- On our morning dive, in depths of 78 to 102 meters, we saw an amazing amount of sponge diversity, greater than elsewhere on Pulley Ridge.
- We also saw an oasis of native reef fishes, including a massive (ca. 9 meters across) red grouper burrow, as well as 15 individuals of the exotic lionfish
- About 19 km away, on our afternoon dive, in depths of 110 to 127 meters, we worked along a 6- to 8-meter high ledge, a solid rock wall which was “loaded” with fish
- Our fish surveys found the highest diversity of the expedition, with lots of scamp, gag grouper, speckled hind, Warsaw grouper, and snapper
- We saw no plate corals today, but did find a number of solitary cup corals (Scolymia sp)., as well as black corals (Stichopathes sp. and Antipathes sp.)
- Tonight we did our deepest (400 meters) MOCNESS tow of the expedition
- For daily expedition images, visit CIOERT Flickr collection at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cioert/.
Chris Gardner, Fisheries Biologist II, Panama City Laboratory, National Marine Fisheries
Along with the studies and collections of sponges and corals on the FloSEE II expedition, observations are being made on the fish fauna as well. Chris Gardner is a fish biologist with NOAA’s Fisheries Lab in Panama City, Florida. He works for a team at the lab headed by Andy David. Chris (Leg 1) and Andy (Leg 2) will serve as our FLoSEE fish team. Chris spends many weeks each year working on boats using drop cameras, fish traps, ROV’s, and SCUBA to try and figure out how many reef fish live on shallow and mesophotic deep reefs of the Gulf of Mexico. These “fisheries independent data” are an important part of NOAA Fisheries’ efforts to find enough data for managers to be effective in conserving these essential fish habitats and the resources. We asked Chris to summarize what we know about fishes on Pulley Ridge and here is what he said:
“More than 60 species of fishes have been identified from Pulley Ridge. This mesophotic reef (60-80 meters deep) has some species that are typically found in more shallow water, while others are more commonly associated with deeper waters. Typical shallow-water tropical species include bluehead wrasse, bicolor damselfish, coney, French angelfish, and rock beauty, most of which we observed on this cruise. Some of the deepwater fishes we observed were the bank butterflyfish, deepwater squirrelfish, spotfin hogfish, roughtongue bass, and wrasse bass. Commercial species from Pulley Ridge include red grouper, scamp, and hogfish. Several species, including the red grouper (Epinephelus morio) and the sand tilefish (Malacanthus plumieri), construct large burrows and mounds that serve as refuge for multiple species. Mounds and pits larger than one m2 are apparent on side-scan sonar images and have been counted in excess of 200/km2 for parts of the ridge.
“On this cruise, the most exciting thing I saw in regards to fishes was the four Warsaw Grouper that we saw in one of today’s dives, that were up to 1 meter in length. Fish of that size are likely to weigh 60 to 80 lbs each.”
“While being at sea and seeing the fish firsthand is one of the best parts of my job, much of the work that we do on assessing populations of fish is done back in our lab in Panama City. On each dive, we are constantly taking video of our transects, as well as many still photographs. These images offer scientists a rare glimpse of the fish community on deep reefs; collecting information such as species composition, habitat associations, diversity estimates, and relative abundance – that would be quite difficult to nearly impossible with traditional methods (such as hook and line fishing, traps, and nets). Every minute of our video coverage is important; besides reporting information on more charismatic fish such as groupers, we will also be reporting on the myriad of small, inconspicuous or even cryptic species, that hide in the nooks and crannies of the reef, but which are ecologically important species. Ultimately, these videos will provide important baseline information on both economically and ecologically important species that help make up the whole ecosystem.”
“Gathering these fish data in conjunction with other projects maximizes valuable research time. The fish data combined with other FLoSEE data, such as habitat mapping, sponge and coral cover analysis, and CTD data will help us view the ecosystem at a landscape scale. This approach is the basis for ecosystem-based management and monitoring environmental in this protected area. Our FLoSEE videos and data will be archived permanently so that scientists in the years to come can re-examine and study them; such long term studies are important, especially in terms of the rapid accelerating changes we are seeing in the oceans, many of them due to human activities and climate change.”
Want to know more?
See: http://cioert.org/flosee/blog/ecological-engineering-on-the-west-florida-shelf-edge/ for a blog written by Chris Koenig, Florida State University, on “ecological engineering” by red grouper which he wrote on our during our 2010 Florida Shelf Edge Exploration (FLoSEE).