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A high-tech hunt for deep-sea fish habitat off the Georgia coast begins June 25 as the NOAA Research Vessel Nancy Foster takes researchers east into deep waters near Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary.
Researchers will use high-resolution multibeam and side-scan sonar and remotely operated vehicles equipped with video cameras to map habitat for economically important fish such as tilefish, snowy grouper, red grouper, gray triggerfish, wreckfish, and red bream.
The three-week project will focus on mapping areas along the outer continental shelf — in particular, a reef that spans the coast at a depth of 200 feet, and stretches from the North Carolina border south to northern Florida. NOAA researchers will also look at the upper continental slope and will map areas at depths as great as 2,000 feet. Features to be mapped include deepwater corals, rocky reefs, reefs constructed by worms that build hard calcium carbonate tubes, and depressions and burrows formed by nest-building and burrowing fish.
“Mapping the distribution of the reef fish and their habitats is an important step in recognizing their complex habitat and determining why reef fish choose these areas to live, feed and spawn,” said George Sedberry, superintendent of Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary and the project’s lead scientist. “The shelf-edge reef is a particularly important spawning ground, and we don’t fully understand what characteristics make this reef so attractive to spawning fishes.”
Researchers will revisit some of the areas mapped with sonar last year and will employ a camera-equipped ROV and crew from the NOAA Undersea Research Center at the University of Connecticut to take a closer look at the bottom features.
In addition to aiding researchers and fishery managers, the data collected during the project will be used to create classroom materials that incorporate current local research into lesson plans for science teachers. The educational materials developed from the project will allow teachers to instruct students about important features of the ocean floor, species of fish and habitats found off of their own coast.
This is the second year of a two-year project. Similar mapping has been conducted in shallow reefs of the inner continental shelf, such as those in Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, but detailed maps of deeper fish habitats have never been created. For a summary of the 2006 portion of the project, visit http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/06southatlantic/. The project is funded by a grant from NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration.
Designated in 1981, Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary is one of the largest nearshore live-bottom reefs in the southeastern United States, encompassing approximately 17 square nautical miles. The Gray’s Reef sanctuary consists of a series of sandstone outcroppings and ledges up to 10 feet in height, in a predominantly sandy, flat-bottomed sea floor. The live bottom and ledge habitat support an abundant reef fish and invertebrate community. Loggerhead sea turtles, a threatened species, also use Gray’s Reef year-round for foraging and resting, and the reef is near the known winter calving ground for the highly endangered northern right whale.
The NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program, which manages the Gray’s Reef sanctuary, seeks to increase the public awareness of America’s marine resources and maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, the sanctuary program manages 13 national marine sanctuaries and one marine national monument that together encompass more than 150,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is celebrating 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Commission of Fish and Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.
NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.
On the Web:
NOAA’s National Ocean Service: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/
NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program: http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary: http://www.graysreef.noaa.gov/
Office of Ocean Exploration: http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/