NOAA 2001-R418
Contact: Stephanie Balian


The Commerce Department's NOAA today announced a team of divers will explore Stellwagen Bank as part of a national effort to provide information on the health and habitat of local fish populations. Officials at NOAA's Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, working with the local diving community, are helping to sponsor this first-ever Great American Fish Count in the Gulf of Maine region.

"The data collected by our volunteer dive team will begin to allow us to measure specific fish populations from year to year," said Craig MacDonald, superintendent for the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. "The exciting aspect of these dives is seeing what new and unusual species call Stellwagen their home."

The Great American Fish Count, which began in 1992 and is managed by the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, is one way for scientists to better study and understand the marine world. The national scope of the fish count has led to its incorporation into REEF's partnership with the National Marine Sanctuary System.

"We realize that we have limited resources to conduct all the monitoring needed in the sanctuary system, and we rely on these volunteers to fill in some of the gaps," said Dr. Steve Gittings, science coordinator for NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary System. "We encourage people to get involved in volunteer monitoring activities such as the Great American Fish Count."

The GAFC's mission is to educate the public and raise awareness about fish populations and the marine environment; generate information regarding trends in fish populations; and encourage the participation and involvement of divers and snorkelers in ongoing fish monitoring.

Each year during July, an ever-growing number of volunteer divers and snorkelers are participating in the fish count. Participants receive training in local fish identification and behavior and also receive instruction in an easy-to-learn survey method developed by fish ecologists. By recording their observations in a standardized method, divers and snorkelers assist resource managers in identifying long-term trends in fish populations and distributions.

The National Marine Sanctuary System is administered by NOAA's National Ocean Service and serves as the trustee for the nations system of marine protected areas. For more information on the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary and the 13-site National Marine Sanctuary System, please visit

For more information on REEF and the Great American Fish Count, please visit: