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August 29-September 1, 2010
aboard the R/V MANTA


Each year the coral spawning event is greatly anticipated by both researchers and recreational divers. This year's event was characterized as one of the best our researchers have ever seen.

In addition to documenting the timing of different spawning corals, this trip was also focused on collecting coral fragments for genetic studies, deploying coral recruitment racks, retrieving and redploying Semi-Permeable Membrane Devices (SPMDs) for oil spill response, collecting sediment and water samples for oil spill response, conducting fish counts, downloading accoustic receiver data, and retagging deep long-term monitoring stations.

The M/V Spree was also on site for the coral spawning with a boatload of recreational divers.


R/V Manta crew
Sanctuary research team
Dan Basta, ONMS Director
Tom Moore, NOAA NRDA Lead
Sarah Davies, University of Texas researcher
Eli Meyer, University of Texas researcher

Man sitting on dive bench while writing on a clipboard.
Dan Basta recording temperature and salinity profies.
Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

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Daytime Activities

Researchers spent part of their daylight hours replacing missing or damaged tags for repetitive photo stations in a deeper area of East Flower Garden Bank. They also photographed all of the stations.

A diver attaching a new tag to a metal pin embedded in the reef.
Marissa Nuttal retags a deep station at East Flower Garden Bank. Coral cover in this area reaches about 70 percent!
Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS.
A reefscape of coral with a large metal stake sticking up in the middle.  At the base of the stake is a tag with the number 086.
Researchers replaced number tags on several deep monitoring stations on the east flank of East Flower Garden Bank. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS.
Four divers swimming over the reef at about 100 foot depth.  A research pin is just visible protruding from the reef in the center of the photo.
Divers swim above the reef after re-tagging a research pin on the deeper flank of East Flower Garden Bank. A manta ray is just barely visible in the distance to the left. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS
Two divers swim up a reef that slopes up to the left.
Emma Hickerson and Marissa Nuttall make their way up from the deep monitoring stations at East Flower Garden Bank. Notice how the corals are plated out to maximize surface area to access light. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

Several manta rays were photographed on this trip and added to the manta catalog.

Belly view of a manta ray swimming toward the left.  Two dark spots are noticeable below the gill slits.
One of two manta rays that visited the researchers during a dive at East Flower Garden Bank. This same manta was observed in this same area during coral spawning time last year. (See photo in Coral Spawning 2009 report)
Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS
A diver with full camera gear hovers above the reef to the right as a manta ray swims off into the distance on the left.
Tom takes a break from photographing a manta ray to be in someone else's photo. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

Divers also encountered two different sea turtles while working.

A loggerhead sea turtle swims above a sand flat while two divers hover in the background.
A loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) swims above the sand flat located between buoys #4 and #5 at East Flower Garden Bank. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS
A loggerhead sea turtle swimming head on toward the photographer
Tom Moore has a have a face to face with the loggerhead (Caretta caretta). Photo: Tom Moore/NOAA
A hawksbill sea turtle swims by a large coral head.
A hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata). Photo: Tom Moore/NOAA

Divers also retrieved and replaced the Semi-permeable Membrane Devices (SPMDs) at East and West Flower Garden Banks, and collected sediment samples. This is part of ongoing Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) in response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

Four divers working along a buoy line to attach monitoring equipment.

Tom Moore, Dan Basta, G.P. Schmahl and Emma Hickerson deploy SPMDs at East Flower Garden Bank.
Photo: Nuttall/FGBNMS


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2010 Spawning Observations

Sanctuary researchers were able to observe the coral spawning activities on the 7th and 8th nights after the full moon (August 30 & 31). Everyone reported that the release of gamete bundles (egg and sperm packets) was spectacular.

Close up view of coral polyps with egg bundles on a brain coral.

Gamete bundles line the valleys of the symmetrical brain coral (Pseudodiploria strigosa). Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

A red brittle star sits with arms spread out across a star coral colony at night.

Orbicella (Montastraea) franksi, a star coral, with gamete bundles "set" in the coral polyps' mouths just before they are released. The ruby brittle star (Ophioderma rubicundum) is probably waiting to catch some of the bundles for food.
Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

Small pink bundles rise from the surface of a coral.  The gills of a Christmas tree worm are visible at top center.

Gamete bundles just as they are released by this star coral species. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

Small pink bundles float up from a coral colony.  The gills from a Christmas tree worm are visible at top center.

The same star coral a few moments later as the gamete bundles start to float upward. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

Small, peach-colored bundles rise up from a star coral colony.

Orbicella (Montastraea) faveolata, another star coral, releases its gamete bundles. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

A "snowstorm" of white pellets is suspended in the water in front of a scuba diver at night.

Dan Basta observes coral spawn in the water column. This event is often described as an underwater snowstorm. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

Of course, other animals are also out and about on the reef at night.

A black long-spined urchin sits on top of the reef at night with several night shrimp for company.

A long spined sea urchin (Diadema antillarum) and night shrimp. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

A bright red crab is perched between several different coral colonies at night.

A coral clinging crab (Mithrax hispidus) sitting between several coral colonies. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

A white long-spined urchin sits on the downward slope of the reef at night.

A white version of a long-spined sea urchin (Diadema antillarum). Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

A red brittle star curls one arm around coral spawn as it is released by the polyp.

A ruby brittle star (Ophioderma rubicundum) collects gamete bundles for food. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

A Visit to High Island A-389A

Part of the expedition included a visit to High Island A-389A, the only oil and gas production platform inside sanctuary boundaries. This platform is located about one mile from the coral cap at East Flower Garden Bank.

A single diver floats vertically next to some of the underwater legs of an oil and gas production platform while a school of fish swims overhead.
Oil and gas production platforms are popular dive sites in the Gulf of Mexico. This one, HI-A-389A, lies within sanctuary boundaries at East Flower Garden Bank.
Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS
Two divers swim among the underwater crossbeams of an oil and gas production platform.
The support structure under oil and gas production platforms is often extensive. These hard surfaces provide places for organisms to attach and form artifical reefs. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

Close up view of sponges, hydroids, and barnacles growing on the underwater leg of an oil and gas production platform.

Platform HIA389A was installed in 1981, many years before the sanctuary was designated. It is now covered with colorful organisms such as sponges, hydroids,
and barnacles.
Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS
Two divers work to attach ceramic tiles to one of the underwater legs of an oil and gas production platform.
University of Texas researchers Sarah Davies (left) and Eli Meyer (right) attach tiles to the platform structure as part of a coral recruitment study. Tom Moore is taking photos in the background. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

A scrawled filefish swims next to underwater platform legs covered with sponges.

Scrawled filefish (Aluterus scriptus) are common residents around the artificial reefs on platforms.
Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

A large school of fish swimming in unison under an oil and gas production platform.

A large group of chub (Kyphosus sp.) school under the platform. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

A single diver swims among the underwater legs of an oil and gas production platform.

Dan Basta hovers inside the underwater structure of platform HIA389A. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

A silky shark with a hook and leader trailing from its mouth.

This silky shark swimming outside the platform structure had a hook and leader line trailing from its mouth.
Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

Small pink bundles rise from the surface of a coral.  The gills of a Christmas tree worm are visible at top center.

This manta hung around the divers for their entire dive at HIA389A.
Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS

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General Coral Spawning Information

For general information about the annual mass coral spawning event, please visit our Coral Spawning page.

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weather report observations cool stuff get wet

Orange, branching gorgonian (soft coral) anchored in a bed of sponges and other sea life.
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