Living Marine Resources Projects
1) Coral Reefs Habitats
Reef-building corals represent ancient lineages that have evolved slowly over tens to hundreds of millions of years, yet the massive living structures we observe right now are geologically young features, often only a few thousand year old. A key priority for OER is coral reef habitat exploration especially of mesophotic and deep sea corals. That entails describing and identifying deep sea and shallow coral species, characterizing the coral reef habitats, understanding reef functioning, trends, and processes, developing new tools to study and understand their physiology and understanding fisheries and other human impacts.
Highlights of our efforts:
- New Technology from Biomedical Community Applied to Measure In-Situ Metabolism and Bioenergetics in Coral Species: Better tools and new parameters are needed to promote rapid assessment and monitoring of metabolic health of corals and other key coral reef species. This project develops a non-destructive sampling approach, especially required in reef ecosystems where cover of live coral is greatly reduced.
- Benthic-pelagic Coupling in Deep Coral Ecosystems: Ecosystem-based approaches to management are required to assess and manage marine resources. Marine protected areas, for example, are an example of this approach. Hundreds of thousands of square miles of new MPAs are now being considered off the US east coast to protect shelf edge and slope reef communities. Baseline studies to characterize the benthic and pelagic communities in these habitats are in progress.
- Connectivity between Deep and Shallow Ecosystems: Ecosystem-based Management of New Shelf Edge MPAs: Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) approaches include developing and applying conceptual and mathematical models to predict impacts of management efforts and natural phenomena on seafloor communities. Deep continental shelf ecosystems are hypothesized to serve as refugia for high numbers of endemic fishes and invertebrates. However, there is relatively little understanding of the ecological role these deeper populations play in replenishing shallower ecosystems. Certain areas or habitats may serve as population sources and others as sinks. This is a critical distinction for managers employing EBM approaches like for offshore marine protected areas (MPA).
- Mesophotic Reef Ecosystems: Coral cover on shallow reefs (‹20 m) of the Caribbean Region has declined 80% over the last 30 years. Mesophotic reefs deeper than 30 m are a largely unknown frontier and appear to be healthier than shallower reefs. They are habitats for commercially important fish species and source of coral larvae for recruitment and potential recovery of the shallower reef areas. OER supports studies that explore and lead to a better understanding of these habitats.
- Continuity and Diversity of Deep-Sea Reef and Sponge Communities along the Slopes off the Southeastern U.S., Gulf of Mexico, and North Atlantic: NOAA is now mandated by law (Magnuson Stevens Reauthorization) to map and characterize deep sea coral ecosystems in partnership with the regional fishery management councils. Deep sea coral ecosystems are slow-growing critical habitat areas facing stresses from resource exploitation activities and climate change. OER is supporting studies describing and identifying deep sea coral species.
2) Marine Microbes
The term “marine microbes” covers a diversity of microorganisms, including microalgae, bacteria and archaea, protozoa, fungi, and viruses. These organisms are exceedingly small—only 1/8000th the volume of a human cell and spanning about 1/100th the diameter of a human hair. Up to a million of them live in just one milliliter of sea-water, and they comprise 98% of the biomass of the world’s ocean.
As we learn more about the diversity of microorganisms and their associated biogeochemical processes, our view of the world’s ocean ecosystem functioning is being transformed and the relevance of microbes to the discussion of ocean resiliency and marine resource management is becoming inevitable. However, we only poorly understand how microbes and microbial processes should be integrated into our biogeochemical and ecosystem health forecasts.
Highlights of OER efforts:
- NOAA symposium on marine microbes and ecosystem health: In order to better understand the role of microbes in the ocean, in fiscal year 2012, NOAA convened a workshop to discuss ways to enhance NOAA’s knowledge of the marine ecosystems’ microbial components and to identify tools, insights, and roles specific to microbial science that NOAA should consider embracing. A summary report from the workshop is available online.
- Creation of a NOAA-wide marine microbes working group: As a follow up to the Marine Microbes Workshop and our partner’s recommendations, OER led the creation of a NOAA-wide marine microbes working group that is presently co-led by OER and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The aim of the group is to exchange information, inventory, coordinate, and leverage NOAA capabilities and to identify gaps. Ultimately, the group, in collaboration with external experts, will develop a NOAA-wide vision for marine microbe research priorities and strategies.
- Participation in the NOPP BON FFO: In partnership with the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP) and other Federal partners, OER participated in the NOPP Federal Funding Opportunity announcement requesting proposals for one or more broadly coordinated marine observing network demonstration projects in U.S. coastal waters, the Great Lakes, and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that demonstrate how an end-to-end marine Biodiversity Observation Network (BON), including marine microbes, can be developed and successfully implemented.
- Participation in the international Ocean Sampling Day: Ocean Sampling Day (OSD) is a project of the Micro B3 consortium, a European Union-funded project working at the intersection of marine microbial biodiversity, bioinformatics, and biotechnology. OSD is a simultaneous sampling campaign of the world’s oceans that will take place on the summer solstice (June 21) in 2014. Collected samples, related in time, will provide insights into microbial diversity and function and will contribute to the blue economy through the identification of novel, ocean-derived biotechnologies. These data will provide a reference data set for future experiments to follow in the coming decade. OER coordinated NOAA’s participation to the project and collected samples during the pilot studies that took place in 2013 on June 20 and December 21. For those pilots and the official OSD activity, NOAA sampled and sent for genetic analysis water samples collected at 10 sites around the country.