Largest Survey of Marine Protected Species Covers U.S. East Coast

By: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Release
By: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Release

WASHINGTON — The nation’s largest survey of protected marine species is
now underway for its second year along the East Coast, officials from the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of
the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and
Enforcement (BOEMRE) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)
announced today.

Aboard the NOAA ships Henry B. Bigelow and Gordon Gunter, researchers are
documenting animals in deeper waters beyond the edge of the continental
shelf, with the Bigelow off the northeastern U.S. and the Gunter off the
southeastern U.S. During July and August, NOAA aircraft will carry
observers surveying for animals in the shallower waters on the shelf all
along the East Coast, and USFWS aircraft will survey for seabirds during
August from Maine to Florida.

The expeditions are part of the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for
Protected Species (AMAPPS), a joint multi-year study involving NOAA’s
Fisheries Service, BOEMRE and USFWS. Under an interagency agreement, NOAA
and BOEMRE will assign scientists to this summer’s and future expeditions
and BOEMRE will provide $7.6 million for the study, which runs from 2010
until 2014.

Comprehensive surveys of this type are rare, partly because it is
difficult to collect the data. These surveys will allow scientists not
only to better estimate the abundance of marine mammals, sea turtles, and
sea birds in U.S. Atlantic waters, but also to investigate how the
animals’ distribution and abundance relate to the physical and biological
ecosystem.

The study will help NOAA’s Fisheries Service manage, conserve and protect
living marine resources within the United States Exclusive Economic Zone,
waters three to 200 miles offshore. The study also will help inform
BOEMRE’s decision-making process for future energy development. Finally,
this partnership will give USFWS much better scientific information about
seabird populations, so that the agency can more clearly define the needs
of these species and make better management decisions

The project will also test new remote sensing technologies that
increasingly make it easier to gather data. Some of the technologies
include underwater recorders that capture sounds animals make, pattern
recognition software that helps scientists identify species by their outer
markings, tags attached to animals that transmit information about their
locations and ocean conditions when they surface, and underwater robots
outfitted with a variety of sensors.

Researchers will also develop models and other tools to translate the
survey data into estimates linked to time, space and habitat. Models using
acoustics data are already in development, with first results expected in
2012. These tools will help to decide how best to use and protect the
ocean. Eventually, the data will be incorporated into a comprehensive
geospatial database and made available online to both public users and
government agencies. For example, the U.S. Navy will be able to use these
new data in support of its marine stewardship goals on its at-sea test and
training ranges.

In addition to the surveys currently underway, AMAPPS research in 2011 has
included harbor seal tagging this spring in Massachusetts and Maine,
followed by an aerial seal survey along the New England coast during peak
pupping season in late May and June. In addition, a loggerhead
turtle-tagging and biological sampling cruise was just completed ahead of
schedule this month aboard two New Jersey commercial scallop vessels.
Researchers put satellite tags on 25 juvenile loggerhead turtles, adding
to the 44 tagged last year by scientists from both NOAA’s Northeast and
Southeast Fisheries Science Centers.

A report on the 2010 work was recently published by the NEFSC and can be
found at:
http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/psb/AMAPPS/docs/Final_2010AnnualReportAMAPPS_19Apr2011.pdf
.

NOAA and the USFWS implement the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal
Protection Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); USFWS
also implements the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The two agencies have
collaborated to survey protected marine species in the Atlantic since
1979. NOAA’s Fisheries Service also supports many state government
agencies as well as private non-profit and academic research programs and
projects to better understand marine species. BOEMRE’s Environmental
Studies Program conducts and sponsors scientific research to inform
decision-making regarding ocean energy and marine minerals management, as
authorized by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, as amended, the
Energy Policy Act of 2005, and NEPA.


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