seas, slight current, 80-foot visibility, and intermittent thunderstorms.  Sea temperature and salinity profiles were taken several times each day, and documented with a fresh water lens – 33.6ppt on the surface and approximately 36.1ppt at depth.

Monitoring Techniques and Findings

Emma Hickerson, Research Coordinator at GFBNMS, takes a photograph image using a t-frame at a photostation in Stetson Bank.
Sanctuary Manager, G.P.Schmahl, takes a photograph image using a t-frame at a photostation in Stetson Bank. (Photo: Joyce and Frank Burek)
The repetitive monitoring stations follow traditional techniques, and employ a Nikonos 5 camera with a 15mm lens mounted on a 1.055m post with two Ikelight strobes.  Photographs were taken on a northern orientation, and a level bubble was used to ensure consistency in the orientation.  This method captures a 1.88 square meter area to compare from year to year.  The photostations are currently being analyzed by members of the FGBNMS Research Team.

REEF’s three fish watchers (Greg Bunch, Jay Gardner, and Lillian Kenney) conducted 24 fish surveys during the cruise.

Dr. Mary Wicksten (TAMU) collected new records of anudibranch, a hermit crab, and a shamefaced crab.  Dr. Wicksten worked closely with Joyce and Frank Burek to photodocument the new records.

Dr. Craig Burnside and student, Jenna Fulghum, of Bainbridge College surveyed the queen conch (Strombus gigas).  They reported 30 conchs in total, 27 of which were adults, and averaged approximately 30cm in length.  Interestingly, three juveniles were observed, measuring approximately 20cm in length, which could suggest a second recruitment event.  Four of the 27 adult conchs had been previously tagged. 

Notable Sightings

Sea Hare train.
Sea Hare train. (Photo: Emma Hickerson/FGBNMS)
The research team observed hundreds of mardi gras wrasse   The juveniles that were documented in March this year are growing well, and some are changing into the male forms of the fish.  Numerous black sea hares (Aplysia morio) approximately 25cm in length were observed free-swimming and creating “trains” of mating animals.  Large charismatic megafauna sightings included:  loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta), hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochyls imbricata), scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini), sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus), a school of 6 to 8 unidentified reef sharks, tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum), southern stingrays (Dasyatis americana), spotted eagle rays (Aetobatis narinari), and manta rays (Manta birostris). 

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