Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef Expedition 2012
Mission Information

Welcome Aboard!

Scientists, staff and volunteers will conduct a research mission within Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, located 16 miles off the coast of Sapelo Island, Georgia, aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster beginning May 14th through May 24th.

Please join us as we report on the activities and findings of this exciting mission!

Scientists aboard the Nancy Foster will be concentrating on five research projects:
   1) Multibeam mapping
   2) Arc shell collections
   3) Marine debris monitoring
   4) Fish telemetry - fine scale fish movement
   5) Lionfish surveys and removal efforts

Jelly with juvenile fishes

Jelly with juvenile fishes
(Photo: Greg McFall, GRNMS)

We will be posting daily mission logs on the website. So please visit regularly and click on each day's mission log to track progress and experiences.

The primary objective of the cruise is to collect information to better understand, manage, and protect Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

The five research projects will be conducted by scientists at various times during the expedition, as work on the ship goes on around the clock.

Multibeam mapping

At night, the ship will use its Reson 7125 multi-beam system to map the habitats around Gray's Reef by collecting acoustic and backscatter data. Occasionally, if conditions allow, the multi-beam mapping will also go on during the daytime for preparation of maps of habitats around GRNMS. These detailed maps continue to inform us of the types of habitat in and around Gray's Reef and are basic to the management of the sanctuary's resources.

Urchin with Shells and soft coral

Urchin with Shells and soft coral
(Photo: Greg McFall, GRNMS)

Arc shell collections

Research divers will collect at least 20 specimens of native turkey wing mussels (Arca zebra) at various locations throughout sanctuary. The mussels will be analyzed for chemical contaminants. They will be collected from as close a possible to 20 already established research stations, rinsed with ambient seawater, wrapped in heavy aluminum foil, and collectively placed in double plastic Ziploc bags and identified by location. Mussels are filter feeders and contaminants in the water, if present, will build up in their tissue and be revealed through analysis. This kind of analysis contributes to the long-term monitoring of ecological conditions of GRNMS.

Fishing weight and line

Fishing weight and line
(Photo: Greg McFall, GRNMS)

Marine debris monitoring

Divers will look for marine debris at nine long term monitoring sites within the sanctuary and will describe what they find in terms of type, abundance, and accumulation rates. The same nine sites were previously surveyed in 2007, 2008 and again in 2010. Revisiting the sites will allow researchers to measure new debris accumulation. The ledge sites were originally selected to compare debris metrics between regions with differing relative use (low, high) and among ledge height classes (tall, medium). At least nine dives will be required to conduct the measurements although additional dives may be needed to survey complex or heavily fouled sites, or if any sites need to be re-marked.

Divers in Gray's Reef deploy acoustic receiver array

Divers in Gray's Reef deploy acoustic receiver array.
(Photo: Greg McFall, GRNMS)

Fish telemetry - fine scale fish movement

For the past few years, scientists have used receivers and tags surgically implanted into red snappers, scamp and gag groupers to study how these resident reef fish use the overall habitat of the sanctuary. This year, they will take the work one step further by re-arranging some of the receivers into a tighter cluster so they can study the finer movements of fish across a smaller, single area. The goal of this project is to collect 20 fish (maximum) at a single selected site. Scientists will attempt to capture the fish in a variety of ways (underwater by divers, trapping or at the surface using hook and line) and, if possible, to surgically implant the tags into the fish while underwater to reduce the stress on the fish. The studies of how fish move around the sanctuary and how they use the habitat are critical to the successful management of the sanctuary and all of its resources.

There are now a total of 41 tagged fish and 21 receiver sites. For complete details about the on-going fish tagging project, see the project website here:

Venomous spines adorn the invasive lionfish

Venomous spines adorn the invasive lionfish.

Lionfish surveys and removal efforts

Once the other mission projects are complete, the science party may undertake lionfish survey and removal efforts. These tasks would likely be conducted in areas outside the sanctuary, where lionfish are regularly observed. These areas include Savannah's Snapper Banks and the US Navy towers, located offshore of Gray's Reef NMS.


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