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Summer 2000

Sanctuary Focuses on Habitats and Biodiversity
Tidings -- Message from Dan Basta, NMS Director
Sanctuary Currents
Sanctuary Supports Program to Name Humpback Whales
Student Aquanauts Investigate Sanctuary
Research Briefs
Executive Order Strengthens Ocean Protection

 

Sanctuary Focuses on Habitats and Biodiversity

Preserving biodiversity and preventing habitat destruction are two of the most critical environmental management issues facing the National Marine Sanctuaries today. Stellwagen Bank is no exception. Threats to biodiversity and habitat range from overfishing and use of destructive fishing techniques, other forms of seafloor disturbance, pollution, and global climate change. Through research and education, the sanctuaries offer opportunities to better understand marine systems and the ways humans are affecting the living and cultural resources of our ocean world.

The Gerry E. Studds/Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary encompasses one of the most productive marine environments along the northeastern United States. Visiting the area are a myriad of species, some of them in abundant amounts, such as Wilson’s storm petrels, Atlantic white-sided dolphins, sand lance and herring; others in less profuse numbers, including the northern right whale, the most critically endangered baleen whale (with a North Atlantic population estimate of just under 300 individuals). Many of the species fished in these waters are listed as over-harvested by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"When the sanctuary was designated in 1992 there were other issues of importance to the public and marine resource users," notes Stellwagen’s Acting Superintendent Ed Lindelof. "But over several years of focused research, both here at the sanctuary and at other marine study areas around the globe, we see that these two topics, habitat protection and biodiversity, continue to come to the forefront," he added. "In many cases, these issues go hand-in-hand - habitat degradation often leads to decreased biodiversity, and less biodiversity may produce a less adaptive ecosystem."

A series of public scoping sessions to identify important management issues at Stellwagen Bank supported the global concerns. High among the list of management priorities was habitat protection, along with whale conservation, enforcement, additional research needs, and greater public outreach. Many of the comments included calls for greater protection of sanctuary resources by limiting extractive uses of the sanctuary.

What is "biodiversity"?

Biodiversity is a term that was coined to describe the variety of living organisms and the ecosystems they inhabit. Biodiversity can occur at the genetic level - a healthy population of animals would have high genetic variability for reproductive vitality, ability to adapt to change and to resist disease. The more commonly understood aspect of biodiversity is species diversity, or the range of different forms of life that have evolved over time (1.4 million species are currently described; scientists differ on their estimates of the total number of species ranging from 10-30+ million species). The third form of diversity is community or ecological diversity - or the variety of types of biological communities (collections of species that interact). For the sanctuaries, all of these aspects of biodiversity are important.

Some of the biodiversity questions facing local researchers include the genetic diversity of whale populations in these waters, species diversity in the face of overfishing, and community diversity after trawling and dredging operations.

Habitat Research

Additionally, a recently released report from the Habitat Subcommittee to the Northeast Fisheries Management Council and decisions at the Council meetings indicated the need for research closure areas in the marine waters of New England to provide scientific bases for fisheries management decision-making. One of the recommendations raised at Council-supported scoping meetings in March (organized to discuss just this issue) was to make a short-term conservation closure in the sanctuary a more permanent entity.

This sanctuary closure area is part of a larger Gulf of Maine groundfish closure that was instituted in 1996, with a designated five-year limit (with the possibility of extension). The closure was made to help restore cod stocks in the Gulf by limiting fishing pressure. The intersection of the New England Fisheries Management Council closure area with the sanctuary, allowed scientists to design research experiments that looked at the effects of fishing gear on different habitat types and recovery rates in similar habitats in the protected zone.

This type of research would not have been possible without the Gulf closure. When the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary was created in 1992 the area was known as a major whale feeding area, as well as an historically important fishing ground. But unlike Naitonal Parks, National Marine Sanctuaries do not prohibit all extractive uses. Each sanctuary’s regulations are unique, and each set of regulations is subject to regular review and revision.

Although some research had taken place on the bank prior to designation, very little was really known about the range of species and how these animals interact among themselves and with their habitat. Rather than set in place regulations that had no sound basis in scientitfic fact, the first management plan allowed traditional fishing practices as regulated under the New England Fisheries Management Council and National Marine Fisheries Service. Consultation with the sanctuary was to become part of the regulatory process.

