NOAA 2002-093
Contact: Kent Laborde
NOAA News Releases 2002
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Plotting a course for the unknown, intrepid researchers will embark on "Islands in the Stream 2002: Exploring Underwater Oases," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's three-week expedition that ventures to the murky deep just off the U.S. South Atlantic Coast beginning July 27. The mission will explore spawning sites and habitats to better understand the dynamics of commercial and recreational fish populations, investigate the potential use of marine resources in human drugs, and research the role of bioluminescence.

Islands in the Stream 2002 is funded and coordinated by NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration, an agency within the Commerce Department. It incorporates researchers and scientists from NOAA, as well as Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, University of North Carolina at Wilmington and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Exploring Underwater Oases is a follow-on to last year's Islands in the Stream mission that yielded significant marine-science findings.

The expedition will depart from the HBOI facility in Fort Pierce, Fla., aboard the HBOI Research Vessel Seward Johnson. From there, the scientists and crew will undertake numerous experiments and probe the waters of the continental shelf in the South Atlantic Bight from Florida to North Carolina. Along the way, the Seward Johnson will dock in Charleston, S.C., for a port call Aug. 17, where students will have the opportunity to meet the scientists and crew, and visit the ship. The expedition is expected to end Aug. 31 at HBOI in Fort Pierce.

The research will focus on topics important to this area of the ocean, and have the underlying theme of deep-water coral reef ecology, biodiversity and exploration of natural resources that may have pharmaceutical benefits. Each of the four major projects will make use of the research vessel's laboratory facilities, as well as HBOI's deep-sea submersible Johnson-Sea-Link. The projects in the expedition are:

  • Characterization of deep-reef habitat and reef fish spawning sites off the Southeast
  • Exploration of unique outer shelf and slope habitats off the Carolinas
  • Discovery of new resources with pharmaceutical potential
  • Exploration of vision and bioluminescence in the deep-sea.

Each project is led by the luminaries of their fields who will bring their expertise to the study of the geology and deep-sea reef habitats unique to the South Atlantic Bight, the westward indentation of the Southern U.S. Atlantic Coast.

"This is an exciting mission that holds lots of promise for advancing our knowledge of deep reefs along the continental shelf break," said John McDonough, project coordinator for Islands in the Stream 2002. "One of the best things about this expedition is that it's right out our back door in U.S. coastal waters. The findings we produce will add to our knowledge and understanding of these unique habitats we are exploring, and should prove useful in determining how to best manage activities in this region for the benefit of the environment and those who depend on its resources."

NOAA Ocean Exploration adds an extra dimension to the expedition by directly involving students and teachers from Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina in grades 5-12. Through a series of lesson plans developed specifically for the Islands in the Stream 2002, the students will engage in hands-on activities, and have direct contact with scientists and researchers aboard the vessel and access to information from the ocean bottom.

"What makes this so engaging is the excitement of discovery and compelling video and other images that document findings almost as they occur on board the research vessel," said Paula Keener-Chavis, national education coordinator for NOAA Ocean Exploration. "This is a perfect way to capture the imagination and spirit of discovery for learners of all ages. In doing so, we can stimulate interest in ocean-science when many of these students are considering possible careers."

Islands in the Stream 2002 is one of many expeditions funded and coordinated by NOAA Ocean Exploration. The missions range from underwater archaeological excavation and preservation to researching biological and chemical processes in the world's oceans.

"Islands in the Stream 2002: Exploring Underwater Oases is a great example of what NOAA Ocean Exploration is out to accomplish. It brings together great minds from federal, state, academic and private organizations for one common purpose: to increase our knowledge of the ocean," said Capt. Craig McLean, director of NOAA Ocean Exploration. "We are building greater awareness of ocean science and providing pragmatic, human-scale benefits to health, commerce and ecology."

Islands in the Stream 2002 images, ships logs and other information will be available on the NOAA Ocean Exploration website at throughout the expedition.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources.

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