OCULINA EXPEDITION 2005
Characterizing a Deep Coral Ecosystem and Assessing the Effectiveness of the Oculina Experimental Closed Area
MISSION DISPATCH 3
October 14, 2005
OHAPC - Gulf Stream, off the east coast Florida
Scientists aboard the Liberty Star conducted two ROV dives today. In addition to Oculina coral heads and individual colonies, we observed a pair of adult cobia, scamp groupers, short bigeyes, brittlestars, sea pens, black corals (sea whips), and sea stars. However, late last night, before we commenced the first ROV dive today, three scientists boarded a small support boat and traveled over five miles away from the Liberty Star (in complete darkness!) to collect information about fish presence along Chapman's reef at night.
Dr. Grant Gilmore (ECOS, Inc.) and Stacey Harter (NMFS) are ichthyologists (fish biologists). Gilmore has over three decades of marine science experience. He served as Chief scientist on seven international deep water expeditions, using submersibles in the tropical western Atlantic, West Indies, Bahamas Islands, Cuba, and Central America. In addition, he has studied fishery resources in the Galapagos Islands, Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. Like Gilmore, Harter is also a fish expert. She currently works in the Panama City National Marine Fisheries Service laboratory. Harter helps provide the scientific information needed to effectively manage marine protected areas. Harter has participated in several scientific expeditions including two missions to the OHAPC. Harter led the expedition to Chapman's reef last night.
Gilmore has developed state-of-the-art technologies and approaches to studying fish. One of the Oculina expedition objectives is to document grouper spawning and other reproductive activities on a living Oculina reef. This will be accomplished, in part, by acquiring acoustic signatures (sounds) for dominant OHAPC reef fish species and target features (e.g., living versus dead Oculina reef). Last night, hydrophones (underwater microphones) were deployed just meters above the seabed to record fish sounds and associated acoustic signatures. It is important to note that this technology is not harmful to the fish, unlike some of the other available fisheries sampling methods. Harter will transfer the information collected last night to Gilmore, who will then match the acoustic signatures to particular fish species.
In addition to acoustic sampling, Dr. Gilmore will deploy a long-term acoustic observatory on Jeff's Reef and deploy a video camera and Didson sonar on Jeff's Reef on separate related missions to the OHAPC. As a result, a new observatory approach will be developed to provide documentation of these populations and their reproductive activities year-round.
Application to Management and Science:
Bank reefs are known spawning sites for federally-managed grouper species including gag, scamp, snowy, and speckled hind. The dominant grouper species in the OHAPC, now gag and scamp, appear to spawn in the late winter (Feb-Mar) at a time when it is difficult to conduct undersea research on the Banks due to weather and seas. Through the use of hydrophones, as opposed to divers, information can be collected in a safe, reliable, and cost-effective way. The information collected by Gilmore and Harter will help natural resource managers better understand the deep water coral ecosystem of the OHAPC and develop a scientifically sound management decisions for this important area.