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Summer 1999

Sustainable Seas Expedition Voyages to Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary
Peering into the Microscopic World of the Sanctuary
A Fish's Eye View of the Deep Boulder Reefs
Seeing into the Sanctuary with Sound
Sanctuary Currents
A Day in Nature's Classroom
Research Briefs
No, It's Not a Jellyfish--Collecting & Studying Marine Debris

Diving into the Sanctuary Without Getting Wet
Education Digest


Sustainable Seas Expedition Voyages to Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary

Submersibles, hydrophones, whales, microscopes and a blimp were all part of the Sustainable Seas Expedition to the Gerry E. Studds/ Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary which began on July 4th. As Bostonians celebrated the holiday with the traditional turnaround of the USS Constitution (aka "Old Iron-sides"), the Boston Pops Concert, and a massive fireworks display, the sanctuary and SSE team opened an exhibit tent at the New England Aquarium and loaded the DeepWorker submersibles on the NOAA research vessel FERREL. The following day, Assistant Secretary of Commerce Terry Garcia introduced the media to the SSE program.

The Sustainable Seas Expeditions is a project of the National Geographic Society in partnership with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), made possible by an initial grant of $5 million from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund. The three fundamental goals of the expeditions are undersea exploration, scientific research, and education. The mission to Stellwagen Bank looked at the wide ranging diversity of species in the sanctuary and how they utilize their habitats. Noted marine explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle completed the first dive, one of a series of dives she is making to document the biodiversity of the nation’s marine sanctuaries.

Sanctuary research coordinator (and National Undersea Research Center-NURC science director) Peter Auster and James Lindholm, the sanctuary’s two DeepWorker pilots, focused on deep boulder reef fish communities; NURC bioacoustician Peter Scheifele, two students from the American School for the Deaf and the MIMI sailing vessel studied background noise and whale behavior; while Virginia Edgcomb, Marine Biological Laboratory and Michael Atkins, Woods Hole Oceano-graphic Institution peered into the microscopic world of the waters and sediments of the sanctuary with scopes loaned to the expedition by the Zeiss Company.

Peering into the Microscopic World of the Sanctuary

Many people think that bigger means better. But in an ocean ecosystem, the tiniest creatures, many of them far too small to be seen with the naked eye, perform some of the most important tasks. Cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, provide more oxygen to the earth through the process of photosynthesis than all land plants combined. Likewise, marine bacteria take up massive amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and fix it into mineral deposits, virtually driving the earth’s carbon cycles.

"Microbes are the true engines of the biosphere," said Virginia Edgcomb, a staff scientist who studies highly intricate and interdependent communities of microorganisms at the Josephine Bay Paul Center in Comparative Molecular Biology and Evolution within the Marine Biological Laboratory at Wood's Hole. "They essentially drive all processes that make life possible for larger organisms."

Despite their essential role in creating an inhabitable planet, little is known about most of these algae, bacteria or other simple unicellular organisms. Scientists estimate that, at most, five percent of all microbial species have been described, leaving an abundance of work formicrobiologists. "It's an incredible world out there on the ocean floor, just teaming with life. There is almost no end to what we can study," said Edgcomb, noting that each exploratory dive might yield another undiscovered species.

The Sustainable Sea's Expedition of the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary is no exception. For two days of the expedition, Edgecomb and Mike Atkin of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution took waters samples at about six to ten meters depth to get a look at the planktonic community of the Stellwagen Bank. After concentrating a water sample through a process of filtration, they investigated the microscopic life it contained, using a microscope/camera system donated by the Zeiss Company specifically for the expedition.

The researchers noted that the planktonic community structure at this depth differed over the course of the day. In the morning, various arthropods or copepod species made up the largest percentage of the organisms in the sample. But by about three o'clock in the afternoon, a larger dinoflagellate called Ceratium dominated the planktonic community.

