Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

2017-03-06 09:50:56    /    by oruga

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) is one of three Sanctuaries involved in the Sanctuaries MBON research initiative. The Sanctuary comprises 9,933 km2 and completely surrounds the Florida Keys archipelago and its associated community.  It includes the only living coral barrier reef in North America (third largest in the world). It is estimated that there are over 6,000 species of plants and animals in the waters of the Florida Keys; approximately 440 fish species have been recorded in the Sanctuary (ONMS 2011).

Dynamic Shallow-Water Environment: The Sanctuary is situated between Florida Bay and Biscayne Bay, the warm-temperate Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean. Just offshore, the Florida Current flows east and north through the Straits of Florida and often meanders onshore, affecting local water. The Loop Current can transport water and materials to the FKNMS from the Caribbean and northern Gulf of Mexico. The pronounced seasonal cycle of wind and precipitation forcing of a summer/fall “wet season” and a winter/spring “dry season” drives variations in the circulation, salinity, nutrients, and other parameters (Lee et al., 2002; Jurado et al., 2007; Johns and Lee, 2012). On longer time scales, global phenomena such as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) and El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) affect water quality of habitats in the region (Johns and Lee, 2012).

MBON researchers are working closely with FKNMS staff and other NOAA researchers to develop and test data products that will help the resource managers and the Sanctuary advisers assess the regions’ change and support decision making. The primary goal of the MBON is to link numerous existing, long-term datasets, including water quality and fish and habitat surveys with satellite images and biodiversity indices. The project involves many national and state research institutions, universities and agencies working collaboratively to leverage knowledge and resources (See box.)

Integrating Data to Visualize Change: Several MBON data products and tools (MBON portal, FWRI Open Platform and Sanctuary Infographics) are being developed and tested to answer questions in the Sanctuary Condition Reports. MBON researchers are working with scientists at NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWC/FWRI) to review and enroll important long-term data sets, such as the CREMP and Reef Visual Census (RVC) data, collected by the University of Miami, which studies the presence of fish species in hardbottom reef habitat between 1-30m depth.

Understanding the Changing Seas: MBON researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the University of South Florida Institute for Remote Marine Sensing and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have developed seascapes, which involves programming multiple satellite images to visualize changes in near-real time for sea surface temperature and various water quality conditions over time. Understanding how seascapes change for a specific location will be useful for informing biodiversity assessments and for potential resource management data needs regarding environmental conditions (e.g. fresh water plumes, harmful algal blooms). Seascapes are being created for all U.S. MBON projects.

Sampling Programs: The FKNMS science personnel are working with MBON partners to conduct the comprehensive bi-monthly MBON sampling program at 30 locations in Molasses Reef, Looe Key, and Western Sambo. Enrique Montes, USF and Frank Muller-Karger USF oversee the MBON Florida Keys sampling program in collaboration with NOAA AOML partners Chris Kelble, Lindsey Visser and Libby Johns. To measure the diversity of genetic material present in the water, the MBON project is using environmental DNA (eDNA), which detects trace amounts of DNA left behind by various organisms. The new test may offer a practical method for evaluating changes in species, including or the presence of new species in a number of different ecosystems.

The sampling is conducted aboard of the R/V Walton Smith (U of Miami) and on small (29 ft.) boats from the FKNMS.

Samples include:

  • water variables: temperature, salinity, light, currents, chemicals (nutrient) data, chlorophyll-a and pigment concentrations.
  • environmental DNA (eDNA), bio-optical measurements, and phytoplankton and zooplankton samples for taxonomy and primary productivity.
  • In situ bio-optical measurements includes surface remote sensing reflectance (Rrs), chlorophyll-a and colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) fluorescence, and specific absorption spectra of phytoplankton and detritus.

MBON Florida Keys Partners

  • University of South Florida College of Marine Science (USF CMS) — Institute for Marine Remote Sensing (Muller-Karger) and the Marine Genomics Lab (Breitbart)
  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI)
  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/Fish & Wildlife Research Institute (FWC/FWRI)
  • Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS)
  • Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS)
  • NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC)
  • NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML)
  • Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS)
  • U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (US IOOS)


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