Fiscal Year 2013 Annual Report
National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

Study Shows Tortugas Ecological Reserve Protects Environment without Harming Commercial Fishing

Bar jack swimming underwater at Tortugas Ecological Reserve

School of Bar jack swimming in the Tortugas Ecological Reserve.

A 2013 NOAA study showed that, during its first five years of operation, the Tortugas Ecological Reserve supported ecosystem conservation without negatively affecting commercial fishing. The research team, consisting of staff from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, assessed the sea floor habitat and reef fishes of the reserve, the effectiveness of the reserve in protecting resources and providing economic benefits, and the environmental stressors and conditions of the adjacent Dry Tortugas National Park.

The team's report indicated an increase within the reserve of several, commercially valuable species of fish, including red grouper and mutton snapper, as well as greater coral cover within the reserve when compared to similar, unprotected sites. The report also noted that, despite losing fishing grounds to the reserve, people employed in commercial fishing activities in the area did not experience short-term financial losses.

The 151 square nautical mile Tortugas Ecological Reserve was designed to protect a coral reef ecosystem that supports diverse faunal assemblages and fisheries in the Dry Tortugas region, approximately 70 miles west of Key West. The reserve was established in 2001 by federal and state agencies as part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Data, Tools, and Outreach Help North Carolina Communities Manage Coastal Erosion

NOAA researcher records elevation data at NC shoreline

A NOAA researcher records elevation data from a living shoreline demonstration site within the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Coastal erosion, defined as the loss of shoreline sediment, is a complex process that continuously reshapes the shoreline and can threaten coastal property and wildlife habitat. In 2013, NOAA scientists and their partners translated the results of 10 years of shoreline erosion and stabilization research into a variety of outreach materials and events for North Carolina's coastal communities.

At the local level, several NOAA-supported workshops and a newly developed handbook for waterfront property owners helped to inform citizens, environmental consultants, and real estate agents on the risks and benefits associated with various shoreline stabilization options. In addition, the U.S. Marine Corps used NOAA's findings to direct shoreline stabilization efforts at Camp Lejune, the largest Marine Corps base on the East Coast. Camp Lejune personnel applied "living shoreline" methods, which use natural shoreline vegetation and landscaping to absorb wave energy without causing erosion.

At the state level, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources distributed the NOAA handbook for waterfront property owners to permitting staff and also made the resource available on their website. And at the federal level, research results contributed to the development of a NOAA living shoreline guidance document and were presented to the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound National Estuary Program to help guide shoreline management and wetland restoration efforts.

New Manual Gives Managers Strategies for Controlling the Spread of Invasive Lionfish

Lionfish swimming underwater

Lionfish are established in offshore waters of the Southeast U.S., and much of the Caribbean. This page provides basic information to the public to assist with early detection and rapid response.

In 2013, scientists from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and their partners developed guidelines for coastal managers to control the spread of invasive lionfish. Invasive Lionfish: A Guide to Control and Management presents the best available science and practices for controlling lionfish in marine protected areas, national parks, and other conservation areas. By following suggestions in this free publication, natural resource managers can develop effective local control plans.

Lionfish, a native Indo-Pacific species now found in U.S. Atlantic waters from North Carolina to Florida, in all Gulf of Mexico states, and in the Caribbean, have no natural predators and are taking food and habitat from native fish that are important to local economies and ecosystems.

New Sensors Deployed to Detect and Respond to Harmful Algal Blooms

Scientists deploy HAB sensor from vessel

NOAA scientists and their partners deployed sensors to detect harmful algae and its toxins.

NOAA continues to improve our ability to forecast harmful algal blooms (HABs) and mitigate their impacts. In 2013, scientists from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) and their partners advanced several technologies to quickly and accurately detect algal species and toxins in the field.

In Alaska, NCCOS scientists and partners helped remote communities mitigate the life-threatening dangers of paralytic shellfish poisoning—HAB-related human health illness. Researchers used molecular assays, established and advised citizen monitoring groups, and conducted toxin analyses to better ensure the safety of recreationally harvested shellfish and crab.

Off the coast of southern California, NCCOS scientists tested autonomous, underwater sensors fitted with new HAB toxin sensors. These Environmental Sample Processors are part of a high-tech armada of marine sensors deployed to study an Orange County Sewage District ocean outfall pipe diversion. The sensors help researchers and coastal managers understand how sewage from the diversion affects algal blooms in this known HAB "hot spot."

In the Gulf of Maine, NCCOS scientists enhanced HAB sensors with technology to detect paralytic shellfish poisoning toxins. These are the first ocean sensors to detect both the harmful alga Alexandrium and its toxin. Sensor coverage in the western Gulf of Maine spanned the 2013 New England red tide season, providing data on HAB toxicity and intensity for regional shellfish managers. The work was done in collaboration with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Forecasts for Hypoxia, Pathogens, and Harmful Algal Blooms Guide Coastal Managers

Screenshot of harmful algal bloom forecast

NOAA harmful algal bloom forecasts alert coastal managers to blooms before they can cause serious damage.

NOAA expanded its ecological forecasting portfolio in 2013 with new forecasts for hypoxia (low oxygen), pathogens, and harmful algal blooms (HABs).

In the summer of 2013, dead zone predictions were issued for the nation's most hypoxia-impacted bodies of water—the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay. The Gulf of Mexico hypoxic dead zone was predicted to be large this year (an estimated 7,286 to 8,651 square miles). In contrast, the 2013 Chesapeake Bay forecast called for a smaller than average hypoxic zone. These forecasts inform strategies to reduce nutrient runoff, the ultimate cause of hypoxia.

In 2013, NOAA issued experimental pathogen forecasts for Chesapeake Bay, Md., and Winyah Bay, S.C. Pathogens can cause illness ranging from infected cuts to severe gastrointestinal disease. These forecasts predict where and when Vibrio bacteria are most likely to be found based on characteristics of the water. Public health officials use these forecasts to target water monitoring and public safety messages.

NOAA and its partners also issued HAB forecasts for southwest Florida, Texas, Lake Erie, and the Gulf of Maine, progressing toward a national HAB forecasting system. Weekly forecasts identify which blooms are harmful, their location, size, and where they are headed. Seasonal forecasts predict the severity of HABs for the bloom season. This early warning provides health officials, environmental managers, and water treatment facility operators with information to guide beach and shellfish bed closures and to develop plans for local water treatment. The forecasts also allow the seafood and tourism industries to prepare for related impacts to their sectors.