According to Edgcomb, this might be evidence of some type of diurnal migration in which Ceratium travels up and down the water column depending on the activity of other organisms. One possibility, the scientists speculated, is that the morning glut of copepods and other crustaceans feed on Ceratium, and so the dinoflagellate escapes to lower waters to avoid predation. More research will be necessary to develop a substantial hypothesis as to why this intriguing change in community structure occurs,

Edgcomb said. The research team also found a variety of plankton, bacteria, diatoms and flagellates during the expedition, some of the more unusual of which they've taken to their laboratory at Woods Hole for further identification.

To gauge the diversity of microbes on a deeper level, researchers at the Bay Paul Center have embarked on studies that compare the DNA from a variety of different organisms. The Marine Biological aboratory has become internationally known for its efforts to map microbial genomes, including the genome of giardia, the infamous protist that causes intestinal discomfort and diarrhea in humans. The time required for mapping a microbe's genome is steadily decreasing, said Edgcomb, and the genetic information gathered from genomics can tell us a lot about the evolutionary origins of the organisms. With the speed and accuracy of new DNA mapping techniques combined with the power of new bioinformatics systems to store and process biological data, Edgcomb said she believes knowledge about the microbial world will grow by leaps and bounds in years to come. "It's an exciting time to be an evolutionary biologist," she said.

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A Fish’s Eye View of the Deep Boulder Reefs

Submersible Scientist-Pilots Study Reef Ecology

The shallow, crystalline waters of the Caribbean have attracted many a marine scientist and wildlife enthusiast. For this reason, we know a great deal about the role of coral reefs in these warm-water ecosystems. But unbeknownst to many, Stellwagen Bank contains reefs that are just as important to northern marine habitats as their tropical counterparts are to the equatorial climes.

The deep boulder reefs of the Stellwagen Bank sanctuary–areas where glaciers dropped large piles of rocks some 14,000 years ago–are home to a multitude of marine fish and crustaceans. Some of the most economically important fish species in New England inhabit these rocky depths. But because the turbid, chilly waters surrounding the boulder reefs are inhospitable to researchers, relatively little is known about these ecosystems.

"Most people can envision tropical coral reef fish in action, but they have only seen deep boulder fish from their dinner plate or from the deck of a ship," said Peter Auster, science director for the National Undersea Research Center for the North Atlantic and Great Lakes (NURC) at the University of Connecticut and research coordinator for the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. "The lives of boulder fish are certainly as interesting. It’s just harder to study them."

The one-person submersibles used in the Sustainable Seas Expedition this July provided a new research platform for scientists to probe these little understood regions of the sea. At depths of up to 300 feet, Auster, along with NURC post-doctoral fellow James Lindholm, observed populations of redfish, ocean pout, cunner, cusk, cod, haddock and other deep boulder species, noting differences in behavior and distribution across reef structures of varying complexity. By combining their fish population and distribution observations with high resolution maps of the ocean floor provided by Page Valentine of the U.S. Geological Survey in Woods Hole, Mass., the researchers hope to gain an understanding of how changing underwater landscapes effect fish behavior. "It is well-known that tropical fish have a very structured response to changes in topography or current, but it is unclear whether deep boulder reef fish have that same response," said Lindholm. "Only by going under water, using various manned and unmanned submersibles can we do the types of studies that our counterparts in the tropics have done so well."

The cornerstones of the North Atlantic ecosystem, deep boulder reefs provide structure and shelter for a variety of ocean residents. Soft corals, sponges and tunicates affix themselves to the rocky coves to become a secondary layer of structure. Schools of groundfish often retreat to the refuge of the crags and crevices of these bespeckled boulders, escaping strong bottom currents or piscine predators. "It’s a fish eat fish world out there," remarked Auster of the unforgiving ocean food web.

Because of the protective function of the rocky areas, understanding boulder reef ecology could be the key to setting up a successful management scheme for the sanctuary’s fisheries, according to Lindholm. Dramatic declines in groundfish stocks over the last decade in the Gulf of Maine and Stellwagen Bank have threatened the future of fishing in the sanctuary. In 1998, the National Marine Fisheries Service closed some popular commercial fishing areas due to fears that groundfish populations might collapse. Two study sites for the sub dives were within the large Gulf of Maine closed area which intersects the eastern section of the sanctuary.

