Weekly News: March 2006
On March 29, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) contacted the NOAA Office of Coast Survey for assistance in surveying to identify potential shoaling (or areas that have become shallow) in Reynolds Channel, on the inshore side of Long Beach and Jones Beach, New York. These federal channels, located on the south shore of Long Island, are heavily used by both commercial fishing and recreational boats. Significant shoaling was found by NOAA Navigation Response Team 5 (NRT5) throughout the channel. In some areas, discrepancies between the charted depths and sounding data exceeded 20 feet. The collected data will be used by the USCG to reposition and add buoy markers designating the shallow portions of the channel in the surveyed areas. Though this survey was not an emergency response, it was an urgent request for NRT5 to complete because of the upcoming summer season, when recreational traffic will significantly increase throughout the area. For more information, contact Rick.Fletcher@noaa.gov.
Scientists from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science have discovered paralytic toxins produced by harmful algae in fecal samples of endangered North Atlantic right whales. These landmark findings, produced in collaboration with the New England Aquarium, NOAA Fisheries Service, and institutions in Canada and Germany, demonstrate that algal toxins are present in North Atlantic right whales and confirm that intoxication occurs by ingestion of zooplankton that have consumed toxic algae. The western North Atlantic right whale is one of the rarest large whales worldwide (population estimated at only 300-350 individuals), and reproductive failure is one of the factors cited as contributing to the population’s inability to recover. For more information, contact Greg.Doucette@noaa.gov.
NOAA, co-trustees, and partners are eagerly awaiting the outcome from the first nesting attempt by a bald eagle pair in the northern Channel Islands in over half a century. Bald eagles disappeared from the Channel Islands off the coast of California about 50 years ago. Persistent levels of DDTs and PCBs in the Southern California marine environment have impaired bald eagle reproduction and recovery for decades. A four-year old female laid two eggs in March on Santa Cruz Island, off the coast of California. Whether or not a chick will hatch naturally should be known by the second week in April, and would constitute a significant restoration milestone for the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program. NOAA and co-trustees have been placing young bald eagles onto Santa Cruz Island since 2002, using damages recovered from the Montrose Chemical Corporation and other parties, under the final settlement of the Montrose natural resource damage assessment case. For more information, contact Greg.Baker@noaa.gov.
The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in Kihei reported that a second humpback whale calf has been injured by a boat in less than a week off Maui, the fifth strike so far this year. The first report of the most recently injured calf, estimated to be less than one year old, came in the morning of March 15, 2006, from the U.S. Coast Guard. The sanctuary dispatched a crew and intercepted the calf, its mother, and two escort males about a mile and a half off McGregor Point. Researchers from the Dolphin Institute were also on hand and were the first to locate the whale. The calf’s injuries were reported to be about 3 or 4 square feet of damage and were consistent with a propeller striking the whale. It is unknown what boat hit the whale. This injured calf was different than the calf injured by a whale-watch boat March 9 off South Maui. In that incident, a whale calf suffered a serious injury after it collided with a Pacific Whale Foundation boat. Witnesses aboard the 65-foot Ocean Spirit reported seeing large amounts of blood in the water. If a whale collision is witnessed, the public should contact the NOAA Marine Mammal Response Hot Line at: 1-888-256-9840. For more information, contact David.Matilla@noaa.gov.
Scientists from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research (CCEHBR) and representatives from over 20 federal, state, and local agencies, as well as hospitals and private entities, recently received training in how to better respond to future avian “bird” flu and other viral disease outbreaks. Their participation in the third Coastal Bioterrorism Workshop, held March 5 and 6 in Charleston, South Carolina, included a training scenario that involved avian flu spread by terrorists from a cargo container in the port of Charleston. The scenario resulted in eight action items for federal, state, and local coastal communities to deal with future avian flu and other viral disease outbreaks. This information will be vital to emergency response and public health officials in better understanding the environmental epidemiology of avian flu and other viral illnesses and will ultimately lead to better management of public health disease outbreaks. For more information, contact Geoff.Scott@noaa.gov.
