2014 Fish Spawning Aggregation Cruise Updates

These are highlights from the cruise that were posted on the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary's Facebook page.

Photo of research vessel at sea. Photo of diver entering water from inflatable boat. Map showing Tortugas Ecological Reserve North and South. Photo of mutton snapper gathered to spawn.

September 15, 2014

Today we kick off a research expedition on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster to locate and document fish spawning aggregations in SW regions of the FKMNS waters, focused on marine reserves in the Dry Tortugas. We'll be posting updates as scientists surgically tag fish to follow their movements, search for fish spawning aggregations with fishery acoustic sonar, and drop cameras to the seafloor on remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). We'll also map unknown parts of the seafloor to learn more about what habitats lie in some of the deepest waters of the Sanctuary!

Photo of queen angelfish amidst coral.

September 16, 2014

Here Fishy Fishy... Today we worked with scientists from FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWC-FRI) to place traps in hopes of tagging cubera snapper and black grouper. We dropped an ROV to check traps, but alas no luck yet so we will keep checking back. Tracking fish movements is vital for piecing together the big picture of how to use marine zones to effectively protect them. In 2012, NOAA produced an integrated assessment of the biogeography of no-take zones in the Tortugas region. An overview of this research was presented to our Advisory Council earlier this year: 140415fknmsbiogeographic.pdf (pdf, 5.7 MB).

Photo of workers pull an ROV onto deck of ship. Map showing ROV track along a color gradient. Photo of Goliath grouper.

September 17, 2014

Our research team on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster is mapping the seafloor at Riley's Hump and scouting out fish in the area with help from partners at UNCW-Undersea Vehicles Program, who run the ROV Mohawk down to the seafloor to take pictures and videos. This area is in the southern part of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, designed to protect a range of habitats and spawning aggregations: tortugasfish2011.pdf (pdf, 482 kb)

Photo of diver holding acoustic receiver. Map of fish movements between Tortugas North and South areas. Schematic drawing of receivers picking up soundwaves.

September 18, 2014

Many reef fishes travel from shallow reefs, where they spend most of the year, to deep waters to spawn. NOAA and FWC-FRI scientists are working together on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster to identify corridors used by key snapper and grouper species in the vicinity of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve.

Tracking fish movements is a tricky business, involving two key steps. First, since fish live in the water, sonar is the best way to pick up signals being sent from their tags. Scientists place arrays of receivers, or “listening devices,” to pick up on their location. The research team is servicing these receivers so they can continue to collect data on fish movements. Tomorrow, we'll cover the next step, implanting tags in the fish.

Learn more about spawning corridors: http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/scisummaries/mutton.pdf (pdf, 587 kb)

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Amberjacks at Riley's Hump, Tortugas Ecological Reserve

While on the hunt for spawning aggregations during our current science mission in the Tortugas, we spotted these amberjack near Riley's Hump at a depth of approximately 20 feet on a high relief ridge with the ROV Mohawk. We know that a number of reef fish have responded positively to the establishment of the reserve: http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/scisummaries/reeffish.pdf (pdf, 1.1 MB)

September 19, 2014

Fish Surgery - Implanting the Tag

Tagging and tracking fish offers special challenges - particularly at depths of 100 feet on Riley's Hump. Seen here from an underwater surgery performed yesterday, tracking devices and tags are surgically implanted. (Fish have sleek, slippery bodies that don’t allow for the types of bands and collars typically used on other wildlife.) At the end of the surgery, this Scamp is sutured and able to resume its normal activity!

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Stingray, Grouper, Scamp, Margate and Amberjacks!

Here is another video from ROV Mohawk in Tortugas Ecological Reserve. Here you can see a large stingray gliding around the high relief structure at about 200 feet from the surface while amberjacks, red grouper, margate, and scamp swim around the ROV.

September 20, 2014

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Lionfish and Laser Beams!