Since that time researchers have been focusing attention on the resources of the sanctuary and developing a better picture (both literally and figuratively) about how nature operates at Stellwagen Bank. Studies at sampling stations have used remotely-operated vehicles, drop cameras, and submersibles to get time-series data. The opening of the now closed area would end one of the few focused research programs on gear impacts and habitat recovery

Sanctuary as Laboratory

The designation of the sanctuary in 1992 was the catalyst for research. Congress believed the area to be nationally significant, and others agreed.

A multi-year project by the U.S. Geological Survey using multi-bean side-scan sonar produced a unique map with accuracy up to 5 meters in the horizontal scale and 10 centimeters in vertical resolution. The image appears as precise as any aerial photograph of the terrestrial world - yet this one had to resolve the problem of 65-600 feet of water between imaging equipment and seafloor. The resulting map gives researchers an unprecedented look at the diverse seafloor habitats. [See page 4 of this issue.]

Based on the return rate of the sonar signals, scientists at USGS were able to tell if the bottom sediments were mud, sand, or rock. This information now allows biologists from the National Undersea Research Center for the North Atlantic and Great Lakes (at the University of Connecticut) and other research institutions to target specific areas for focused research on habitat use. One such project was last summer’s Sustainable Seas Expedition with Dr. Sylvia Earle to the deep boulder reefs in the northeast section of the sanctuary.

Biodiversity Days

"Habitat" and "biodiversity" are two topics around which much interest has been generated lately on both the state and federal levels. Preserving and protecting the variety of species and the areas they inhabit are the goals of a myriad of organizations. For NURC and the sanctuary, site characterization studies are addressing some of the questions revolving around what species can be found and where. In state government, the Massachusetts Bays Program launched a new campaign - the Healthy Habitats Initiative - to address two priority goals for the next three years: protecting and enhancing coastal habitats and managing local resource use.

Another regional program is the first annual Biodiversity Days in Massachusetts. The program, organized by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA), seeks to enumerate all the species in the Commonwealth. The Sanctuary is taking on the task of providing a similar role for the marine environment with dedicated scuba dives by the sanctuary’s new dive team and coordination of a number of researchers in the area. Biodiversity Days 2000 were scheduled for June 9-11.

"Biodiversity is the key to a healthy ecosystem. Each species, from the largest to the smallest, has its place in the web of life," said EOEA Secretary Bob Durand. "The first step to ensure biodiversity is to find out just how many different species we have in our communities."

Joining EOEA and the sanctuary in understanding the range of species in the marine waters are scientists from the National Undersea Research Center-North Atlantic & Great Lakes (at the University of Connecticut), the Marine Biological Laboratory, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the University of Maine, and the National Marine Fisheries Service-Northeast Science Center in Woods Hole. Images and information gathered during Biodiversity Days and during research cruises will be posted on the sanctuary’s new web site (http://www.sbnms.nos.noaa.gov).

Tidings -- Message from Dan Basta, NMS Director

America’s national marine sanctuaries have been described as the "crown jewels" of our nation’s marine environment. These nationally significant coastal and ocean ecosystems provide extraordinary economic, scientific, recreational, educational, and aesthetic value to coastal communities and visitors from around the world. Today the sanctuaries represent marine habitats where we may have the best opportunity to demonstrate how to effectively protect our marine and coastal resources.

The nation is at a special time in its history. Future generations will look back on this time to examine what we did to save our oceans. Our efforts can change the legacy we leave to future generations. We can either leave a revitalized marine environment or marine ecosystems collapsed and beyond repair.

We are at crossroads. We can act now as a community of coastal stewards still holding the ability to reverse the effects of earlier generations seen in an altered and depleted a marine environment.

The National Marine Sanctuary Program is taking action to insure that we preserve and secure for future generations these important ecosystems. We are managing for results– making resource protection our highest priority and communicating this message of our commitment to healthy oceans and coasts.

Our approach is to begin looking at our current practices, then working upwards. This means we are making greater investments in education and

outreach and working directly with local communities and institutions to forge partnerships that will achieve our common goal of saving the ocean and its inhabitants.

Marine mammals represent one of the most strongest visible connections

of people to the sea. Like us, they are mammals and we share common

biological roots. Like us, marine mammals range far and wide in their world and tie together large regions of the world’s oceans. At the top of the food web, their vitality and abundance is a direct measure of the health of our oceans and ultimately our own health.

