The NOAA Ship Nancy Foster left port March 18 from Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, with 18 scientists from NOAA's Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment Biogeography Branch and partnering agencies on board. Tim Battista, the expedition chief scientist, and the team are returning to the US Caribbean to map the seafloor and study the coral reef ecosystems and fish habitats of the region.
At the request of the Caribbean Fisheries Management Council, the US National Park Service, and the University of the Virgin Islands, the NOAA science team will be examining high-priority areas off the southern coasts of St. Thomas, St. John, and eastern portions of Puerto Rico. Much of this area has not been previously studied or mapped.
"This mission will help us paint a clear picture of underwater habitats and the marine life they support; it will also be useful in updating nautical charts for safer navigation," Battista said. "This information is critical to the decisions made by the natural resource managers responsible for this region, and beyond."
In order to gather information on the characteristics of the seafloor and locate the region's coral reef ecosystems, researchers will deploy a new, state-of-the-art seafloor imager and a remotely operated vehicle. The team will also use SONAR to detect fish and identify key gathering and spawning sites for ecologically and economically important species. This aspect of the mission holds great potential, as the study will coincide with a key spawning period rarely documented or studied in the USVI.
The mission includes two days in port at Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, where the group will host education and outreach events for local students, fishermen and partners. The two leg mission runs from March 18-April 6 and marks the seventh year of data collection in the area.
"We really enjoy our work in this area. It not only gives us the opportunity to support on-the-ground managers, but also lets us interact with the community so they can better understand NOAA's work and the importance of the marine resources right in their backyard," Battista said.