The ROV Mohawk launches again from the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster to a depth of almost 400 feet at Miller's Ledge in the Tortugas Ecological Reserve. Our nemesis the lionfish is hit with the ROV's lasers but remains unfazed... In shallower depths, FWC-FWRI scientists are tagging lionfish in FKNMS to understand their movements. You can learn more about lionfish here: http://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/nonnative/marine-life/lionfish/

September 21, 2014

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Dolphin Inspecting the ROV Mohawk

These dolphin were interested in the ROV Mohawk - they approached just after launching and put on a show in front of the camera. We like the ROV too and thank Lance Horn and Jason White from UNCW-Undersea Vehicles Program for their operation of the ROV Mohawk during the first leg of this research cruise. We will soon upload more footage from the ROV on this trip but we recommend liking the UNCW facebook page to see their future missions. Their next stop is NOAA's Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary!

Credit: FWC-FRI

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Tracking a Tagged Mutton Snapper

Let's watch that tagged fish go spawn! We highlighted earlier how scientists performed the surgery for inserting tags and installed acoustic receivers. So what happens after the data is collected? Here is an animation of a mutton snapper tagged and tracked with this technology - note how the fish moves many times from one protected area in Dry Tortugas National Park to spawn in the FKNMS' Tortugas Ecological Reserve and then returns after spawning! This has been observed over many years now..so cue the Marvin Gaye...

September 22, 2014

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Goliath Grouper, Amberjack and Snapper

More from the ROV Mohawk! This video is from a dive on a fishing vessel that sunk just outside the FKNMS boundary. Here in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, up to 100 of these goliath grouper may gather at wrecks, rock ledges and isolated patch reefs to spawn from July-Sept. They are thought to be dispersal spawners, releasing their eggs and sperm into open waters to mix.

Photo of queen conch. Photo of small queen conch being measured. Photo of diver looking at conch. Photo Credit: FWC-FWRI

September 23, 2014

While conducting a queen conch survey today, the FWC-FWRI scientists came upon this conch with an egg case. The egg case is the whitish mass under the edge of the shell.

Queen conchs typically mate in the summer or early fall in shallow, sandy areas behind the reef. The male sits behind the female and deposits sperm into the female. The female may retain the sperm for several weeks, and fertilization is internal. Some females spawn six to eight times during a spawning season. The egg cases with 400,000 embryos are released as a mass of tightly wound gelatinous tubes. Produced at a rate of about 5’ per hour, a conch may produce 70’ to more than 120’ of tube strands.

Photo of queen conch with eyes showing. Photo Credit: FWC-FWRI

September 24, 2014

This queen conch kept a close eye on the FWC-FWRI scientist while he was conducting surveys in the Marquesas region yesterday. The eyes of the queen conch are more highly developed than those of most other snails. Its excellent eyesight is supplemented by its tentacles, which are also used to feel and taste the water.

More queen conch stats: Sea Stats-Queen Conch

Photo of woman looking at screen. Photo of multibeam sonar rainbow patterns on a screen.

September 25, 2014

Throughout the cruise, the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster has been using multibeam sonar in conjunction with fishery acoustic sonar to provide high resolution maps of previously unmapped seafloor while simultaneously searching for the presence of fish. Determining the common habitat characteristics of recovering spawning aggregation sites will enhance our ability to predict where to direct future monitoring efforts. Over 787 linear nautical miles have been mapped during the cruise- thank you Survey Technicians, Officers and Crew!!

For more information, visit: multibeam bathymetry

September 26, 2014

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During the past week of the cruise, divers have been conducting a Reef Visual Census (RVC) to study fish populations and habitat. Divers record fish species, numbers, and size; water temperature, current and visibility; and biotic and abiotic cover. Resource management agencies and academic institutions have been using this census method since 2008 in the Florida Keys as a means to monitor conditions. Learn more about RVC: http://femar.rsmas.miami.edu/rvc.html

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"In-Seine" Expedition

Out seining yesterday near the backcountry flats of the Marquesas. Fish actually make use of these seagrass beds for food and shelter, and for a fish, seagrass and reef habitats are closely linked. We caught lane, mutton, and yellowtail. Learn more about the benefits of seagrass: http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/plants/msbenefits.html