These closed areas now provide an opportunity for Auster and Lindholm to study the relationship between bottom structures and fish populations. Over time, the protected zones will be recolonized by corals, anemones and other sessile organisms that had been removed by bottom-dragging gear. The researchers are monitoring fish populations as the living structures regenerate, and are forming some hypotheses about how fish associate with their habitat. "Much more experimentation is needed, but we have found some evidence that as the bottom cover grows, fish survivorship increases," said Lindholm.

With the Sustainable Seas Expedition, Auster and Lindholm will shed further light on how fish behave in the deep, dark world of Stellwagen Bank’s boulder reefs. In doing so, they hope to educate the public about this critical ecosystem.

"Nowadays, people can easily see how protecting coral reefs or kelp beds is important," Auster said. "But hopefully, with some more information, we can help them see that protecting deep boulder reefs in areas like the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is important, too."

Seeing into the Sanctuary with Sound

With the help of imaging techniques that allow scientists to visualize sound, some unlikely researchers joined the Sustainable Seas Expedition to study bioacoustics in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Two top-notch high-school students from the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, Conn., teamed up with a National Undersea Research Center (NURC) researcher to gauge levels of noise pollution in the underwater world off Massachusetts’ congested coast.

"Noise pollution is insidious," said Peter Scheifele, director of marine education programs and bioacoustic research at NURC/ North Atlantic and Great Lakes who teaches marine science classes at the ASD. "You can’t see it, touch it, or taste it, so most people just ignore it until something catastrophic, such as deafness, results." But he and students in ASD’s advanced placement physics class hope to change that. For the last year, the class has learned about scientific techniques that will allow them to measure sound levels underwater and to distinguish natural sounds of waves or vocalizing sea animals, from the anthropogenic noises of ships or low-flying airplanes.

"We just don’t know how man-made noises effect the habitat of marine animals like whales who depend on sound to communicate and survive. Our research is a first-step toward solving that problem," said Scheifele, a physicist who began teaching at ASD four years ago as a part of NURC’s education outreach initiative called the Aquanaut Program. Through this program high school students and teachers have had the opportunity to actively participate in on-going research projects using the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary as a natural "laboratory."

Starting on the 9th of July, the research team on board the MIMI sailing vessel (famous from the nationally recognized video series and middle school curriculum "The Voyage of the MIMI") gathered five days worth of acoustic data from the bottom of Stellwagen Bank. To do this they used a hydrophone, an underwater microphone that can pick up sounds within a mile radius, which they lowered off the side of the ship to measure sound at various depths. The hydrophone transmits sound signals to a digital audio tape recorder. A spectrum analyzer and specialized acoustic software allowed the operator to divide the sounds into their component waves. These waves were displayed on monitors from the deck of the ship, where the young scientists kept watch for changes in sound patterns from day to night, and looked for recognizable vocalizations of marine mammals.

They identified the sounds produced by passing ships, and recorded a variety of ocean background noise throughout the expedition. They also captured on tape a new vocalization that humpback whales have been making in recent years at the bottom of Stellwagen Bank. Approaching the ocean floor, the whales give a loud low-frequency "shout" that some scientists speculate may be an attempt to drive sand lance out of the sand. "It could be a new adaptation in feeding behavior, but we just don’t know," said Scheifele, adding that he hopes the data collected during the Sustainable Seas Expedition will shed more light on these new calls. Whale researcher Mason Weinrich of the Cetacean Research Unit in Gloucester and Sanctuary Advisory Council, will provide additional field observations of humpback activity from CRU’s research vessel.

Answering tough questions like these is only one goal of the acoustic monitoring study. As importantly, the project will give the students some hands-on experience in a field that has remained largely inaccessible to deaf people.

"Science is a career choice these students might not have had without this program," said Denise Monte, an audiologist at ASD who takes part in instructing the class on sound science and who has helped to create a marine acoustics curriculum for deaf students scheduled to go on-line at ASD next year. Scheifele, Monte and ASD science instructor Mary Laporta Hupper plan to make the curriculum available to other deaf schools by the year 2002.

