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

Saturday: June 17, 2017
Log Day 9

Jody Patterson
Gray's Reef Events & Volunteer Coordinator
Savannah, GA

Sunset on Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

Sunset on Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.
(Photo: Jody Patterson, GRNMS)

Gray's Reef is home to over 200 species of fish and more than 900 invertebrate (spineless animal) species. Sanctuary managers acquired understanding of the local populations through extensive surveys completed over many years. These surveys, conducted visually by SCUBA divers, involve laying out lines of measuring tape or placing a square quadrat over a surface area and actually counting all the species seen. Other than adding to our general knowledge of this 22 square mile wilderness area, I wondered what the purpose of this type of research could be.

Stout moray eel.

Stout moray eel.
(Photo: Roldan Muñoz, NMFS)

Contributing to this study is our research partner from NOAA Fisheries Beaufort lab, Dr. Roldan Muñoz, who offered that developing a baseline of our collective knowledge about the fish found at Gray's Reef provides a reference point to determine what, if any, changes occur here over time. For example, fish may migrate to other areas in response to climate change, and Muñoz hypothesized that the presence of lionfish could be an indicator species for those kinds of changes in the ecosystem. While he does not note the absence of any particular species, he did seem pleasantly surprised about the presence of a few, like a Stout moray eel.

Goliath grouper.

Goliath grouper.
(Photo: Roldan Muñoz, NMFS)

In addition, at 6+ feet in length, it is hard not to be impressed with a Goliath grouper. Seldom seen in the sanctuary, this massive fish observed during yesterday's survey of a high reef ledge in the research area was an exciting contribution to the days' research. This outstanding abundance and diversity of life found throughout the sanctuary is a key indicator of a healthy ecosystem. As Muñoz described, there are certain size class of fish found around reef ledges of various heights. The goliath grouper with its aptly descriptive name was observed snuggled up next to a large ledge, meanwhile at a site nearby Muñoz noted an abundance of juvenile red snapper, seemingly a nursery school of youngsters crowded around their playground habitat. However, the hard-bottom reef ledges are just one type of habitat found in the sanctuary. Much of the sanctuary is composed of sandy areas.

White urchin.

White urchin.
(Photo: Tim Henkel, VSU)

Dr. Tim Henkel of Valdosta State University, a research scientist and Muñoz' dive partner on this expedition added that his study aims to make sure we do not miss anything living in the sand. His research focuses on echinoderms, or more specifically sea stars and urchins. Gray's Reef has both in abundance but he is looking for an infrequently observed species commonly called the green sea urchin or the variegated sea urchin. This urchin is white and likes to decorate itself, likely as a form of camouflage for protection on the sandy sea floor from predators like sheepshead, triggerfish and nurse sharks.

He is also on the hunt for a species commonly known as the banded sea star. Successful in both efforts, he and his colleagues at Valdosta State University hope to add these marine invertebrate to our inventory of acoustically tagged species in their future studies to learn more about their behavior.

Thanks to the support of this incredibly talented and dedicated team, we are able to tell the story of Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary and are able to keep the pulse of this thriving ecosystem.

2017 NOAA Ship Nancy Foster science crew.

2017 NOAA Ship Nancy Foster science crew (L to R): Faith Knight, Danny Gleason, Marybeth Head, Tim Henkel, Alicia Reigel, Brianne Varnerin, Kim Roberson (Chief Scientist), Roldan Munoz, Haley Hanes, Peter Auster, Donn Pratt (Commanding Officer), Randy Rudd.
(Photo: Jody Patterson, GRNMS)


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