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Diving Deeper Shorts: Research in our National Marine Sanctuaries

Episode 24 (June 6, 2013)

HOST: Today's Diving Deeper Shorts explores research at our national marine sanctuaries. Our national marine sanctuaries are special areas that protect important marine ecosystems around the country - making these unique places for research as well. NOAA scientists and resource managers closely monitor everything from water quality to living resources to habitats, all to better understand overall ecosystem health and look for trends over time. To learn more about research in our sanctuaries, let's revisit a past episode where we talked with Steve Gittings from NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

Let's listen in.

HOST: Is there a science program for our sanctuaries, something that ties all of the aspects together?

STEVE GITTINGS: There is a science program. It's a very diverse one and it's diverse because the needs for all the marine sanctuaries are so different. As we said, they range in habitats from kelp forests to coral reefs and ledge communities off Georgia, Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary in Hawaii, and then American Samoa is an example of a Western Pacific reef. So because the resources themselves vary so much, so does the science.

We have a program we call the Conservation Science Program in the Marine Sanctuary System and these are the types of science programs that link the science itself to management activities that go on in the sanctuaries. There's also what we call a Maritime Heritage Program, which deals with the archaeological investigations and resource management needs of the program.

HOST: Steve, can you highlight a few examples of some of these research activities?

STEVE GITTINGS: Some of the examples of the more interesting work that happens in our program, and this will give you a flavor of the nature and diversity of the science. Whales get a lot of attention in the Marine Sanctuary Program, not because they're charismatic as much as they're protected species and the Sanctuary Program helps support the research related to restoring species that are endangered or threatened, so whales fit into that category.

In the northeast, one of the research projects had to do with identifying the locations of high densities of certain species of whales, particularly right whales which are so endangered, and following that, identifying the locations of shipping lanes that were nearby and it just so happened that the shipping lanes cut right through one of the areas of highest abundance for right whales and other species in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. We were able to eventually get a change in the shipping lane locations off Boston. They were shifted only a few miles to the north, but they reduced the risk of collisions with whales by something between 60 and 80 percent, depending on the species of whales that you were talking about. So that was a very good management application of one of our research activities.

We're also mapping sensitive areas within marine sanctuaries so that we know more about areas that need special protection in the event of spills for example. Collecting data and monitoring and mapping within those sensitive areas is critical so that we can have a baseline against which to measure any effects that might happen and targets for restoration of those areas after the insult is gone.

In the future, research will evolve the way research always does, we'll look for needs and we'll identify them by putting people to the task.

HOST: That's all for today's Diving Deeper Shorts. Want to learn more? Go to and click on the September 2010 podcast archive to listen to the full episode or visit