Along with developing a curriculum, they hope to inspire necessary additions to the somewhat limited non-verbal language of sign. As it stands, official sign language vocabulary does not include signals for important scientific terms such as "wavelength" or "amplitude," a shortcoming that poses some significant problems for science teachers in deaf schools.

"Imagine that you had to teach a physics class but you had to spell out every other word," said Scheifele. "It can really slow you down."

Hupper has developed a type of shorthand with her students to cope with the problem, using unofficial signs that the class agrees upon to represent certain scientific concepts or instruments. Hupper said it is a necessary substitute for a more permanent solution. "Science is very specific, so you need a specific vocabulary to talk about it," she said. "At this point sign language doesn’t have that."

Together the three educators will work with linguists in the deaf community to develop official signs that will broaden the scope of sign language to include scientific subjects.

For now, all three strive to give deaf students access to a world long closed to them; the world of sound. In doing so, they have broken through some of the traditional boundaries of teaching, creating an environment where the learning process occurs on both sides of the student-teacher relationship.

And experiences like the Aquanaut Program and Sustainable Seas Expeditions have helped. Peter Scheifele remembers well one of the first classes he taught in which a deaf student asked him to describe the sound of a calling whale. "I was stumped," he recalled. "I thought ‘How could I explain to a person who has never even heard her own voice what a whale’s voice sounds like?"

"Now, I know. I can just point to the images of sound waves on the computer screen and sign, ‘It sounds like that.’"

Sanctuary Currents

Sanctuary Research Coordinator Wins Pew Grant
Peter Auster, science director of the National Undersea Research Center at the University of Connecticut and research coordinator for the sancutary, has been named one of 11 Pew Marine Conservation Fellows for 1999. The award was announced on July 12 during the Sustainable Seas Expedition into the sanctuary for which Mr. Auster served as one of the two scientist-pilots and co-mission coordinator. He will use the fellowship to address the problem of overexploitation of demersal species and habitat destruction in subarctic, temperate and tropical outer continental shelf systems. Using cost-effective underwater video techniques, he will document the effects of fishing on the seafloor and collect biodiversity data to support more sustainable fisheries management measures. In addition, the funding will allow development and distribution of educational materials to inform the public about the diversity of ocean habitats and their importance in supporting healthy fish stocks. The Pew Fellowships are a program of the Pew Charitable Trusts in partnership with the New England Aquarium. The ten grants total $1.5 million, making it the world’s largest award for marine conservation. 

Stellwagen Sanctuary Relocates to Scituate
The administrative offices for the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary moved to Scituate at the close of 1998. A need for additional office and storage space was the motivating factor in seeking a new location. The Coast Guard’s decision to move Station Scituate to smaller quarters was fortuitous for the sanctuary, the station providing the much needed space as well as docking facilities. At this time, the sanctuary is leasing the space from the Coast Guard and sharing the spacious building with the Coast Guard (while its new station is constructed across the harbor), NOAA Office of Enforcement and Massachusetts Environmental Police.

Information on Hurricanes Available Through NOAA
Scientists are predicting that residents along the western edge of the Atlantic Ocean may once again see a greater than average number of hurricanes this year. The official hurricane season began on June 1st and continues through November 1, with the following names pre-selected for identification of 1999 Atlantic storms: Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Dennis, Emily, Floyd, Gert, Harvey, Irene, Jose, Katrina, Lenny, Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Philippe, Rita, Stan, Tammy, Vince, and Wilma. Information on hurricanes and other weather events can be accessed through theWeather Service web site at: http://www.nws.noaa.gov.

Mandatory Ship Reporting Program Initiated
A new reporting system, proposed by the United States (with input from the sanctuary) and approved by the International Maritime Organization, may take some of the guess-work out of avoiding right whales in coastal waters. Under the system developed by NOAA and the Coast Guard, which started operating in July, 1999, all ships traveling through the northeast right whale habitat (Great South Channel,Cape Cod Bay, and the Gerry E. Studds/Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary) must report their location, course, speed, and destination and in return receive automated messages containing more specific information about whale sightings in the area. These messages will also include some precautionary tactics the ships can take to avoid potential collision with whales, such as changes course and speed. A similar reporting system is in place for the southern calving grounds off Florida and Georgia for the period between November 15 and April 15. 

