NOAA 2001-R421
Contact: Stephanie Balian

Submersibles to Be used off Florida and the Carolinas

Explorers from the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will voyage to the South Atlantic's deep sea canyons and important underwater habitats during a month-long mission to study unique coral banks and important fishing areas.

NOAA scientists are a part of an expedition that explores our country's national marine sanctuaries and other environmentally significant areas — or islands — in the Gulf Stream from Belize to North Carolina. The expedition is known as Islands in the Stream - South Atlantic Bight (IIS-SAB).

NOAA is collaborating with Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution and will use their submersibles, the Clelia and the Johnson Sea-Link, to explore areas from Florida to North Carolina. The mission starts in Ft. Pierce, Fla., on August 29 and culminates October 1 with Ocean Exploration Day in Charleston, S.C.

"NOAA is a leader in ocean exploration. It is our obligation to future generations and a nod to spirited adventurers who preceded us," said Scott Gudes, NOAA's acting administrator. "Untold discoveries may await us. Cures for life-threatening diseases may await us. And keys to a better understanding of the marine and ocean environment await us."

According to Gudes, five specific areas along the Gulf Stream will be explored:

  • The Oculina Reserve off Cape Canaveral, Fla., was once densely covered with ivory tree coral (Oculina varicosa). Fishing activities prior to 1994 destroyed two-thirds of the bank. The submersible Clelia and an unmanned Remotely Operated Vehicle will be used to survey and map the areas and observe artificial reef restoration experiments. Images will be obtained to show the comparison between protected and unprotected habitats.
  • Despite being a popular commercial fishing area, little is known about the deep coral banks and rocky outcrops off Georgia known as the Savannah Scarp. Mission scientists will conduct the first submersible dives ever in this area.
  • The area called the Charleston Bump, which contains one of the most popular fishing areas on the Atlantic coast, could be an especially important biological area. Data collected during this mission will help better understand the area.
  • Three distinct and largely unexplored habitats off coastal North Carolina will be explored, including Cape Fear Terrace, an area of deep water Lophelia (a coral species) and a system of submerged canyon heads called The Point off Cape Hatteras.
  • Participants will survey the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and the USS Monitor shipwreck following this summer's engine recovery, as NOAA plans for next year's target: the gun turret. They will prepare an updated site map and conduct flora and fauna inventories.

"Our goal is to better understand the ecological and oceanographic connection between the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean off the southeastern states," said George Sedberry, mission coordinator for the Savannah Scarp leg.

The IIS-SAB mission participants include NOAA's National Ocean Service, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, the Southeast Fisheries Science Center of NOAA Fisheries, NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration, NOAA's National Undersea Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, NASA, U.S. Geological Survey and Florida State University.

For more information and to follow this history-making expedition, log on at