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Making Waves: Episode 1 (Oct. 31, 2008)

… Researchers are testing out sonar to track threatened sea turtles in NC
… The ocean today kiosk debuts
… And NOAA's coral reef watch bleaching monitoring network goes global

Those stories are coming up today on the premier episode of making waves from NOAA's National Ocean Service...

(Using Sonar to Track Sea Turtles)
Researchers from the National Ocean Service are testing out the use of high-frequency sonar as a tool to learn more about loggerhead turtles.

It’s a novel way to use acoustic technology ... and it may be a new way to help protect endangered and threatened species.

The NOS researchers have joined up with a larger project to study loggerheads led by the National Marine Fisheries Service and supported by state and university partners in North Carolina. The NOS team is specifically testing out the application of sonar to help investigate sea turtle abundance and habitats.

This month’s sonar survey is a follow-up mission to the first successful use of high-definition imaging sonar to document the size and distribution of loggerhead turtles in May.

During previous expeditions, researchers discovered an unusually high and unexplained concentration of loggerhead turtles at Cape Lookout in North Carolina. This was the largest number of non-nesting loggerheads ever documented at one location, and researchers are excited to learn more.

Hopefully this new sonar data will help us learn more about loggerheads - and help us to better identify threats to their survival.

The expedition will also test out just how useful sonar can be to find and observe small animals like sea turtles in their natural habitats. If it works well, sonar may be a new powerful tool to help NOAA and its partners protect, restore, and manage threatened populations of loggerheads and other sea life.

You can see a clip of a loggerhead turtle captured by sonar on our website at

(Ocean Today Kiosk)
If you're visiting Washington DC, be sure to check out the new Sant Ocean Hall at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

The Sant ocean hall just opened, and is the biggest new addition to the museum in a century. If you go, check NOAA’s new ocean today kiosk -- news and video stories on a touch-screen that highlight some of the most interesting, surprising, and pressing issues facing our ocean today.

The kiosk also features a 'current news' section that provides near real-time data about current ocean and weather conditions around the U.S. While the Sant Ocean Hall will be the permanent home for the Ocean Today Kiosk, the videos developed for the project will be shared with a growing network of aquariums across the nation through the Coastal America's Ecosystem Learning Centers.

(NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch)
And finally this week, NOAA's Coral Reef Watch bleaching monitoring network now covers 190 reef sites around the world.

With the expansion of the monitoring network, these sites are now monitored 24 hours a day from space to notify coral reef managers, scientists, and other interested parties when ocean conditions are ripe for coral bleaching. The network provides about two weeks' warning before coral bleaching occurs by monitoring sea surface temperatures from NOAA's satellites.

The main threat to corals and the number one cause of coral bleaching is rising ocean temperature. As the corals heat up, they expel the algae that live in their tissues and expose the white skeleton underneath. While corals often recover from mild bleaching, individual coral polyps or whole colonies may die if the bleaching is severe or prolonged.

(Taking a closer look)

But why do we care so much about the coral reefs in our ocean? And, even if we get an alert that coral bleaching is imminent, is there anything we can do about it?

Let’s take a closer look …. Each week we’ll pick one of our top stories to bring you some additional perspective and broader context

So, why should we care? The answer is that coral reefs are much more important to human health and the health of the ocean than most people realize.

Coral reefs are home to millions of species of plants and fish that people depend on for food and tourism. In fact, NOAA estimates the commercial value of U.S. fisheries from coral reefs is over $100 million per year. Local economies also receive billions of dollars from visitors to reefs through diving tours, recreational fishing trips, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses based near reef ecosystems.

Coral reefs also serve as barriers or buffers near shorelines to protect against waves, storms and floods. This helps to prevent loss of life, property damage and erosion.

Coral reef plants and animals are also a critical source of new medicines being developed to treat illnesses ranging from cancer to heart disease. Some coral reef organisms produce powerful chemicals to fend off attackers, and scientists continue to research the medicinal potential of these substances.

But what can reef managers and scientists do to protect reefs from bleaching? We can’t stop the ocean from warming up, right? Well, there’s a lot of research being conducted in this area -- and NOAA is one of many agencies searching for new solutions. The short answer is that there are tools to fight bleaching

Managers can try to reduce stress to the reef by limiting access from divers or fishing. A reef can be artificially shaded to help cool it down. Reef managers can also help preserve coral by removing predators from an area to help a patch of coral recover, and they can keep a watch out for coral disease to keep it from spreading in a coral colony. Finally, we can work to keep reefs healthier so they can better mend themselves by reducing pollution, coastal runoff and overfishing. So the main thing we can do is try to reduce the stress on these fragile ecosystems to give them time to recover between bleaching episodes.

You can find lots more on coral reefs at And while you’re there be sure to check out our brand new ocean facts section - if you have questions you'd like answered about our ocean, send us an email at

And while you're visiting our site, let us know what you think. We're working hard to make it better. We’re just about to roll out a user survey on the site - we want your feedback!

That's all for this episode. Let's bring in the ocean. This is making waves from NOAA's National Ocean Service. See you next time.