The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary took center stage for two and a half weeks in May while the Sustainable Seas Expeditions (SSE), a five-year project of collaborative deep water exploration and public education, focused on Central Coast waters. The results of this national program will form the heart of a major campaign to boost awareness of the ocean and threats to it. The National Geographic Society, in partnership with NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary program, launched the SSE, which are funded by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund and led by National Geographic's Explorer-in-Residence, Dr. Sylvia Earle.
Beginning this spring and continuing over the next three years, the SSE aim to improve our understanding of our twelve National Marine Sanctuaries' natural and cultural resources and ecosystems. Using the DeepWorker submersible, marine scientists will explore to depths as great as 2,000 feet, documenting and photographing the plants, animals, and habitats they discover. Related education and outreach projects will ensure that the knowledge and excitement generated from these expeditions are passed on to children around the world.
Since the Sanctuaries, like most of the ocean, have not been explored extensively at depths below conventional SCUBA diving range (about 120 feet), the new submersible technology featured in the SSE offers an unprecedented opportunity to assess and characterize the marine environments encompassed by the Sanctuaries. Monterey Bay is the ideal place to host such a research project, boasting one of the richest marine environments on earth and active research, education, and marine technology communities that collaborate regularly.
Research in the Monterey Bay
One project prepared for this SSE visit was to further an existing prickly shark research program by using the DeepWorker to conduct visual transects at the head of several of the major canyons in the Sanctuary to estimate the distribution and relative abundance of prickly and other large sharks; another planned to observe day-night migrations of small invertebrates, with a focus on gelatinous zooplankton. A third study was to help local efforts to make seasonal comparisons of deep water habitats and fishes in the Big Creek Ecological Reserve. This ongoing research, by Mary Yoklavich of the National Marine Fisheries Service, was also used as a focal point for local SSE education projects (see below).
The SSE program has made a point of including a strong educational component to the deep water explorations, using the myriad projects planned as a source of both scientific learning and public education. In Monterey, this year's SSE educational activities focused on the theme of no-take reserves.
"Because this is such a topical issue, it has been a perfect vehicle for student research," says Liz Love, the Sanctuary's Education Coordinator. Some marine resource managers are considering the use of marine reserves as a management tool, but most observers believe we must learn more about their potential effectiveness before decisions can be made about specific implementation.
"Our SSE educational program took on a life of its own thanks to the enthusiastic work of our Teacher in the Sea, Carmel High School teacher Mike Guardino," explains Love. Selected through a competitive application process, Guardino is the only teacher in the nation trained to pilot the DeepWorker as part of this year's SSE. He also designed curriculum, based on Yoklavich's research, that can be found on the SSE web site (<http://sustainableseas.noaa.gov/>).
"Probably the most worthwhile thing I did with the SSE was involve eighteen high school students from four local schools," says Guardino. "We certified them to SCUBA dive and taught them marine research techniques so they could design an investigation to see if marine reserves can be a viable method of resource management. SSE gave them an opportunity most high school kids would never have; it profoundly affected them and certainly will benefit them for the rest of their lives."
Mike's students surveyed bottom topography and compared organisms within and outside of an existing no-take zone at Point Lobos State Reserve. This project tied in with Mary Yoklavich's ongoing research into the deep water habitats and fishes in the Big Creek Reserve. "Our work was a carbon copy of Mary's she gave me a lot of her research papers, to give the kids a good background on how ecological reserves could be used as a method of fisheries management. We studied all her work," Guardino explains.
The opportunity for the students to coordinate their research with that of a working scientist was a key part of the SSE experience. "The kids very much respect Mary and her work, and they were thrilled to meet her on the McArthur," Guardino says. "They learned by reading her work, and patterned their shallow water investigations on her deep water submersible research."
"The Sustainable Seas Expeditions offer the possibility to get a much better overall picture of the Sanctuary and its resources, while improving marine science education nationwide," says Sanctuary Superintendent William J. Douros. "We're looking forward to continued participation in this unique project over the coming years."
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Last modified on: August 6,