NOAA 99-R407
Contact: Matt Stout


Peter J. Auster, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has been named one of 11 1999 Pew Marine Conservation Fellows. The award is the world's largest and most prestigious in the area of sea preservation.

Recipients of the tenth annual Pew Fellowships include an environmental journalist, an underwater photographer, academicians, and national policymakers. Each "Ocean Champion" receives an award of $150,000 to carry out innovative, interdisciplinary projects that address conservation challenges facing the seas.

Auster works both as research coordinator for NOAA's Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and as a fisheries ecologist for the National Undersea Research Center in Connecticut. He will use his Pew Fellowship award to assess degradation of the deep-shelf sea floor bottom from bottom trawling. In addition, Auster plans to develop and distribute education materials to inform the public about the diversity of ocean habitats and their importance in supporting healthy stocks of fish.

"It's hard not to have a personal interest in protecting the health of the ocean in general and the sanctuary in particular, having spent the past five years working in these waters," said Auster. "As I sail over these spots on a map, I can see, in my mind's eye, the unique and magnificent vistas on the sea floor. I want them to look wild and
pristine 10, 20, 50 years from now."

Auster recently took part in a fish ecology project in Stellwagen Bank as part of the Sustainable Seas Expedition, a five-year project of ocean exploration and conservation in the nation's national marine sanctuaries. The Expeditions, made possible by a $5 million grant from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, join in partnership the National Geographic Society and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. An interview with Auster during the SSE mission is
available online at

"This sanctuary is rather unique in that most of its sea floor is deeper than can
be accessed with traditional scuba diving," said Auster. "Given that most people have never seen the ‘underwater landscape' in this region, I think I have a rather unique perspective of the sanctuary, having spent hundreds of hours underwater here, using research submersibles and tethered robots [called ROV's]. When most people picture the sanctuary, they see a whale showing its flukes, or think of hauling a fish to the
surface with a rod and reel, or landing a trawl net full of fish on the deck. I see different pictures -- ones that are reminiscent of hiking through a forest, but this forest is one of burrowing anemones and branching sponges. Stellwagen has a wide range of habitats that are representative of most habitats in the Gulf of Maine -- colorful boulder reefs, gravel ridges, sandy plains."

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, designated in 1992, is located 25 miles east of Boston, Mass. The sanctuary surrounds the entire Stellwagen Bank, a glacially deposited topographic feature lying in 65 ft. to 100 ft. of water, and includes some of the richest fishing grounds in the Northeast.