Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary Introduces
REEF's Fish Identification Program and
Great American Fish Count to Boston Area Divers

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

BOSTON - Would you like to help build a record of the type and number of fish in local waters? Are you curious about changes in fish populations? Are you interested in using your next ocean dives to help educate others about the species in local marine waters?

The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the Reef Environmental Education Foundation have just the program for you. A new Fish Identification Program is being introduced to divers in the Gulf of Maine at the Boston Sea Rovers Underwater Clinic on March 3 (11-11:45am). The ID program, as well as a nationwide fish awareness program called the Great American Fish Count, will be covered in a seminar sponsored by the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary.

The fish identification and data collection program is part of a national effort sponsored by REEF that has already reached the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, the West Coast of California and Mexico, the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii, with support from the National Marine Sanctuary System. The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is heading up the effort for New England.

"Fishwatching in the Gulf of Maine, including Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary" has been prepared by the Sanctuary to serve as the local component of Module Eight of the PADI Project AWARE Fish Identification Specialty. The local curriculum, developed by the Sanctuary in association with REEF, covers the major species that might be seen by divers either in the Sanctuary or closer to shore. Graduates of the course then become part of a massive data gathering force that is providing information about the types and numbers of fish in coastal waters.

"Diving at Stellwagen Bank can be quite challenging due to its depth, its distance from shore, its cold temperatures, and its varying currents," notes sanctuary education coordinator Anne Smrcina. "While we are interested in learning more about the resources within the boundaries of the Sanctuary (which is located between Cape Ann and Cape Cod at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay), we here at the Sanctuary are also fully committed to raising awareness about all of the marine species in our local waters. The "Fishwatching" program is an excellent way for divers to assist in building public awareness of local biodiversity and to assist scientists in assessing trends."

Participants in the fish identification program may also participate in the annual Great American Fish Count, which will run from July 1-31 this year. The Great American Fish Count, sponsored by REEF, has been compared to the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. It offers an invaluable record of fish populations and, in turn, an indication of the health of our inshore coastal environment.

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Volunteer Dive Team leader Bob Michelson, an underwater photographer and videographer, has been a key player in the development of the curriculum and support materials. He has been assisted by team member Doug Costa, a PADI Master Instructor and Manager at Diver's Market in Plymouth. Rounding out the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary volunteer dive team are Stephen Neuger and Rob Murray, both experienced deep water divers.

Bob Michelson and Anne Smrcina will be presenters at the Sat. program, entitled Great American Fish Count in the Gulf of Maine. Bob Michelson will also offer a Sunday afternoon program (4-4:45) on the NOAA Diving Program and the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary Volunteer Team.

The Boston Sea Rovers is one of the country's oldest and most prestigious dive clubs; this is their 47th annual underwater clinic and show.

The Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is one of 13 sites in the National Marine Sanctuary System. This historically important fishing ground and prime whalewatching site was designated a National Marine Sanctuary in 1992. The 842-square-mile site is located at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay between Cape Ann and Cape Cod; its headquarters are located in Scituate, Mass.



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