3a. Goals and Objectives

1969/12/31 - 20:00

Our overall goal for the Northeast Benthic Observatory (NEBO) is to provide fish habitat researchers and Sanctuary managers with the data necessary to improve our understanding of marine habitats and assemblages in order to better manage critically important fishery stocks and Marine Sanctuary areas. We will observe and quantify benthic community structure, species diversity, habitat characteristics, and water column properties with repeated measurements on time scales of weeks to years. At test sites containing epi-benthic communities critical to commercial fisheries along the Northeast coastal United States, we will quantify how these communities respond to system change (climate events, fishing activity, position of oceanographic features [fronts], etc). This will require the fusion of disparate, synoptically acquired data sets, including high-resolution acoustic bathymetry (on scales of meters to kilometers), stereo optical imagery (on scales of millimeters to meters), water column plankton distributions (microns to millimeters), and the development of image bioinformatic tools for classifying targets and substrates. Integrated data products will be developed and presented using advanced visualization tools so key fisheries target species and community responses to regulatory practices can be observed at multiple and relevant space and time scales and in relation to variations in seafloor habitat and boundary layer conditions. Further, data products will be produced so results can be incorporated into predictive community dynamics models for use in fisheries and sanctuary management. Data products will be of direct utility to fishery and conservation scientists (e.g., government and academic scientists), fishery and sanctuary managers (National Marine Fisheries Service and National Marine Sanctuary Program), and environmental policy makers (State and Federal administrative agencies, and Congress).
NEBO addresses IOOS Focus Area II and is the benthic component of the Northeast Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems (NERACOOS) being proposed to IOOS Focus Area I.
Our objectives include the following: (1) To establish four sentinel locations along the northeast coastline where benthic community structure, the coupling between the water column and benthic community, and system change over time scales of days to years will be quantified using the instrumentation described in (2) below. Locations will be chosen with reference to NERACOOS assets including areas both open and closed to fishing on Georges Bank, the Stellwagen Marine Sanctuary, and the coastal New England and mid-Atlantic shelf (Fig 1) and in consultation with NOAA Fisheries researchers, in order to synchronize with their developing a benthic research and monitoring program. Instruments will be towed from a commercial fishing vessel over defined tracklines at least twice per year over a three year period to quantify benthic and plankton community structure repeatedly in the same areas over time; (2) To develop the tools necessary to integrate and fuse disparate fisheries-relevant data sets, to segment and classify seafloor targets and substrate, and, to visualize the results in near real-time. Acoustically-derived multibeam sonar data and stereo optical imagery will be fused with local hydrography and geospatial information. Optical mosaics will be draped over multibeam bathymetry to provide spatial resolution of millimeters to kilometers and used to ground truth and verify the multibeam backscatter data. Plankton distributions, measured with Video Plankton Recorder and a fluorometer for chlorophyll a, will be coupled with benthic faunal distributions. Water column measurements acquired synoptically from NERACOOS buoys and gliders will be coupled with measurements in the boundary layer and benthos to provide a more complete picture of local ecosystem dynamics; (3) To establish metrics for quantifying change in ecosystem dynamics, benthic community structure, organism abundance size distributions, and diversity of a wide range of benthic and demersal taxa. relative to substrate composition e.g. mixtures of mud, sand, gravel, shell, cobble, boulder, etc. Socio-economic models will quantify impact of NEBO data products on management practices.