On March 17, the U.S. Coast Guard contacted the NOAA Office of Coast Survey Southeast Region Navigation Manager for assistance in locating a wooden shrimping vessel that sunk in the vicinity of the Charleston, South Carolina shipping channel. NOAA Navigation Response Team 2 (NRT2) quickly mobilized and was deployed to the area. The team arrived on scene the following morning and conducted a side scan sonar survey of the channel. The team found no wreckage or debris in the channel. NRT2 is continuing normal project operations and is standing by to provide further assistance to the Coast Guard as needed. For more information, contact Rick.Fletcher@noaa.gov.
Natural resource managers in federal waters of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) will soon have maps of seafloor topography, habitats, and biota that can help guide ecosystem management. From March 21 to April 2, the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, the National Park Service, and other partner agencies will conduct the third year of an ongoing scientific research mission aboard the NOAA vessel, Nancy Foster. The mission will use multi-beam sonar and remotely operated vehicles with underwater video to explore and characterize seafloor habitats of the USVI and Puerto Rico, at depths ranging from 15 to 1,000 meters. Data from the mission will be combined with biological fish census data collected between 2000 and 2006. This data will be used to generate maps of priority areas for 2006, which include the USVI’s Buck Island Reef National Monument and the southwestern portion of Puerto Rico. Additional information on the research project, its sponsors and partners, and daily scientific updates during the cruise are available at: http://ccma.nos.noaa.gov/products/biogeography/usvi_nps_2006. For more information, contact Tim.Battista@noaa.gov.
The 2006 Flower Garden Bank National Marine Sanctuary Winter Research Cruise occurred on February 28, to assess the state of the sanctuary ecosystem. Coral disease and bleaching surveys were conducted at both the East (EFGB) and West Flower Garden Banks (WFGB). Water temperatures were higher than average. Bleaching continues to partially or fully affect approximately four percent of the colonies at the WFGB and nearly six percent of the colonies at the EFGB. Species affected are primarily fire coral (Millepora alcicornis), and Montastraea cavernosa, a species of star coral. A coral disease exhibiting symptoms similar to white plague affected at least eight percent of the colonies at the EFGB and at least one third of the colonies at the WFGB. At least seven species of coral are affected by the disease. This is the most severe coral disease event ever recorded at the sanctuary. Other observations included spotted eagle rays, tiger sharks, dusky sharks, loggerhead sea turtles, and schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks. Acoustic receivers were placed at depth at the WFGB and Stetson Bank. Acoustic transmitters have been placed on two manta rays at the sanctuary. Participants in the cruise included sanctuary personnel and volunteers and researchers from George Mason University, NOAA Fisheries, Florida International University, Wildlife Conservation Society, University of Houston, Bainbridge College, Texas A&M University, and Azure Photography. For more information, contact Emma.Hickerson@noaa.gov.
Results of a three-year field sampling study by scientists from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science shows that approximately one percent of sediments in Puget Sound, Washington, are degraded and have altered bottom-dwelling (benthic) communities due to toxic contaminants. These degraded areas will require sediment remediation and clean-up. Approximately 30 percent of areas were classified as “intermediate” in sediment quality. These areas will also be a focus for attention in the state’s environmental remediation programs, to ensure the sediments do not deteriorate further. The majority of the study area, about 68 percent, was found to have high-quality sediments, with low concentrations of toxic chemicals, an absence of toxicity, and the presence of unimpaired benthic communities. The study was completed under a Cooperative Agreement between NOAA and the State of Washington. For more information, contact Jawed.Hameedi@noaa.gov.
In a recent workshop exploring the science of how best to manage recreational fishing for open ocean (pelagic) species within a marine protected area (MPA), workshop participants, including fisheries scientists, marine ecologists, MPA practitioners, and key recreational fishing leaders identified priority gaps in scientific understanding of the impact of recreational fishing on benthic-pelagic linkages. The group also discussed practical guidelines for MPA planners and managers faced with this issue. Despite divergent perspectives on MPAs and fishing, the participants found common ground in identifying ecological conditions under which vertical zoning of recreational fishing may or may not be appropriate to consider when planning a new MPA. Results of the workshop are available in the March 2006 edition of MPA News. For more information, contact Charles.Wahle@noaa.gov.
