NOAA STRATEGIC GOAL: EcosystemsProtect, restore, and manage the use of coastal and ocean resources.
Scientists Evelyn Brown of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and James Churnside of ESRL preparing for a flight from Dutch Harbor Alaska to survey forage fish in the SE Bering Sea with the ESRL Fish LIDAR.
Example of distribution of fish in "hot spot" in SE Bering Sea. Darker pixels represent a denser concentration of fish plotted against depth on the vertical axis and distance along a segment of the flight track on the horizontal axis.
Divers removing nets from NW Hawaiian Islands. (photo by Mary Donahue)
General circulation of North Pacific Ocean. High concentrations of marine debris were located in convergence zones where the Subtropical Gyre and the Subarctic Gyre come together between 30 N and 40 N.
Fisheries management agencies worldwide, including NOAA Fisheries, are in the midst of a change from management of individual stocks of commercially important species to management of entire marine ecosystems (Ecosystem-Based Management). Each ecosystem might include several fisheries and also endangered species, whose management is also a NOAA responsibility. By understanding and monitoring each marine ecosystem, NOAA will be able to much more effectively manage living marine resources within that ecosystem. This becomes increasingly important as climate changes and population increases put more pressure on those resources. The goal is to be able to anticipate and mitigate the effects of these changes rather than respond to these effects after irreparable harm has been done.
The Need for Expanded Stock Assessments
Effective ecosystem modeling and monitoring requires much more data than is currently used in single-species stock assessments. These data include the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the habitat on all important spatial and temporal scales. Currently, much of the required data are not being collected, especially information about non-commercial prey species, juvenile fish distributions, and the distribution of non-commercial species that compete for resources. While these data could be collected using traditional techniques, the cost would be prohibitive.
Cost Effective Remote Survey Technology
The Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) is working with NOAA Fisheries and others to develop aerial techniques that can provide information on the epipelagic (or near-surface ocean) ecosystem at a fraction of the cost of ship-based techniques. To measure the characteristics of the epipelagic ecosystem requires new techniques using expertise that has been developed within NOAA Research for atmospheric applications and is not resident within NOAA Fisheries. The primary new instrument is the NOAA Fish LIDAR, which is similar to the LIDAR used to measure clouds and aerosols in the atmosphere. This instrument can measure profiles of plankton and fish as deep as 50 m (150 ft) in the ocean from a small aircraft. Other instrumentation simultaneously measures sea-surface temperature and ocean color, from which primary productivity can be inferred.
ESRL is also concerned with a relatively new component of the marine ecosystem lost and abandoned fishing nets, or "ghost nets". Since the introduction of synthetic materials for fishing nets, ghost nets survive in the ocean for many years, continuing to kill fish, marine mammals, sea birds, and turtles. Eventually, they may become tangled in coastal structures or reefs, where they can do even more damage. The problem is particularly severe in the NW Hawaiian Islands, where divers with knives are removing nets from the coral one handful at a time. Since 2000, roughly100 tons of debris have been removed from the reefs this way each year by NOAA Fisheries. We would like to detect and remove these nets before they reach the reefs.