Project Description

NOAA CIOERT Cruise Report South Atlantic MPAs and Oculina HAPC: Characterization of Benthic Habitat and Biota NOAA Ship Pisces Cruise 15-02

Stacey Harter, John Reed, Stephanie Farrington, Andrew David


A 12 day research cruise was conducted June 18 to 29, 2015 by NOAA National Marine Fisheries on the NOAA Ship Pisces with the UNCW Mohawk ROV. Other collaborators involved include: the Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research, and Technology (CIOERT) at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Florida Atlantic University (HBOI-FAU), University of North Carolina at Wilmington, College of Charleston, University of Miami, and Boston University.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) established eight deepwater Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) along the outer continental shelf off the southeastern U.S in February 2009 and the Oculina Habitat Area of Particular Concern (OHPAC) in 1984. This cruise was the first cruise of a 3-year grant to document and characterize the benthic habitats, benthic biota, and fish populations within and adjacent to the protected areas within the jurisdiction of the SAFMC.

This 2015 Cruise Report provides detailed quantitative characterization of the benthic habitat, benthic macro-biota, and fish populations for each of the 22 ROV dives completed. Appendix 1 provides a species list and percent cover of benthic biota observed at each dive site. Appendix 2 provides a species list and densities of fish species observed at each dive site. Appendix 3 provides a SEADESC Level II Report for each dive site.

The SEADESC Level II report includes:

  • cruise and ROV dive metadata and objectives
  • figures showing each ROV dive track on multibeam sonar maps
  • ROV dive track data (start and end coordinates, time, and depth)
  • CTD plots from shipboard casts and temperature profiles for each ROV dive
  • images characterizing the habitat and biota for each dive site
  • characterization of habitat, benthic biota, and fish populations for each dive site
  • quantitative analyses of photo transects for each dive site of benthic habitat and biota
  • quantitative analyses of video transects for each dive site of fish densities.

Twenty two ROV dives were conducted resulting in a total bottom time of 29 hours, covering 23.8 km, at depths from 46 to 166 m. A total of 2,020 in situ digital images were taken which included quantitative transect images, general habitat, and species documentation images. Nine shipboard CTD casts were made and a temperature/depth sensor recorded each ROV dive (Appendix 3). The multibeam sonar (ME-70) was not properly working during the cruise, so no multibeam data was collected this year.

The data from this cruise will be combined with previous cruise data collected to characterize and document the habitat, benthic communities, and fish populations within the shelf-edge MPAs along the southeastern U.S. from North Carolina to south Florida. These data establish baseline information to be referenced and compared to future research cruises to identify the long-term health and status of these important ecosystems. These data will be made available to the SAFMC, NOAA Fisheries, NOAA DSCRTP, NOAA CRCP, NOAA Mesophotic Reef Ecosystem Program, and NOAA Marine Sanctuaries to assist management on these habitats and key species.


Harter S, Reed JK, Farrington S, David A. 2016. NOAA CIOERT cruise report South Atlantic MPAs and Oculina HAPC: characterization of benthic habitat and biota NOAA Ship Pisces Cruise 15-02. UNCW Mohawk ROV June 18-29, 2015, NOAA CIOERT Cruise Report. Harbor Branch Oceanographic Technical Report Number. p. 202.