The Stellwagen National Marine Sanctuary holds particular importance for many marine mammals and is hence an important area in their life cycle as they travel to feed within sanctuary waters before migrating to warmer water to give birth and nurse their young. Viewing these creatures in their natural habitat in a sanctuary is a powerful human experience-one we must share with future generations.

The National Marine Sanctuaries, through its system of care and protection, provides the promise of a healthy, thriving marine world now and in the future.

 

Sanctuary Currents

New Faces at Headquarters
In January, Dan Basta, the director of the National Ocean Service Special Projects Office, was named as the acting director of the Marine Sanctuary Program. He brings to the position 25 years of experience in environmental quality and natural resources management from around the world. Also stepping up to the challenge of leading the sanctuaries in this new millenium is CDR Craig McLean who has been named as the deputy director of National Marine Sanctuary Program. CDR McLean has 18 years of service in NOAA. Prior to arriving at the Sanctuary Program, McLean was the Commanding Officer of the NOAA Ship GUNTER, NOAA’s largest fisheries research vessel.

Sanctuary Foundation Proposed
Legislation to establish the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation was submitted to Congress on April 4th by Secretary of Commerce William Daley. The Foundation would raise private support for NOAA’s 12 national marine sanctuaries, and work collaboratively with local sanctuary foundations. Among the functions of the Foundation would be: to serve as an official nonprofit partner to America’s marine sanctuaries; to engage people in rewarding volunteer activities along our beaches, on the water, and under the waves; to promote exploration and research partnerships to meet the challenges of ocean conservation; and to support existing sanctuary "friends groups. "Marine sanctuaries are part of our national commitment to protect the oceans," said Secretary Daley. "A National Marine Sanctuary Foundation chartered by Congress will allow corporate and individual donors to support the exploration, understanding, and conservation of these special places in the sea." "Marine sanctuaries have historically enjoyed bipartisan support, and we are pleased that the same support exists today for a National Marine Sanctuary Foundation," said Dr. D. James Baker, under secretary for oceans and atmosphere. Secretary Daley and under secretary Baker would serve as advisors to a board of directors comprised of citizens from across the country.

Students Follow Whales on Web
Every spring for the past five years the sanctuary has contributed to an innovative internet education program that tracks the northward migration of a dozen or so species in North America. After consulting with researchers from as far south as the Dominican Republic, as far north as Newfoundland, and many areas in-between, sanctuary education coordinator Anne Smrcina submits biweekly entries on the status of northern right whales and humpback whales for Journey North, an Annenberg/CPB project. JN was the winner of the 1999 "Webby" Award (International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences) as the best education site on the web. Its address is: www.learner.org/jnorth.

Sanctuary and Fisheries Service Join Forces for Enforcement Program
The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary will be working with the NOAA Office of Fisheries Enforcement to build a sanctuary enforcement program that can more adequately address some of the critical protection issues affecting sanctuary resources. A key element in this program is the assignment of senior special agent Kevin Sullivan to the Sanctuary to head up the project. By reallocating personnel and teaming with other enforcement agencies, the sanctuary and NOAA enforcement office will be able to provide a more visible presence on Stellwagen Bank, be able to pursue suspected cases involving marine mammal harassment, illegal fishing, and unpermitted use of sanctuary resources, and serve as a model for the national program. For more information on the enforcement program, contact the sanctuary.

2001 Budget Request Looks Promising
President Bill Clinton’s 2001 budget request for the National Marine Sanctuaries shows a $10 million increase over the present fiscal year 2000 level which was itself a sizeable increase from the previous year. Increased funding has allowed the sanctuary to expand its research and education programs, hire new staff, and initiate plans for public outreach facilities along the coast. A pilot project for sanctuary enforcement with the NOAA Office of Enforcement and development of a volunteer program will also be possible by the funding increase. Among the opportunities for next year under increased funding levels will be additional support for research for site characterization and dedicated funding for the completion of the management plan review now underway.