Brad Barr Assumes National Role in Sanctuary Program
Brad Barr, former manager of the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary has been named a senior policy analyst for the National Marine Sanctuary Program. He is now based out of a newly established policy and planning office which shares space with the U.S. Geological Survey in Woods Hole, Mass. Mr. Barr’s responsibilities include the assessment of threats to the marine resources in all 12 sanctuaries, development of national policies to address those threats, and analytical/technical support in marine protected area planning and management on both regional and national projects. 

MWRA Outfall Permit Issued; Sanctuary Concerns Addressed
After years of research, design and development, the plan for the discharge of effluent from the massive Deer Island treatment plan has been permitted. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit (or NPDES) was issued jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection under federal and state Clean Water Acts; it imposes rigorous ambient monitoring requirements, stringent pollution prevention, water conservation, and best management practices. This action marks a key milestone in the effort to address pollution in Boston Harbor. After secondary treatment at Deer Island, the effluent will travel through an ocean outfall tunnel 9.5 miles offshore into Massachusetts Bay. The final permit requires that the Massachusetts Water Resources Au-thority submit an annual report to the sanctuary that includes all monitoring data related to the sanctuary and documents any effects of the discharge on sanctuary resources and qualities over the previous year.

Disaster Relief Program for Fishermen Announced
The Commerce Department will provide $5 million in disaster relief to commercial fishermen who have suffered losses because of declining fish stocks in the Gulf of Maine, Commerce Secretary William M. Daley announced. The program requires eligible fishing permit holders and their crews to provide a day of research for every day for which they received compensation. If vessel owners are not asked to participate in at-sea research, they will be required to supply socio-economic information, including tax returns for five years, so managers will have more complete data regarding the economics of commercial fishing.

 

A Day in Nature’s Classroom

Ask any classroom teacher and they will admit it: experience is the best instructor. With this in mind, over twenty high school teachers, set out on July 12 aboard the EnviroLab III, a teaching vessel operated by Harbor Explorations out of the University of Massachusetts, to witness first-hand the rich and diverse marine resources within the Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary. Their journey was one part of the Sustainable Seas Expeditions (SSE) education initiative.

As the EnviroLab III left the dock at the University of Massachusetts, no one could have foreseen just how memorable that day would be. About an hour into the trip, the group sighted a trio of pilot whales traveling toward Stellwagen Bank parallel to the ship’s track. A flock of cormorants hovering just to the right soared and dipped above the surface waters in pursuit of a mid-morning snack.

Once the boat entered the sanctuary, a truly magnificent show unfurled. As many as eight humpback whales surrounded the ship, spouting streams of hot breath up to ten feet in the air with a low, hollow hiss. The whales rested at the surface, with occasional dives to deeper regions, revealing majestic flukes on the way down. A minke whale traveled along in front of the boat, and a white-sided dolphint flew over the water in a graceful arch then disappeared under the water only to reemerge with a burst of speed moments later. A bobbing sunfish, or mola mola, idled nearby unmistakable with its enormous dorsal fin. Then, in the distance, more than 16 humpback whales breached within a time period of about 20 minutes creating a rare and beautiful spectacle.

"Doesn’t that look like the purest expression of joy?" one of the teachers asked in a hushed voice that broke the awe-filled silence on deck as one by one the giant animals spirited above the surface, then with both fins outstretched, splashed back into the water.

After exchanging cheerful salutations with the MIMI research vessel, the EnviroLab began its own exploration of the Bank’s waters. With a glass jar and some twine, the crew collected a sample of surface water that contained a multitude of organisms. Using a microscope with a visual field that fed directly to a computer display, Betsy Broughton, a fisheries biologist from the National Marine Fisheries Service gave the teachers a crash-course in plankton identification, pointing out various copepods, dinoflagellates and larvae that inhabit the Sanctuary’s fertile waters.

