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 28th through June 8th. Please join us as we report on the activities and findings of this exciting mission!

Scientists aboard the Nancy Foster will be concentrating on three research projects:
   1) Fish Censuses
   2) Invertebrate Density and Abundance
   3) Multibeam Mapping

Black seabass on sparsley colonized livebottom

Black seabass on sparsley colonized livebottom
(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.

You can also follow the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster's route on NOAA Ship Tracker.

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

The three research projects will be conducted by scientists at various times during the expedition, as work on the ship goes on around the clock. For more information on the personnel aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster, please visit our Expedition Team Page.

Fish Censuses
In late 2011, NOAA established a research area in Gray's Reef to increase the opportunity to scientifically discriminate between natural ecological changes with the sanctuary versus changes caused by humans.

One goal of the proposed research area is to determine the effect of bottom fishing on benthic (associated with the ocean bottom) fish populations. Therefore, this year from the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster, we plan to continue the baseline data collection begun on last year's expedition by conducting benthic habitat and fish community surveys at numerous sites located within and outside the research area. As the research area has been in place for less than six months, we do not expect to see any differences; however the surveys will confirm our expectations. At each site, we will measure ledge characteristics such as ledge height and determine the benthic habitat community (sponges, sea squirts, sea urchins, algae) present with a series of stationary photoquadrats.

Feather duster worm

Feather duster worm
(Photo: Greg McFall, GRNMS)

Invertebrate Density and Abundance
Dr. Danny Gleason and students from Georgia Southern University will focus on the ecology of benthic marine invertebrates, such as sponges and corals. Their goal is to gain an understanding of the roles that biotic (e.g., competition, predation) and abiotic (e.g., temperature, sedimentation, current speed) factors play in shaping the community of benthic invertebrates that occur at Gray's Reef. Obtaining knowledge such as this is critical for implementing appropriate management strategies because these benthic invertebrates provide critical resources that support the vast array of fishes that inhabit these offshore reefs.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster in Gray's Reef
(Photo: Randy Rudd)

Multibeam Mapping
The seafloor of Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary was mapped in 2001, using both multibeam and side scanning sonar. Scientists produced a habitat map of the sanctuary's seafloor from that data. The map characterized the sanctuary into four habitat types: densely colonized livebottom, sparsely colonized livebottom, rippled sand and flat sand. The densely colonized ledges and outcroppings comprise only about one percent of all available habitat where fish are known to aggregate. Gray's Reef will be remapped during this year's expedition to provide scientists with information about how the sanctuary habitat has changed during the last ten years.


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