NOAA Predicts Busy Hurricane Year
NOAA’s National Weather Service predicts that east coast and Gulf of Mexico residents in the United States will experience an above-average year for hurricanes in 2000. The scientists estimate that 11 or more tropical storms will form, with 7 or more becoming hurricanes. Of these hurricanes, at least 3-4 may be categorized as major. Depending on the track, the storms may affect local waters and the Stellwagen sanctuary; other National Marine Sanctuaries off Florida, Georgia and North Carolina may also be impacted. Tropical storms, with rotary circulation and wind speeds above 39 miles per hour, are assigned names by the Tropical Prediction Center in Florida. Atlantic storm names for 2000 are: Alberto, Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto, Florence, Gordon, Helene, Isaac, Joyce, Keith, Leslie, Michael, Nadine, Oscar, Patty, Rafael, Sandy, Tony, Valerie, and William. The use of easily remembered names greatly reduces confusion when two or more tropical storms occur at the same time. The short, distinctive given names are quicker to say and less subject to error than the older more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods. The letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z are not included because of the scarcity of names beginning with those letters. The Center retires a name after a major land-falling storm with major economic impact. The name lists have an international flavor because hurricanes affect other nations and are tracked by the public and weather services of many countries. Names for the list are selected from library sources and agreed upon at international meetings of the World Meteorological Organization.

Year of the Gulf Announced
The year 2000 has been designated as the "Year of the Gulf of Maine" through a joint proclamation by the Governors and Premiers of the states and Canadian provinces that border that water body. This special recognition of the Gulf highlights its significance to the peoples of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The proclamation recognizes ten years of successful cross-border collaboration by the Gulf of Maine Council (made up of the five state and provincial governments and their federal partners), and encourages continued protection and wise management of the Gulf ecosystem. The proclamation can be viewed at the Council’s web site at http://www.gulfofmaine.org/2000proclamation.htm.

Reporting System Focuses on Whale Protection
Collisions with ships are a major source of injury and death of the critically endangered northern right whale (less than 300 survive in the North Atlantic). In an effort to reduce the number of ship strikes, NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard have developed and implemented Mandatory Ship Reporting Systems. The systems were endorsed by the International Maritime Organization - a specialized organization of the United Nations. The systems became operational in July 1999. When ships greater than 300 gross tons enter two key right whale habitats - one off the northeast U.S. and one off the southeast U.S. - they are required to report to a shore-based station. In return, ships receive a message (usually via satellite to the ship’s bridge computer) about right whales, their vulnerability to ship strikes, precautionary measures the ship can take to avoid hitting a whale, and locations of recent sightings. The northern reporting zone covers the waters of Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts Bay, and the Great South Channel, and includes the entire Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary. The system is in effect year-round for this zone. For the southern zone, which is the right whales’ calving ground, the reporting system operates from Nov. 15 through April 15. Information about the location of right whales is also being provided to mariners through various broadcast media, including the U.S. Coast Guard’s Broadcasts to Mariners, satellite-linked marine safety broadcasts, and NOAA Weather Radio. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is illegal to intentionally approach a right whale closer than 500 yards without a permit (the regulation does not apply to cargo and large passenger vessels in the shipping lanes and fishing vessels in the act of towing or retrieving gear).

NOAA Celebrates 30 Years
The year 2000 marks the 30th anniversary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency that conducts research and gathers data about the global oceans, atmosphere, space, and sun, and applies this knowledge to science and services that touch the lives of all Americans. NOAA includes the National Weather Service (the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the U.S.), the National Ocean Service (which develops the national foundation for coastal and ocean science, management, response and restoration, geodesy, and navigation, and includes administration of the National Marine Sanctuaries), the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (which includes the NOAA Corps, a part of the nation’s uniformed services). For more information on NOAA, check out its web site at http://www.noaa.gov.

Sanctuary Photo Exhibits Grow
Over the past four year the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary has offered a traveling photographic exhibit to museums and other institutions. This year two versions of the show have been installed; one at the Nantucket Whaling Museum and the other at the Salem National Historic Site Visitor Center (spring and fall). A smaller version of the show was displayed at the Boston Sea Rovers meeting in March and will be used at Fish Expo in Providence in October. New contributors to the show include Dann Blackwood and Page Valentine of the USGS, Greg Skomal of Mass. Division of Marine Fisheries and Roger Allen. Other contributors include: Andrew Martinez, Bob Michelson, Kevin McCarthy, Dave and Sue Millhouser, Jonathan Bird, Peter Auster and Norman Despres. Anyone wishing to add their images to the traveling exhibition or to the sanctuary’s web page image gallery should contact Anne Smrcina at the sanctuary (anne.smrcina@noaa.gov or 781-545-8026). These donations of images are greatly appreciated and used exclusively for sanctuary education purposes.

