From May 15 – June 13, 2017, the R/V F.G. Walton Smith will circumnavigate Cuba, conducting daily remotely operated vehicle dives to focus on the mesophotic reef sites at depths of 30-150 meters.
The purpose of the research expedition is to – in collaboration with our Cuban scientific partners – discover and characterize the extent of mesophotic reefs in Cuba and to compare the health and connectivity (physical, genetic, and ecological) among the mesophotic and shallow coral reef systems in Cuba and the U.S.
The purpose of the research expedition is to discover and characterize the extent of mesophotic reefs in Cuba and to compare the health and connectivity (physical, genetic, and ecological) among the mesophotic and shallow coral reef systems in Cuba and the U.S. This cruise is in support of two previous commitments to collaborate: the Joint Statement between the U.S. and Cuba on Cooperation on Environmental Protection (November 24, 2015) and the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. National Park Service, and Cuba’s National Center for Protected Areas.
The MOU establishes a “Sister-Sanctuary” relationship between the marine sanctuaries Guanahacabibes and Banco de San Antonio in Cuba and the marine sanctuaries in the U.S., in particular, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), Pulley Ridge Habitat Area of Particular Concern (PR HAPC), and Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS). It is recognized that these reef ecosystems are all inextricably linked through the flow of the ocean.
This research vessel, F.G. Walton Smith, from the Rosenstiel School of Marine Science and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami, was named in honor of the school’s founder. It is a 96-foot-long catamaran that can accommodate 20 scientists and crew and has 800 sq. ft. of lab space.
The SubAtlantic Mohawk 18 remotely operated vehicle (ROV), owned by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and the Flower Garden Banks and operated by the Undersea Vehicles Program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UVP/UNCW).
The Mohawk Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), owned by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and operated by University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Undersea Vehicle Program, will operate from the F.G. Walton Smith.
The Cuban partners and collaborators include scientists from CNAP (Centro Nacional de Áreas Protegidas), CIM-UH (Centro de Investigaciones Marinas, Univ. de la Habana), ICIMAR (Instituto de Ciencias del Mar), and ANC (National Cuba Aquarium). For the U.S., this project will be organized by two NOAA Cooperative Institutes: the Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research, and Technology (CIOERT) at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Florida Atlantic University (HBOI-FAU), and the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) at the University of Miami. Marine biologists and oceanographers from HBOI-CIOERT and NOAA Fisheries (NOAA/NMFS/Southeast Fisheries Science Center) will participate on the cruise.
The cruise will circumnavigate Cuba over 30 days, with scientists conducting daily ROV dives to focus on mesophotic reef sites at depths of 30-150 meters. The specific objectives of this expedition are to:
- Characterize Cuba’s mesophotic coral reef ecosystems (MCEs) using ROV surveys of the benthic habitat, benthic macroinvertebrate and macro-algal communities, and fish populations.
- Conduct fish surveys to include counts of reef fish, commercially important grouper/snapper species, and lionfish and documentation of spawning aggregations.
- Understand the genetic connectivity of Cuba’s MCEs with mesophotic and shallow reefs upstream and cross-stream (including the Sister-Sanctuaries: Guanahacabibes and Banco de San Antonio in Cuba and FGBNMS and FKNMS in the U.S.).
- Characterize the health of Cuba’s MCEs as compared to other MCEs.
- Conduct research related to the role of Cuba’s MCEs as potential refugia for shallow reef species and reef-associated species in Cuba’s shallow reef system.
- Conduct ROV collections of benthic species for taxonomy and molecular analyses (samples will be archived at designated institutions in Cuba with a duplicate collection at archival institutions in the U.S.).
- Collect oceanographic data: the ship continuously records surface water chemistry including near surface temperature, salinity, florescence, and dissolved oxygen as well water column current structure using an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler. This will provide a physical oceanographic survey in support of collaboration between the University of Miami/CIMAS Ocean Modeling Center and the Cuba’s ICIMAR (Instituto de Ciencias del Mar) with respect to regional connectivity.
- Characterize the water column and benthic carbonate chemistry including aragonite saturation state for mesophotic and deep coral reefs using the ROV CTD data (temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, pCO2, pH) and water samples to be collected at each dive site, as well as recently developed state-of-the-art pCO2/pH sensors mounted aboard the ROV.
NOAA intends to share information ranging from scientific research outputs to education and outreach materials – all of which will help us better understand and manage some of the most ecologically significant marine habitats in both countries. Main themes for collaboration with our international institutions include: academic exchange, regional modeling of marine connectivity, mesophotic reef studies, and exchange of information and methodologies. This project could serve as the basis for a long-term relationship among U.S. and Cuban scientists and collaborators.
Image: RSRW Arriving In Havana. The RV Walton Smith arriving in the port of Havana, 8 a.m., May 16, 2017. (Photo Credit: Centro Nacional de Áreas Protegidas)