Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef Expedition 2014
Mission Information

Mission Introduction

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster at dock in Savannah, GA.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
(Photo: NOAA Marine Operations)

The 2014 Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary expedition aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster is once again planned to be an action-packed 12 days, April 19 - May 1. We have numerous scientific objectives and a long list of partners signed up to help us achieve our mission. In addition to science, we will also be working to include a broader audience in the effort, and will host an Open House aboard the ship, will be posting logs during the expedition so interested individuals can follow our progress from afar, and will involve a NOAA Teacher At Sea who will be working to bring the expedition to students and you can follow her blog by clicking here.

Samantha Martin deploys the CTD

Samantha Martin deploys the Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) from the deck of the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.
(Photo: Sarah Fangman)

During the first four days of the mission, we will focus our attention on re-mapping Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary was first mapped in 2001, and a benthic habitat map was created by Dr. Matt Kendall and colleagues. In the years since this first map was created, we suspect that changes have occurred on the sea floor due to major storms and hurricanes. In order to compare the seafloor habitats from 2001 with today, we plan to re-map the entire sanctuary. This involves "mowing the lawn" with the ship (driving back and forth along parallel lines) using multibeam sonar to create images of the area beneath the ship. Leading this effort for the science team is Mike Stecher, who will work with the ship's survey technicians Samantha Martin and Nick Mitchell.

Sarah Fangman removes acoustic receiver for data download

Sarah Fangman removes acoustic receiver for data download.
(Photo: Jamie Park, NOAA)

Once the mapping is completed, a team of divers will come out to the ship aboard the Gray's Reef vessel to begin the second phase of our expedition. These divers will support an array of research projects, and will deploy on small boats off the ship, so we can visit multiple dive sites around the sanctuary, maximizing our efforts. Below are brief descriptions of the dive projects planned.

Maintaining the acoustic telemetry array deployed in Gray's Reef to track fish: during several previous expeditions aboard the Nancy Foster, scientists surgically implanted fish with transmitters which send out a signal that can be detected by acoustic receivers. These instruments require maintenance every 3-4 months, and scientists will be conducting dives to complete this maintenance. The data collected from these instruments provides information on the movement of the fish tagged with transmitters. To learn more about the fish tagged in Gray's Reef click here.

A second investigation of fish will be conducted by another team of divers. This study utilizes the ship's fisheries acoustics system to survey fish populations at six sites around the sanctuary. Divers then visit these same sites to validate the information collected remotely with the ship's system. The ultimate goal of this study is to ground-truth data gathered by the ship so we can eventually use the ship's acoustics system to gather fisheries information in a much larger area than is feasible using divers.

Turtle under ledge in Gray's Reef.

Turtle under ledge in Gray's Reef.
(Photo: GRNMS)

The third objective divers will undertake is to conduct marine debris surveys at nine locations where we have conducted surveys in previous years. This effort involves relocating markers that were placed in the sand near several reefs and conducting surveys along predetermined routes at those reefs. We do these surveys periodically to learn about the types and accumulation rates of marine debris in the sanctuary. Knowing what type of debris is found in the sanctuary allows us to try and develop programs to minimize the source of debris.

During all of these projects, divers will also survey for invasive lionfish. These fish are native to the pacific that have been found in Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary. Divers will remove the fish when encountered as they are voracious predators that have the potential to negatively impact the native community in the sanctuary.

Venomous spines adorn the invasive lionfish.

Venomous spines adorn the invasive lionfish.
(Photo: FGBNMS)

In addition, divers will collect photo and video data of sea turtles observed during our dives. Sea turtles can be identified by the pattern on the head and shell (or carapace), and we are trying to determine if the sea turtles we observe are resident to Gray's Reef or just passing thru. We also hope to identify if they are nesting on the beaches inshore of the sanctuary.

Finally, divers will collect photos and video of the habitats and inhabitants of the sanctuary so those images can be used for education and outreach purposes. We will be posting some of the photos and videos on this web site, so check back to hear about our progress and see what we are seeing!

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


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