"People who are familiar with tropical water are always amazed when they see how abundant these critters are in the North Atlantic," said Broughton in response to the many oohs and ahhs at the variety of microorganisms.

"Our waters are a lot more nutrient-rich than the warmer waters and can support more life. Even scientists are often shocked the first time they see North Atlantic water under high magnification."

As the EnviroLab made its way back to its dock, the participants gathered on deck to go over the curriculum, swap activity ideas and relax in the rays of a fierce afternoon sun.

"The great part about this trip is that we can get some exposure to the open ocean within the context of education," said Derek Wiberg, an environmental sciences teacher from Framingham High School. "The whole trip is about the joy of learning."

by Rebecca Pollard, associate editor
Boston University Program in Science Journalism

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Research Briefs

Airship Fleet Provides Platforms for Studying Sanctuary Whales
The summer of 1999 will see the flight of several of the nation’s airships (blimps) over the sanctuary in the name of science. This year’s flights started with the H.P. Hood blimp during the Sustainable Seas Expedition. Sightings of feeding whales were relayed to the MIMI sailing vessel to coordinate acoustic and visual studies of behavior. The Sanyo airship completed a sanctuary overflight in late July. The research flights are being coordinated by Dr. James Hain of Associated Scientists of Woods Hole who has found the blimps to be silent, stable platforms for these sorts of field observations.

Summer Research Cruises in the Sanctuary
The waters of the sanctuary will be busy this summer with a variety of research cruises. The U. S. Geological Survey will be continuing its program mapping sea floor environments and biological habitats using video and photo imagery and collection of bottom sediments. These images and sediment samples are required to groundtruth earlier multibeam sonar images acquired in past surveys. This cruise will occur in middle to late July.

The National Undersea Research Center brings its Aquanaut Program to the sanctuary for acoustics and habitat fieldstudy in July and August. The program is designed for high school teachers and students who are motivated and interested in science. Prior to their visit to the sanctuary, the teachers and students will have undergone a rigorous curriculum that covers scientific methodologies, development of hypotheses, use of statistics to validate or reject hypotheses, and effective methods to present results. A select group of students are chosen to particpate in the summer fieldwork.

The National Undersea Research Center and Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary will support a series of one-day research cruises looking at fish habitat utilization, using a drop camera system.

Numerous cetacean researchers will be using the whalewatch fleet as a platform for whale behavior studies. The Center for Coastal Studies is continuing work on humpback whale genetics with which they are tracing family trees. The skin and blubber samples are being sent to scientists elsewhere for studies of levels of toxic contaminants.

 

No, It’s Not a Jellyfish — Collecting & Studying Marine Debris

Throughout the summer months a project called Marine Debris Survey and Collection will be conducted aboard the NOAA vessel HAWK within and around the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary . The objective of this project is to collect floating debris and document the type and location of this solid pollution. Data will be mapped to discover patterns which can then be used in management plans to limit pollution in the sanctuary. Katrina Kibner, a student at the University of Connecitcut, will be responsible for both the data collection and the report summarizing the findings of the project.

Marine debris is a persistent and ubiquitous problem in the world’s oceans, appearing in such out-of-the-way locations as Antarctica as well as such highly travelled waters as New York Harbor, according to reports from the Center for Marine Conservation and statistics generated by CMC’s annual coastal cleanup program.

"Data collected along Massachusetts’ shores, with its dense population and high visitation rates, indicate that this region is no exception," notes Anne Smrcina, education coordinator of the Sanctuary and formerly Coastsweep Coordinator for the Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Office. Among the items commonly found along our shores and itemized in the annual cleanups are cigarette butts, plastic pieces, glass pieces, plastic food bags, styrofoam pieces, paper, straws, rope, caps and lids, and cans. In addition, balloons make up a significant portion of both the beach litter and solid pollution found in the Stellwagen Bank area.

The majority of these balloons were filled with helium, some intentionally and others accidentally released. However, all balloons regardless of how they got in the air return to the earth. As the surface area of the earth is primarily covered with water, a vast number of these balloons fall into the world’s oceans.