Sanctuary Supports Program to Name Humpback Whales

How do the humpback whales of the sanctuary get their recognizable names? It’s all part of a regional collaborative effort that brings together scientists and naturalists who work with these whales on a day-to-day basis. This year, the sanctuary began what should become an annual program of support for the whale naming workshop.

Begun in the mid-1970s as an informal method of distinguishing commonly seen whales, whale naming has grown into a formal procedure involving all of the major whale research groups from the northeast. This year some 30 individuals representing organizations from Maine to Connecticut came to the March 25th proceedings. The workshop was organized by the Cetacean Research Unit (CRU) of Gloucester (now known as the Whale Center of New England) and the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) in Provincetown. The Center is the keeper of the master database of humpbacks in the Gulf of Maine, including Stellwagen Bank.

Of the 59 new whales (1999’s new calves, and juveniles and adults not previously seen), 55 were named. The only whales left unnamed were those whose identifying photographs were not clear enough to provide distinctive distinguishing marks.

Certain specific rules apply - the names must be based on the pattern of black and white marks on the tail flukes, the shape of the trailing edge of the flukes or the dorsal fin; the names cannot be gender specific (since researchers do not often know the sex of the newly recognized animals); the names should not be that of specific persons (except in exceptional cases); the names should be one word; and they should be clearly understandable (especially over faulty sound systems on noisy boats).

Assigning common names to whales makes identification simpler in the field. Humpbacks display their dorsal fins and tails when they dive. Researchers can often spot distinctive marks in the field; for other whales, photographs can be compared to the master database for verification of identification.

The flukes (the flared right and left portions of the tail) show individually identifiable differences from whale to whale - a whale "fingerprinting" system. The flukes range from pure white to pure black with a range of patterns and marks in between. Natural marks appear as a calf and stabilize after a year. Scars can happen at any time - white scars on black backgrounds and black scars on white backgrounds. Scars can be the result of orca and/or shark attacks (especially on the young), fishing gear entanglements, barnacles and other parasites, ship strikes, and other at-sea interactions.

Names this year include "Dice" so-called because of two distinctive spots on its right fluke; "Tracer" named for a white streak on its right fluke; and "Peeler" a calf with a black mark on its left fluke that looks just like a vegetable peeler.

Many of the whales named at the workshop were spotted during the 1999 whalewatching season in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Sanctuary support for the workshop covered digitizing of images, research and confirmation of "new whale" status, and organization of the workshop.

"Sanctuary support of this effort is important both in making this group of endangered animals more familiar to the general whalewatching public as well as allowing researchers to better understand the composition of the resident population," said Anne Smrcina, the sanctuary’s education coordinator. "Part of the sanctuary’s mission to to preserve and protect its living marine resources while promoting marine research and education - this is one step towards those goals," she added.

Photos of the newly named whales will be posted on the sanctuary’s home page at http://www.sbnms,nos.noaa.gov along with information about why each whale received its name. The sanctuary will update this database each year. Host site for the naming workshop was the New England Aquarium in Boston.

Student Aquanauts Investigate Sanctuary

Environmental stewardship often starts in the classroom, and what better classroom than the sea itself? This summer, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary will host a crew of budding oceanic scientists when the Aquanaut Program launches their new science education mission in June.

The Aquanaut Program, an educational initiative of the National Undersea Research Center, North Atlantic and Great Lakes (NURC NA&GL) at the University of Connecticut, has offered middle and high school teachers and their students the opportunity to learn about the marine environment while performing in-situ research at sea since 1988.

The summer of 2000 will see the start of a new phase in the program as Aquanaut students will contribute to the scientific study of the sanctuary by developing site characterizations of various monitoring sites on and near Stellwagen Bank.

"We want to collaborate with the Sanctuary staff by doing research that will be totally useful for them," said Peter Scheifele, Director of the Aquanaut Program. "At the same time, our student can get real hands-on experience. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship."

Sanctuary staff gladly welcome the additional research hands. "Terrestrial environmenta have had the luxury of being easily accessible to student researchers. But the marine world, other than the thin coastal margin, has been relatively difficult for student-based research. The Aquanaut program not only gets students to explore this fascinating, little known world, but provides extremely useful information to those of us tasked with preserving and protecting this national treasure," said Anne Smrcina, the sanctuary’s education coordinator.

