The goal of the Research and Monitoring Action Plan for Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) is to develop research and monitoring projects to delineate biological community dynamics and links; evaluating the social, historical, and economic aspects of marine sanctuaries; and evaluating the effects of human activities on natural systems. Implementing a quality research and monitoring program to document trends improves resource management decisions and strategies that will help GRNMS build a strong foundation of science on which to base sound and informed management decisions. This foundation will also allow GRNMS to identify gaps in knowledge about the resources and their uses, to better identify future research and monitoring needs, and to address increasingly complex resource management issues. This information will be used to develop new strategies to better protect Sanctuary resources, restore impaired ecosystem structure and functioning, and mitigate threats to ecosystem health, which will ensure that GRNMS will be able to deliver the ecosystem services demanded by the public.
Socioeconomic research and monitoring for the Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) was initiated in 2000-01 to understand all the uses of the sanctuary and its users; the communities that are most directly tied to where the economic and social impacts associated with the uses takes place; and the demographic and economic profiles and trends of those communities. In Office of National Marine Sanctuary (ONMS) Socioeconomics this is referred to as basic characterization. In 2002, an overview paper was published with this basic characterization using existing information.
In 2002, Duke University students conducted a survey of members of the Southern Kingfish Association (SKA). Many SKA members fish in GRNMS, especially in tournaments. The study addressed seasons of use; number of trips in year 2000; modes of boat access and gear use; catch and species preferences; socioeconomic/demographic profiles of users; factors influencing choice of GRNMS for fishing; and attitudes about GRNMS regulations.
Spear Fishing Prohibition
A spearfishing ban was considered during the 1981 designation of GRNMS and again during the sanctuary's management plan review beginning in 1999. After additional socioeconomic information was collected in 2007, the spearfishing gear ban was proposed again in early 2009.
In September 2007, surveys were completed of businesses and organizations offering scuba diving trips along the Georgia coast. Four charter scuba diving operations and one scuba diving club were interviewed.
These surveys included operating profiles, preferred diving locations and methods, detailed business data (revenue and costs) and opinions.
A total of 10 businesses offering scuba diving charter trips at some point during the prior 5 years off the Georgia coast were identified. Of these, 4 were still in business. Three were associated with dive shops and one was charter boat only. The 6 others had either gone out of business, moved away from the area, or were dive shops that no longer operated charter trips.
Research Only Area
The management plan review of 1999 Grays Reef National Marine Sanctuary suggested the implementation of a research area prohibiting all fishing. In 2004, a Research Area Working Group (RAWG) was formed with representatives from groups including recreational fishing, commercial fishing, diving, conservation, science, management, enforcement, recreation and education. This working group identified four siting criteria: maximize number and diversity of ledges, include all other bottom types, minimize user displacement, provide 'outside' comparison sites.
In 2005, a collaborative effort was initiated between the ONMS economists and NOAA's Biogeographic Branch of the Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment (NCCOS). A geographic information system (GIS) based reserve area site selection tool was developed, combining biological and economic information in a spatial format. The working group, using the GIS tool, identified six research area scenarios, including one (referred to as the Southern Expansion scenario) suggested by a fishing representative on the RAWG.
The socioeconomic impact analysis of these six scenarios estimated "person days" of use for each scenario, estimated economic contribution using NMFS recreational fishery statistics, predicted displacement for each scenario and calculated maximum potential economic losses. Maximum potential loss of statewide (Georgia) saltwater recreational fishing expenditures were estimated to range from be 0.11% (scenario 4) to 1.13% (scenario 1).
In July 2008, the RAWG identified Scenario 6 (the Southern Expansion scenario) as the preferred scenario for the following reasons: 1) its larger size provides more opportunity for research; 2) it meets the habitat criteria; 3) its distance from preferred fished areas reduces impact on fishermen; 4) three of its sides align with existing GRNMS boundaries, thus enhancing compliance and enforcement; and 5) it was most frequently favored in public comments.
Knowledge, Attitudes and Perceptions of Management Strategies and Regulations of the Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary by Users and Non-users of the Sanctuary
In 2010, a baseline study of users and non-users of Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) was initiated. Mail surveys were designed in 2010 and implemented in 2011 and 2012.
The study provides baseline data on the knowledge, attitudes and perceptions of users and non-users of GRNMS in regard to management strategies and regulations. It also provides information on socioeconomic/demographic profiles, activity participation and use of coastal and ocean waters off the Georgia coast both inside and outside GRNMS. The surveys collected data on sources of public information on GRNMS used and the trust of sources used, familiarity with GRNMS rules and regulations, and attitudes about selected management strategies for coastal and ocean resources both inside and outside GRNMS. For users of GRNMS, perceptions of resource conditions were also addressed.
For users and non-users, two versions of the surveys were designed to address all the issues above. Both versions of the survey were implemented for separate samples of non-users of GRNMS in 2011. For users, Version 1 of the survey was implemented in 2011. Version 2, which obtains information about attitudes on selected management strategies for coastal and ocean resources both inside and outside GRNMS was implemented in 2012. Version 2 reports provide comparisons of users and non-users on these topics.