Other balloons are used as floats by fishermen fishing for Atlantic bluefin tuna on Stellwagen Bank, a prime summer habitat. At times, hundreds of vessels may be plying the waters in their search for this commercially important fish, a giant tuna selling for tens of thousands of dollars. Typically, three to five balloons are deployed from each vessel during these trolling operations. At times balloons break off and float in the upper layers of the oceanic water column.

The nearby shoreline and waters within and around the sanctuary are heavily trafficked by people throughout much of the year. With these people come a large amount of garbage including aluminum cans, six-pack rings, plastic wrappings from manufactured products and other non-bio-degradable items. "To fish and turtles that prey on jellyfish, the floating balloons and other plastic articles of pollution appear to be natural food. In some animals the plastic may not pass through their digestive systems, leading to fatal results," said Ms Kibner. "Clearly, the motive behind such a project would be to aid in the prevention of such needless deaths of marine organisms," she added.

The procedure for this summer’s debris survey will require recording of starting position and starting speed at time of departure. The methods of detecting solid pollution include laser range finders, GPS, and manual visual scanning. The time and position of when and where debris is found will be entered on the appropriate track lines and calculations of daily coverage will be made.

Along with the data collection, the HAWK’s crew will be collecting the debris whenever possible. "We will have the satisfaction of knowing that each piece of debris we recover from the ocean is one less piece that had the potential to kill or injure a marine organism such as a turtle, whale or fish," said Ms Kibner.

The results of the project may also have implications for marine resource management. Better information on debris movement and type may lead to more effective public awareness programs that target particular groups that use the waters in and around the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

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Diving into the Sanctuary Without Getting Wet

Few people have an opportunity to visit the deepest recesses of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary to explore the pavilion of encrusting invertebrates found there, or to watch solitary skates and an array of armored crabs meander across the cobble. Until recently, only marine scientists and the occasional deep water diver could witness the awe-inspiring underwater world hundreds of feet below the surface waters.

Now, a new exhibit at the New England Aquarium can take even the most insistent land-lover to the bottom of the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary with the help of digital animation technology.

The Immersive Theater, the nation’s first interactive digital animation exhibit, allows participants to virtually probe the vast and hidden wilderness of Stellwagen Bank with the help of fictional miniature diving cameras, or "probies." Images of a mother humpback whale and her calf, or flounders fluttering along the sanctuary bottom fill the three viewing screens as the probies purportedly relay "real-time" video from the Sanctuary’s waters. Former Congressman Gerry E. Studds, co-author of the 1992 Act of Congress that created the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, provides the recorded narration.

The exhibit is more than a simple 15 minute ocean tour. The theater is designed to emulate a control room where participants can make important decisions regarding the future of the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary, and at the same time, receive a crash-course in marine protected areas management.

"The point is to give people an idea of what goes on in the Stellwagen Bank ecosystem and to illustrate just how much decisions we make now can impact the future of the sanctuary," said Dr. William Spitzer, Director of Education at the Aquarium.

Located on the top floor of the Aquarium’s exhibition ship "Discovery," the Immersive Theater control room contains 25 individual computer consoles, in addition to the large viewing screen. At these consoles, participants can view relayed footage from the probies, answer brief pop-quizzes on sanctuary trivia or zoom-in for a closer look at what is appearing on the big-screen. For instance, as a large cetacean appears on the screen, a curious participant might click on the whale at their console to open a fact window that contains more information, such as a whale’s average life expectancy, its trophic level, or its average size at maturity. That way, each participant can tailor their immersive experience to their own curiosity and education level.

"The beauty of the theater is that each visitor can take their own journey, but, in the end, their collective decisions will be what affects the ecosystem at Stellwagen Bank," said Spitzer. "It’s a good model of how a society functions in general."

As visitors explore the sanctuary, they will learn about various external forces that shape the environment. The newly designated "managers" can watch as storms come and go, or see fishing vessels arrive and disappear, casting their nets along the ocean floor in search of bottom-dwelling fishes.