The students will conduct the site characterization experiments during six days of daily excursions in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary using Gloucester as their port of embarkation from August 4 through August 11. Their teachers will be introduced to the research protocols on a separate four-day instructional voyage aboard the NOAA Ship FERREL in late Jun. These cruises are a part of the Aquanaut program’s larger mission to keep classrooms informed about advances in marine science research.

"Educating the teachers using the opportunity of actual field research is a big part of the process," said Scheifele. "They often use the material they learn at sea to teach their classes on into the next year." With supervision from marine scientists, the Aquanaut team will investigate four specific properties of the marine environment: acoustical; chemical; microbial; and species/habitat diversity.

As a apart of their acoustical studies, the student-researchers will use a suite of sonar techniques such an active/passive sonar system that includes an underwater microphone to gauge acoustical properties along the sea floor and to measure ambient noise. This work will supplement ongoing acoustic studies by Peter Scheifele on the potential effects of man-made noise on marine mammals.

"We want to know what kind of acoustic the animals of the bank are living in and whether that acoustic environment is more like a noisy factory, or more like a comfortable living room," said Scheifele.

At each site, the students will measure water temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen of the sea water at various depths to assess the chemical properties of the areas. They’ll also test water samples for heavy metal pollutants and coliform bacteria.

By dragging a sieve-like screen called a plankton tow through the water, the students can get a look at some of the microbial life in the sanctuary’s waters. A remotely-operated-vehicle (ROV) will take video shots of the bottom habitats, allowing students to assess the biodiversity of the ocean floor.

After collecting their data, students will return to the University of Connecticut, Storrs campus to analyze their results. Each school group will consider one specific area of the research. All the groups will compile their results into one publishable site characterization paper. At this time of the writing of this article, NURC had not yet finalized the list of study sites in the sanctuary, but, says Scheifele, the areas will be chosen to represent the variety of different bottom habitats in the Stellwagen sanctuary. Site selections will be made based on data provided by Page Valentine at the U.S. Geological Survey, who is completing a detailed topographic survey of the area.

Ivar Babb, Director of the National Undersea Research Center, Dom Tedeschi, the Aquanaut Program’s research coordinator , Joe Crivello of the University of Connecticut, Fred Thruberg and George Senefelder of the National Marine Fisheries Service will serve as supervising scientists at sea and the principle investigators of the study. By working closely with these professional oceanic researchers, the students will get a realistic look into the life of a research scientist. "The students get to work as technicians, and, at the same time, they can job shadow the scientists," said Scheifele.

This year’s Aquanaut schools includes: Sage Park Middle School from Windsor, Conn., Norfolk County Agricultural High School from Walpole, Mass.,Martin Kellogg Middle School from Newington, Conn., Norwich Technical School from Norwich, Conn., Woodstock Academy from Woodstock, Conn., and Dearborn High School from Dearborn, Mich. A total of forty students and their teachers will be participating. The American School for the Deaf from Hartford, Conn. will be participating in NURC’s Classroon of the Sea program later in the summer, investigating cetacean acoustics in the sanctuary.

 

Research Briefs

Habitat Recovery Study Continues
Scientists from the National Undersea Research Center-North Atlantic and Great Lakes (at the University of Connecticut) will be conducting field studies in the sanctuary as part of a continuing project that focuses on habitat recovery in the Western Gulf of Maine Closed Area. Principal Investigators are James Lindholm, a postdoctoral fellow at NURC (who also serves as the sanctuary’s research coordinator) and Peter Auster, Science Director at NURC (and a science advisor to the sanctuary). During a June research cruise, researchers will be visiting stations inside and outside the closed area to contrast habitat characteristics in relation to disturbance by fishing gear. Observations will be made with both still and video gear employed on remotely-operated-vehicles. These studies are important in developing management strategies to address some of the critical questions being raised today in fisheries management.

 

Spatial Patterns in Species Diversity
Two research cruises, one in June and one in August, will concentrate on species diversity in the Stellwagen Bank area. The first cruise, with Susanna Fuller of Dalhousie University as Principal Investigator, will use a naturalist dredge to collect sponges and related invertebrate taxa to determine spatial distribution of species within the sanctuary. The second leg will utilize a remotely-operated-vehicle to obtain fine scale video records to empirically determine species-area relationships. The suction sampler on the ROV will be used to obtain voucher specimens and small scale quantitative samples of invertebrate species, according to Principal Investigator Peter Auster of NURC.

