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NOAA Ship 'Nancy Foster' will map fish spawning sites between Key West and the Dry Tortugas. (Photo: NOAA)

NOAA vessel to map fish spawning sites off Florida coast

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012, 22:20 (GMT + 9)

Scientists from Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and partner agencies will depart Key West this week aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ship Nancy Foster to map fish spawning sites between Key West and the Dry Tortugas. Data collected on this 10-day research cruise will enhance scientific understanding of fish spawning locations, as well as fish movements in and around the sanctuary’s Tortugas Ecological Reserve.

“During the recent public regulatory review, many stakeholders said that we need to understand and protect our fishing spawning areas better,” said Sean Morton, sanctuary superintendent. “The scientific results of this cruise will help inform the public and guide management decisions as we continue to look at sanctuary marine zones and regulations.”

On the expedition, scientists will use multibeam and splitbeam sonar to provide high resolution maps of the seafloor, while fishery acoustic sonar simultaneously searches for fish in order to determine what different spawning sites have in common. Divers will conduct visual surveys to validate the sonar scans, and use remotely operated vehicles to document observations at deeper depths.

The sanctuary’s marine zoning and regulatory review is a multi-year, public process to determine whether existing sanctuary boundaries, regulations, and marine zones are adequate to address threats to marine resources, and if new or expanded protection is needed to better address these threats.

Divers will also service and redeploy 74 acoustic receivers in the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, Dry Tortugas National Park and surrounding area. The network of receivers is used to detect acoustically tagged fish when they pass within range.

It was instrumental in documenting the successes of both the reserve and the national park’s Research Natural Area, including the return of a historic mutton snapper spawning group at the reserve’s Riley’s Hump area.

The Dry Tortugas region, located approximately 70 mi west of Key West, contains diverse and nationally-significant underwater habitats, including seagrass beds and deep coral reef habitats. In 2001, the sanctuary designated the 151-sqnmi Tortugas Ecological Reserve to protect habitat and biodiversity, allowing the area to evolve naturally with minimal human influences.

Fishing and anchoring are prohibited throughout the reserve, and boating and diving is prohibited in the reserve’s southern section without a permit.

NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 sqnmi of critical marine habitat, including coral reef, hard bottom, sea grass meadow, mangrove communities and sand flats. NOAA and the state of Florida manage the sanctuary.

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Photo Courtesy of FIS Member  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA/NMFS
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