A weight of evidence now indicates that a bacterium, Roseovarius crassostreae, is likely causing juvenile oyster disease (JOD). This finding came from a panel of experts at a workshop sponsored by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) and NOAA Sea Grant to summarize the existing body of knowledge on JOD and provide recommendations on future research. Since the early 1990s, JOD has caused severe mortalities in first-year cultured oysters in the northeastern United States, closing a number of oyster culture businesses. Research by NCCOS scientists, conducted in collaboration with several regional partners, has led to the development of disease-resistant oysters and other advances to manage mortalities from the disease. For further information, contact Jay.Lewis@noaa.govor Cheryl.Woodley@noaa.gov.
On February 28, NOAA Office of Coast Survey’s Navigation Response Team (NRT4) responded to a request from the Port of Lake Charles to survey Contraband Bayou after a light vessel transiting the Bayou on its way to berth reported touching bottom. NRT4 surveyed Contraband Bayou and no obstructions were found, but the data is being processed and analyzed for shoaling. The NOAA Navigation Response Teams are critical components of both NOAA’s Emergency Response Program and the Marine Transportation System Services Program to help ensure that waterways are safe for navigation and efficient maritime commerce. A port closure can impact the economy as ships and cargo are stalled or re-routed, and military deployments are delayed. For more information, contact Rick.Fletcher@noaa.gov.
The U.S. Marine Managed Areas Inventory has reached a milestone with the posting of data for 16 more states and territories on the MPA.gov Web site. There are now 21 states and territories with data posted to the site’s database. These data were collected by the Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Center, National Ocean Service, state and territorial representatives, and interns over a five-year period. The inventory contains a wide range of information on each marine managed area site, to help the U.S. develop a comprehensive picture of the nation's marine managed areas. The data collected include a general description and site characteristics such as location, purpose, and type of site, along with detailed information on natural and cultural resources, legal authorities, site management, regulations, and restrictions. The MPA Center estimates that the marine managed areas inventory now includes at least 2,000 federal, state, and territorial sites. To view the inventory database, which includes federal sites in addition to state and territory sites, please visit http://www3.mpa.gov/exploreinv/explore.aspx. For more information, contact Paul.Ticco@noaa.gov.
To spearhead development of the TsunamiResilient Communities Program, representatives from the coastal management community recently conducted a scoping trip to Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Male, Maldives. This program will build on benchmarks for local preparedness and response developed for the U.S. and adapt them for urban, rural, and tourism communities in the Indian Ocean region. The NOAA Pacific Services Center and its partners will support work with Indian Ocean countries to enhance community initiatives towards the development of a TsunamiResilient Communities Program. For more information, contact Russell.Jackson@noaa.gov.
On February 25, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary conducted the second event of the annual Sanctuary Ocean Count project. Over 750 volunteers counted whales and recorded their surface behaviors from 63 shore sites on the Islands of Oahu, Kauai, Kahoolawe, and Hawaii. Although Hawaii has been experiencing a lot of wet winter weather, the day was perfect for sighting whales. An average of four whales were seen per fifteen-minute count period on Oahu, five on Kauai, four on Hawaii, and 16 on Kahoolawe. The last event for this year’s Sanctuary Ocean Count project will be held on March 25. For more information, contact Christine.Brammer@noaa.gov or visit http://hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov.
Newanalysis by National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science scientists shows that trends in landings in the Gulf of Mexico panaeid shrimp fisheries serve as indicators of the quality of the shrimps' estuarine habitats over time. This research provides an example of how coastal managers can use readily available commercial landings data as a measure of environmental quality. Recently completedanalysis of landing trends in Florida Bay indicate diminished habitat quality since the mid-1980s, while landing trends in Louisiana and Texas reveal either increasing habitat quality or no change over the past 44 years. The research shows that the shrimp stocks are fully exploited and landings are a direct measure of stock. Since panaeid shrimp are an annual species, landings are also a measure of recruitment, which is dependent on habitat quality.For more information, contact Tom.Oconnor@noaa.gov.
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