 

Identifying Sanctuary Humpbacks
The Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary has joined with the National Marine Fisheries Service to fund the Gulf of Maine Humpback Whale Program of the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown. The sanctuary portion of the program will be dedicated to identifying Stellwagen Bank whales and to better understand seasonal and off-season habitat use in the area. The full study encompasses all of the Gulf of Maine and looks at population size, individual habitat preferences, migratory destinations, genetic underpinnings of distribution and behavior. All of these issues are important in upcoming national and international assessments of this species. During the sanctuary-dedicated cruises (at least one per month), log entries will be written for public dissemination on the sanctuary’s web page.

 

Auster Named NOAA Environmental Hero
Peter Auster, science director for the National Undersea Research Center at the University of Connecticut and science advisor to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, has been awarded an Environmental Hero Award from NOAA. In making the award, NOAA officials citedAuster’s leadership in the process to develop a comprehensive research and monitoring plan for the sanctuary, as well as his efforts to engage the academic community to focus research there. He played a significant role in helping to build a partnership with the US Geological Survey for a high resolution mapping project (see page 4), an unparalleled information resource anywhere in the US EEZ. Subsequently, he has made good use of that data set in identifying fish assemblage/habitat relationships in the Sanctuary. His habitat use characterization model was one of the first in the published literature to effectively integrate both geology and biogenic structure to predict fish assemblages in the habitats of the sanctuary. Over the past two years, Auster has also graciously provided expertise in underwater technology to help resolve some of the operational questions encountered in the start-up of the joint NOAA/ National Geographic Society Sustainable Seas Expedition program. Among his other honors is a 1999 Pew Fellowship, a three-year grant, that recognizes his accomplishments in environmental conservation and provides support for continued research.

Executive Order Strengthens Ocean Protection

On May 26th, President Clinton issued an Executive Order that directs federal agencies to strengthen protection of ocean and coastal resources. One of the centerpieces of this program is the creation of a comprehensive network of marine protected areas (MPAs), along with the establishment of a Marine Protected Area Center within NOAA. The program strives to protect areas representative of the diverse marine ecosystems within U.S. waters.

There are now more than 1,000 areas granted some level of special protection by the federal or state governments. Federal marine protected areas include the 12 National Marine Sanctuaries, of which Stellwagen Bank serves as a representative site in the Gulf of Maine. Other federally protected marine areas include some National Parks and Wildlife Refuges, the National Estuarine Research Reserves, and fisheries closure areas.

These designations help to protect significant natural and cultural resources, such as coral reefs and historic shipwrecks like the USS MONITOR. In addition, they help promote sustainable use of fisheries and other marine resources, provide educational and recreational opportunities, and preserve unique areas for scientific study. Despite these efforts to protect nationally significant marine resources, the designated areas only cover about 1 percent of the ocean within U.S. jurisdiction, and only about 10 percent of that protected area is afforded the highest level of protection, where fishing and other extractive activities are precluded

In signing the Executive Order, President Clinton expressed his belief that an expanded and strengthened network of MPAs is essential to the conservation of America’s natural and cultural marine heritage, and for the ecologically and economically sustainable use of U.S. marine waters for future generations. The Executive Order directs federal agencies to use their existing authorities to: strengthen the management, protection and conservation of existing MPAs and establish new or expanded MPAs; develop a scientifically based, comprehensive national system of MPAs representing diverse U.S. marine ecosystems, and the nation’s natural or cultural resources; and avoid causing harm to MPAs through federally conducted, approved or funded activities.

In developing the national system of MPAs, NOAA, in cooperation with the Department of the Interior, will seek the expert advice and recommendations of non-federal scientists, resource managers, and other interested persons and organizations through a Marine Protected Area Federal Advisory Committee to be created by the Department of Commerce. Also, the agencies are to consult with states, commonwealths, territories, Regional Fishery Management Councils and other entities, as appropriate, to promote coordination of federal, state, territorial and tribal actions to establish and manage MPAs.

In addition, the order directs the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce pollution of beaches, coasts, and ocean waters by developing Clean Water Act regulations that strengthen water quality protections for coastal and ocean waters. These new standards will guide the agency when it reviews proposals for onshore and offshore activities that result in discharges to ocean or coastal waters. In developing these regulations, EPA may set higher levels of protection in especially valued or vulnerable areas.

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