Project Description

South Atlantic MPAs and Deepwater Coral HAPCs: Characterization of Benthic Habitat and Fauna for NOAA Ship Pisces Cruise 13-03.

J. K. Reed, S. Harter, S. Farrington, A. David


A 12 day research cruise was conducted July 2-11, 2013, on the NOAA Ship Pisces with the UNCW Super Phantom ROV by NOAA National Marine Fisheries in collaboration with the Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research, and Technology (CIOERT) at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Florida Atlantic University (HBOI-FAU), and other academic and federal partners (including NOAA NCCOS and University of North Carolina at Wilmington).

Recently, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) established eight deepwater Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) along the outer continental shelf off the southeastern U.S. This project is one of several research cruises to document and characterize the benthic habitat, benthic biota, and fish populations within and adjacent to these protected areas within the jurisdiction of the SAFMC. This monitoring program for the MPAs will ensure the Council remains well informed of changes within reef fish populations and coral habitats associated with these MPAs.

thiA Cruise Plan for the 2013 Pisces cruise was finalized and approved by the NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, detailing the operating area, research objectives, personnel, itinerary, equipment, data management, and the methods for each operation including ROV operations, multibeam sonar surveys, and CTD casts.

This Final Cruise Report provides a detailed characterization of the benthic habitat, benthic sessile biota, and fish populations for each ROV dive site. In addition, this report uses analysis of similarity (PRIMER) to compare the fish populations, benthic communities, and habitat types among the various shelf-edge MPA sites, the proposed MPA sites, and other non-protected sites outside of the MPAs. Appendices 1 and 2 provide the complete species list of benthic biota and fish, respectively, observed at each dive site. Appendix 3 provides a SEADESC Level II Report for each dive site, including: cruise and ROV dive metadata, figures showing each ROV dive track and habitat zones overlaid on multibeam sonar maps, dive track data (start and end coordinates and depth), objectives, CTD plots, general description of the habitat and biota, and images of the biota and habitat that characterize the dive site. The SEADESC Level II Report also provides quantitative analyses of each dive site including: 1) CPCe 4.1© Coral Point Count analysis of percent cover of benthic biota and substrate types, and 2) densities of fish populations (# individuals/km for each species).

A total of 33 ROV dives were conducted, resulting in a total bottom time of 48.75 hours, covering 56.4 km, at depths from 36 to 156 m. A total of 61 hours of ROV video were recorded and 3,409 in situ digital images were taken which included quantitative transect images, general habitat, and species documentation images. Thirteen shipboard CTD casts were made. Ten sites were surveyed with multibeam sonar and covered a total area of 218.1 km2 . These sites had never been surveyed previously with multibeam sonar. Georeferenced maps were made for each of the sites and were ground-truthed with the ROV dives.

Ultimately these data from the various cruises will be used 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 may then be compared to future research cruises to better understand the long-term health and status of these important ecosystems. These data will be of value to the SAFMC, NOAA Fisheries, NOAA DSCRTP, NOAA CRCP, NOAA Mesophotic Reef Ecosystem Program, and NOAA Marine Sanctuaries for management decisions on these habitats and managed key species.

Farrington S, Reed JK, Harter S, David A. 2014. South Atlantic MPAs and Deepwater Coral HAPCs: Characterization of Benthic Habitat and Fauna for NOAA Ship Pisces Cruise 13-03. UNCW Super Phantom ROV July 2-11, 2013. No. HBOI Technical Report No. 153.