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Science and Exploration

Studies Show Increase in Several Fish Species

Five years after establishing the sanctuary’s largest no-take area, studies have shown increasing numbers and sizes of commercially and recreationally important fish species and other marine life. Positive changes include increases in size and abundance of black grouper, the gradual recovery of a mutton snapper spawning aggregation decimated by commercial fishing, the recovery of pink shrimp and their habitat, and an increase in the number of large fish inside the reserve as compared to outside. Because the Tortugas Ecological Reserve is upstream of the Florida Keys reef tract, improvements in the reserve’s fish populations may help sustain fish stocks in the Keys and further north, as more and larger fish produce larvae that are carried away from the reserve on ocean currents. Adult fish may also move to areas outside the reserve as competition for space increases within. These fish then become available to the fishery, an effect known as spillover.

Gorgonian coral

A grouper in the Tortugas Ecological Reserve. (Photo: Don DeMaria)

Colorful Corals Found in Frigid Pacific Waters

In June 2006, NOAA researchers returned from a 10-day, deep-water coral expedition in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary with evidence of sponge and coral communities in waters once thought too cold for them to thrive. Scientists found colonies of the rare stony coral Lophelia, numerous other coral species and a rich abundance of invertebrates and fishes, including commercially important rockfish. Some corals showed evidence of damage from fishing gear. Findings confirmed that these coral communities are a significant portion of the sanctuary ecosystem.  NOAA has identified them as a priority research topic because of their vulnerability to bottom trawling and other human disturbances. 

Gorgonian coral

Corals found in deep water, like the red gorgonian beneath the red basket star pictured here, give scientists clues to marine life in Olympic Coast sanctuary ecosystem. (Photo: Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary)

Scientists Complete Marine Life Inventory

Developing effective ecosystem-based management strategies requires knowing what lives in sanctuary waters and their association to specific types of habitat. NOAA scientists are answering some of these questions with the conclusion of a three-year study about the distribution of marine life and physical oceanography within Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Known as “biogeography,” this study represents one of the most comprehensive efforts undertaken to understand how marine life and habitats are associated with one another. The information will support ecosystem approaches to management as well as supporting regional marine science and education efforts. The results and data are available in a report titled A Biogeographic Assessment of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

New Vessels Will Enhance Science, Education and Enforcement

NOAA commissioned three new research and enforcement vessels in 2006 that fulfill a two-fold NOAA commitment: to support research that will lead to better ecosystem-based management of the sanctuaries and to enforce the rules that protect marine resources. The Peter Gladding, a high-speed enforcement vessel, plies Florida Keys sanctuary waters focusing on the Tortugas Ecological Reserve. The 57-foot vessel was named in honor of a longtime Key West commercial fisherman who helped establish the reserve. The 50-foot Auk takes to the waters of Stellwagen Bank and will be used primarily for research missions but will also support education, monitoring and emergency response patrols. The research vessel Fulmar, a 65-foot catamaran will serve Monterey Bay, Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones national marine sanctuaries.

Vessel Gladding

Peter Gladding will ply sanctuary waters around Tortugas Ecological Reserve. (Photo: Lt. Dave Bingham)

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