Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
2017 Gray's Reef Research Cruise Photos
Mission Information

Gray's Reef Research
Expeditions 2017

Friday: June 9, 2017
Log Day 1

Aria Remondi
Gray's Reef Deputy Superintendent for Operations (Detail)
Savannah, GA

Today begins the annual Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary NOAA Ship Nancy Foster mission! That is a lot of words so let me break it down. Gray's Reef is one of 13 Sanctuaries and two marine national monuments in the system of National Marine Sanctuaries, within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It is a 22 square mile area 19 miles off the coast of Georgia and is one of the largest near-shore "live-bottom" reefs in the Southeast. It is home to invertebrates, over 200 species of fish, the occasional passing Atlantic right whale, and sea turtles galore. The Nancy Foster is a 187' research vessel, one of 16 operated by the NOAA's Corps. Once a year (almost every year), Gray's Reef conducts a research mission aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster - and now is that time.

The 2017 research has four main mission objectives, which I will summarize because they are of course very technical and specific. Basically we will do habitat mapping, assess spatial variation of prey and predators in the area, collect data about fish and invertebrates in the Sanctuary, and look outside the Sanctuary boundaries for ecological connections. NOAA scientists will conduct dive operations for most of these, and may even dive at dawn and dusk.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster, home dock in Charleston, SC.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster, home dock in Charleston, SC
(Photo: Aria Remondi, NOAA)

The chief scientist for this mission is Kim Roberson. She is also the research coordinator for Gray's Reef. I sat down with her to learn a little about her background and what we should expect for this trip.

Aria: Kim, can you tell me about your background?
Kim: Yea, I studied general biology in undergrad and have my masters in biology. I have a bit of a non-traditional background because I took a lot of time between my bachelors and masters. For about six years I worked as a short term researcher, narrowing down what I really wanted to do. When I finally did go back for my masters, I studied leatherback sea turtles, an endangered species, on the edge of their range and used genetics as a tool to find out more about those individuals and where they came from. I worked with DOI on conservation of sea turtles in the Caribbean and then came to NOAA, working mostly on coastal monitoring and assessment using corals and fish as indicators of health. From DOI to my job now as research coordinator for Gray's Reef I have enjoyed providing the science to better answer management questions.

Aria: What is your number one goal as Chief Scientist?
Kim: My number one priority is safety. I want the other researchers on the ship to safely accomplish their goals. I also want to get data from a good number of sites, though the exact number of sites varies according to the goal. Ultimately I want to get the data and science we need to successfully manage Gray's Reef. Personally, I am looking forward to diving and exploring. This is my first GRNMS mission as Chief Scientist and I want to understand Gray's Reef better, see more of it, and work with everyone on the ship.

Kim Roberson with NOAA Ship Nancy Foster at dock.

Kim Roberson with NOAA Ship Nancy Foster at dock.
(Photo: Kim Roberson, GRNMS)

Aria: You are also in charge of diving at Gray's Reef, what do you like most about diving?
Kim: Seeing what there is to see in the great big sea! Really it's the opportunity to explore. I have been diving since college and I always see something when I dive that excites me or intrigues me. When I see my favorite fish it's like I am seeing old friends, and when I see something new is an opportunity to learn. I also am very lucky to be diving in a habitat I care about.

Aria: What fish/animal do you hope to see while you are diving on this mission?
Kim: A sea turtle! I don't see them often. Sometimes it is just a little glimpse in the distance and sometimes they are curious about what I am doing. I like to see sergeant majors - I am most familiar with them from the tropics and seeing them up here in the temperate areas it reminds me that the ocean is a great, wide place. Oh and sea stars, they are fun to see.

Aria: Good luck with your mission and I hope you see some amazing things down in the Sanctuary. Before you go to work can you tell me, what is the one thing you wish everyone knew about Gray's Reef?
Kim: What a special place it is. And using science to show how special it is excites me.

The NOAA Ship Nancy Foster departs from Charleston on June 10th and will continue working until June 23rd. The Gray's Reef staff will be blogging from aboard the ship the whole time. Come back tomorrow to learn about ship life from the eyes of a newbie!


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