Then, working together, participants tackle the toughest management issues of the sanctuary, such as how to prioritize water quality issues, mitigate the effects of land-based pollution, or set workable restrictions on fishing to maintain sustainable stocks.

After creating a new management plan, the visitors take a virtual tour of the sanctuary ten years into the future to find out how just how well the plan has worked.

"In the end, they’ll get to see just what can result from the decisions they’ve made as managers," said Spitzer. "If they managed for water quality but not for habitat, the water may look great. But the ocean floor will look like a parking lot."

The purpose of the immersive theater is to educate as much as it is to entertain the public. A host of scientific advisors, headed up by the Aquarium’s marine scientist Carolyn Levi, have ensured that the exhibit’s content accurately reflects the current scientific understanding of marine systems. And digital technology from Immersion Studios, a private animation company based in Toronto, renders a very realistic viewing experience.

The Immersive Theater will remain open throughout the end of this year, and according to Spitzer, may mark the beginning of a new trend in interactive exhibits.

"As we are planning our own extensions, this exhibit will act as a test to see what kind of role high-tech simulation technologies will have in future exhibits," said Spitzer. "Who knows? This may be the future of eco-tourism."

 

Education Digest

Sanctuary Contributes to Top Education Web Site
Journey North, an online project that immerses more than 200,000 K-12 students in environmental science has been named the top education site on the Web by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences on March 18th. The Webby Awards (www.webbyawards.com) known as the "Oscars of the Internet," recognize the best sites on the Web. Journey North (www.learner.org/jnorth) involves 4,000-plus teachers and their students throughout North America who track the coming of spring through the migration patterns of butterflies, birds, and land and marine mammals, the budding of plants, changing daylight, and other clues in their local environment. In cases where students can’t provide sighting data, experts in the field submit regular reports. For the past four years, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary’s education coordinator, Anne Smrcina, has served as the Journey North Humpback and Right Whale correspondent. "I call upon a network of experts in the field," notes Ms. Smrcina, "including whalewatching companies in the Dominican Republic and researchers working off the coast of Florida. These reports can give students an up-to-date reading on the whales’ migrations, something they are not able to observe personally as they can with butterflies and songbirds." The Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary reports have also included information about whale migrations in other sanctuaries, including Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Sanctuary, Monterey Bay, Channel Islands and Gulf of the Farallones. Gray whale migrations have spun off into a separatereporting track for Journey North. Journey North is a free site funded by the Annenberg/CPB Math and Science Project. "By sharing field observations with each other through Journey North, students come to see their own backyards as part of a global ecological system," explained Journey North’s project director, Elizabeth Howard. The "backyards" of these Journey North participants range from Alaska to Florida, and from New Brunswick, Canada to Michoacan, Mexico, plus ten other countries across the globe. "The Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary is proud to be associated with this outstanding educational initiative which brings students in contact with real world programs," said Ms. Smrcina.

Sustainable Seas Curriculum Book and Web Site Available
The Sustainable Seas Expeditions Teacher Resource Book, designed to complement high school marine science curriculums is now available from the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary office, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, or through any of the other 11 sanctuaries. The book features sections on the sanctuaries and DeepWorker, designing a submersible, neutral buoyancy, air purification, planning a mission, and special "explorations" of two sanctuaries -- Monterey Bay and Stellwagen Bank. The project is a cooperative effort of: NOAA/National Marine Sanctuaries, National Science Teachers Association, National Geographic Society, and Learning in Motion. Although materials in the book are intended for grades 9-12, materials can be adapted for middle school science programs. The Sanctuary is planning on offering several teacher workshops during the upcoming school year based on the materials and information generated during this summer’s expedition. Contact the sanctuary at (781) 545-8026 for more information. As an additional educational tool NOAA Special Projects Office, in cooperation of NGS and input from each of the sanctuaries, has developed an excellent SSE/Sanctuaries web site, with impressive photo galleries, eloquent essays, and comprehensive background materials. Location of this site is: http://www.sustainableseas.noaa.gov.

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