Grants to Help Study Oceanic Life in the Gulf of Mexico; Highly Migratory Species
FORT LAUDERDALE/DAVIE, Fla. – Nova Southeastern University (NSU) has received two separate grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) totaling more than $4 million.
In year’s past it was common for researchers to keep their work “close to the vest” and not share what they were working on with their colleagues, both inside and outside of their institution, until their findings were published. As the grant awards below prove out, those days are long gone, with the norm today being interdisciplinary cooperation between research scientists from numerous institutions all working together.
“This is great news as these funds allow NSU researchers and their colleagues from around the country to continue their important work in the field,” said Richard Dodge, Ph.D., the dean of NSU’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography. “Today, more than ever, it’s vital we learn as much as we can about our marine environment as the overall health of our oceans directly effects the health of our planet.”
The two grant awards are as follows:
Thanks to a $2.7 million, five-year grant from the NOAA, a team of scientists led by a researcher from NSU is about to undertake a research project that will focus on the marine creatures that call the open ocean their home.
“The deep-pelagic habitat (open waters greater than 700 feet deep) in the Gulf of Mexico is the largest, and least-known, habitat in the gulf,” said Tracey Sutton, Ph.D., a professor and research scientist in NSU’s Halmos College. “The marine life in this area is vital for the overall health of the gulf, so we need to learn as much as we can in order to protect this fauna for decades to come.”
Sutton is leading a team of research scientists from NSU, NOAA, Florida Atlantic University, the University of South Florida and Florida International University.
The deep-pelagic habitat in the Gulf of Mexico is one of four ‘hyperdiverse’ deep-pelagic ecoregions on Earth. Much of the Gulf’s offshore diversity comes from juvenile stages of coastal fauna, including managed reef fishes, demonstrating a connection between the Gulf’s inshore and offshore waters. Deep-pelagic fauna are the main prey of the majority of marine mammal species in the Gulf, as well as other oceanic apex predators like tunas and billfishes. The deep-pelagic fauna is also involved in transporting carbon from surface waters to the deep ocean where it can be sequestered.
Sutton said that the goal is to produce assessments of the abundance of the deep-pelagic Gulf of Mexico fauna to support resource managers’ capacity to restore this fauna as part of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill natural resource damage assessment process, as well as establish prey fields for marine mammals and apex predators, providing recruitment measurements for managed coastal fishes, and refining computer models of the Gulf.
“These awards continue NOAA’s commitment to producing timely and high-quality science to support the management and sustainability of the Gulf of Mexico,” said Steven Thur, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. “Improving our understanding of long-term trends in the Gulf will help us make the decisions now and in the future necessary to ensure the Gulf remains a vibrant resource for the nation.”
This funding is in response to the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies (RESTORE) Act, which authorized NOAA to establish and administer a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Science, Observation, Monitoring, and Technology Program. The mission of the NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program is to increase understanding of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, including its fisheries, and to support its restoration and sustainability through research, observation, monitoring, and technology development.
Highly Migratory Species Research in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
This project received $1.6 million from NOAA Sea Grant, and involves researchers from NSU, the University of Maine, Mote Marine Laboratory and Auburn University, who will be conducting several projects focused on bycatch reduction, increased understanding of life history, post-release mortality and other objectives for multiple species of highly migratory fish in the Northwest Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico..
“Assessments for highly migratory species have high uncertainty, mostly because of a lack of information,” said David Kerstetter, Ph.D., a professor and research scientist at NSU’s Halmos College. “It’s important we have a fuller understanding of these species in order that they can be protected and managed effectively,” Kerstetter said. “We’ll be looking at a number of different species – from sharks to tuna to wahoo – all with the goal of increasing sustainability.”
Kerstetter is co-principal investigator on the project, along with Walter Golet, Ph.D., Robert Hueter, Ph.D. and Stephen Bullard, Ph.D.
“Highly migratory species are some of the most sought-after fish in the world, both commercially and recreationally, and yet there is so much to learn about their life history,” said Golet, who is a research scientist from the University of Maine.
Some of the species the team will be working with include various tunas (albacore, bigeye, bluefin, skipjack, yellowfin), billfishes, and around 12 shark species (blacktip, bull, great and scalloped hammerheads, tiger and white sharks,to name a few). They will also be researching bycatch reduction and post-release mortality of swordfish and great hammerhead sharks from commercial and recreational fisheries.
Kerstetter said that this project, being conducted by the new Pelagic Ecosystem Research Consortium (PERC), is going to fill the knowledge gaps by conducting targeted research that will reduce the uncertainty in assessment models and population status. He said this will allow for better allocation of appropriate quotas that will enhance sustainability for these various species.
The PERC award was one of three competitive grants totaling $2 million, awarded through the 2019 Sea Grant Highly Migratory Species Research Initiative. More information about the national initiative is on the NOAA Fisheries website.
About Nova Southeastern University (NSU): At NSU, students don’t just get an education, they get the competitive edge they need for real careers, real contributions and real life. A dynamic, private research university, NSU is providing high-quality educational and research programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree levels. Established in 1964, the university includes 16 colleges, the 215,000-square-foot Center for Collaborative Research, a private JK-12 grade school, the Mailman Segal Center (early childhood education) with specialists in Autism, the world-class NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, and the Alvin Sherman Library, Research and Information Technology Center, one of Florida’s largest public libraries. NSU students learn at our campuses in Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Miami, Miramar, Orlando, Palm Beach, and Tampa, Florida, as well as San Juan, Puerto Rico, and online globally. Classified as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, NSU is one of only 50 universities nationwide to also be awarded Carnegie’s Community Engagement Classification, and is also the largest private institution in the United States that meets the U.S. Department of Education’s criteria as a Hispanic-serving Institution. Please visit www.nova.edu for more information.
About NSU’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography: The college provides high-quality undergraduate (bachelor’s degree) and graduate (master’s and doctoral degrees and certificates) education programs in a broad range of disciplines, including marine sciences, mathematics, biophysics, and chemistry. Researchers carry out innovative basic and applied research programs in coral reef biology, ecology, and geology; fish biology, ecology, and conservation; shark and billfish ecology; fisheries science; deep-sea organismal biology and ecology; invertebrate and vertebrate genomics, genetics, molecular ecology, and evolution; microbiology; biodiversity; observation and modeling of large-scale ocean circulation, coastal dynamics, and ocean atmosphere coupling; benthic habitat mapping; biodiversity; histology; and calcification. The college’s newest building is the state-of-the-art Guy Harvey Oceanographic Center, an 86,000-square-foot structure filled with laboratories; offices; seminar rooms; an auditorium; and indoor and outdoor running sea water facilities. Please visit cnso.nova.edu for more information.