NOAA Scientists to Map Fish-Spawning Zones off the Florida Keys

10-day research trip will explore important habitat and study fish movements

Nancy Foster crew

Nancy Foster crew

Archival photo: A crew aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster wraps up a mapping cruise in the Florida Keys in 2008. A similar group of scientists will leave July 26 for a 10-day project.NOAA Photo Library via Wikimedia Commons

Responding to public concerns about protecting fish-spawning areas, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and partner agencies will launch a trip Thursday aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster to map sites between Key West and the Dry Tortugas.

Using multibeam and splitbeam sonar to create high-resolution maps of the seafloor and fishery acoustic sonar to search for fish, the scientists hope to better understand what various spawning sites have in common. Divers plan to conduct visual surveys as well and use ROVs to document deeper locations.

Sanctuary scientists say the public has spoken out during the regulatory review process, asking for more information and suggesting a need for better protection of spawning sites. The regulatory review is a multiyear assessment to determine whether marine-resource goals are being met in the sanctuary.

Divers also plan to service and redeploy 74 acoustic receivers in the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, Dry Tortugas National Park and surrounding area. The receivers detect acoustically tagged fish when they swim within range.

Follow daily photo updates from scientists on the sanctuary's Facebook page.