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Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
Takes Part in Great American Fish Count
7/7/00

Local Divers Organize First New England Effort in the Great American Fish Count Program

contact: Anne Smrcina, 781-545-8026, ext. 204

Throughout the month of July, volunteer divers on both coasts will be seeking out and counting fish as part of the Great American Fish Count. The volunteer Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary dive team will be making the first dives in this region — previously all the counts had been in tropical or west coast locations.

The Great American Fish Count (GAFC) is a national dive event coordinated by the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) which mobilizes and trains volunteer divers and snorkelers in established methodologies to identify and document fish diversity and population trends in marine sanctuaries and other coastal areas. The GAFC has been helping resource mangers assess local fish stocks by providing an annual snapshot of local fish populations, much like the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

The newly organized Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary dive team has participated in the state’s biodiversity days with several dives to record regional marine life and is helping to identify wrecks located throughout the sanctuary. The Gerry E. Studds/Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is an 842-square-mile area located at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay between Cape Ann and Cape Cod. Most of the region’s whalewatching boats use Stellwagen Bank as a destination, and commercial as well as recreational fishing boats have targeted a variety of species that visit the bank.

The Sanctuary dive team consists of four highly qualified divers who have over 60 years of dive experience and over 3,300 dives to their credit. Bob Michelson, a

professional videographer and photographer, and dive team leader, has trained the team in use of underwater imaging technologies. Doug Costa, a registered Emergency Medical Technician and Master Diver Instructor, has made over 1,200 dives to depths as great as 270 feet. Robert Murray, another master scuba diver has made similar deep dives, as well as dives under ice, to wrecks, and in caves. Stephen Neuger rounds out the team with close to 500 dives to his credit under a variety of conditions. Diving at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is much different from that experienced in other sanctuaries due to the cold water (usually less than 50 degrees F. even in the summer), the distance from shore, the prevailing bottom currents, and the active boat traffic. Due to these conditions, diving in the sanctuary is not recommended for anyone other than highly skilled, mixed gas divers.

The GAFC is an annual event that takes place during the first two weeks of July at sites around the country. In addition to the Great American Fish Count, the sanctuary is supporting a number of research projects that are focusing on fish ecology and fish habitats in the region, and the National Marine Fisheries Service continues its long-term regional surveys of fish populations. For more information on GAFC, please visit http://www.fishcount.org or http://www.sanctuaries.nos.noaa.gov.

Media interested in covering the first Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary dives for the Great American Fish Count should contact the sanctuary at 781-545-8026 or call Sanctuary Education Coordinator Anne Smrcina at 508-243-1585. Limited space is available on the boat (sorry — no one is allowed to dive off the sanctuary vessel without NOAA certification). Video and still images will be available that day.

 

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