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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Largest Survey of Marine Protected Species in the US

Study Covers U.S. East Coast Waters

The nation’s largest survey of protected marine species is now underway for its second year along the East Coast.

Aboard the NOAA ships Henry B. Bigelow and Gordon Gunter, researchers are documenting animals in deeper waters beyond the edge of the continental shelf, with the Bigelow off the northeastern U.S. and the Gunter off the southeastern U.S. During July and August, NOAA aircraft will carry observers surveying for animals in the shallower waters on the shelf all along the East Coast, and USFWS aircraft will survey for seabirds during August from Maine to Florida.

The expeditions are part of the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (AMAPPS), a joint multi-year study involving NOAA’s Fisheries Service, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) and USFWS. Under an interagency agreement, NOAA and BOEMRE will assign scientists to this summer’s and future expeditions and BOEMRE will provide $7.6 million for the study, which runs from 2010 until 2014.

These surveys will allow scientists not only to better estimate the abundance of marine mammals, sea turtles, and sea birds in U.S. Atlantic waters, but also to investigate how the animals’ distribution and abundance relate to the physical and biological ecosystem.

The study will help NOAA’s Fisheries Service manage, conserve and protect living marine resources within the United States Exclusive Economic Zone, waters three to 200 miles offshore. The study also will help inform BOEMRE’s decision-making process for future energy development. Finally, this partnership will give USFWS much better scientific information about seabird populations, so that the agency can more clearly define the needs of these species and make better management decisions.

In addition to the surveys currently underway, AMAPPS research in 2011 has included harbor seal tagging this spring in Massachusetts and Maine, followed by an aerial seal survey along the New England coast during peak pupping season in late May and June. In addition, a loggerhead turtle-tagging and biological sampling cruise was just completed ahead of schedule this month aboard two New Jersey commercial scallop vessels. Researchers put satellite tags on 25 juvenile loggerhead turtles, adding to the 44 tagged last year by scientists from both NOAA’s Northeast and Southeast Fisheries Science Centers.

A report on the 2010 work was recently published by the NEFSC and can be found online.

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