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Research Publications/Chronology


Prepared by
Emma L. Hickerson
September 2009


($ amounts represent approximate shiptime value)

M/V EAGLE RAY ($3,500)
OCTOBER 10, 2008

A diver using an underwater scooter passes over a large, overturned boulder of brain coral.

Captain Darrell Walker scooters over a toppled brain coral, Colpophyllia natans, during the post-hurricane cruise. Photo: Hickerson/FGBNMS

Click here to see a detailed Post Ike Reef Assessment summary with photographs.

M/V SPREE ($20,000)
November 3-7, 2008

Long-term photographic data was collected by contractor PBS&J at the coral caps of East and West Flower Garden Banks. The Seabird water quality instruments were also downloaded and redeployed at all three banks.  G.P. Schmahl and Emma Hickerson participated in this cruise.

Sea conditions were highly variable, with visibility ranging from 35-150 feet at East Flower Garden Bank (EFGB), around 30 feet at WFGB (WFGB), and around 20 feet at Stetson Bank (SB).  Water temperature ranged from 74-77F.  Seas were calm for the first two days of the cruise, deteriorating to 4-7' seas for the last two days.

This was the first visit to Stetson Bank since the passage of Hurricane Ike on September 12, 2008. Significant impacts were observed and photographed. 

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R/V MANTA ($5,000)
November 19-20, 2008

A second cruise was conducted to continue to assess the impacts of Hurricane Ike at the FGBNMS.  Steve Gittings, Emma Hickerson, Jenn DeBose, Tracy Hamburger, and Marissa Nuttall joined the crew of the R/V Manta and headed out on the afternoon of November 19, 2008. 

Dives were conducted on November 20th at East and West Flower Garden Bank.  Visibility was around 60 feet and water temperature was 75F.  Seas were flat, and no current was encountered. 

Transects documenting damage were conducted from buoys at both banks.  A survey was conducted on the north side of WFGB to determine the condition of the Madracis fields. They appear to be intact, with very little damage sustained, unlike the flattened fields at EFGB. 

The newly installed u-bolt at EFGB#2 is now, unfortunately, on the bottom side of a very large upturned coral colony.  Other sightings of note were a loggerhead sea turtle on the surface at WFGB, and a spotted eagle ray at EFGB.  A rotary camera was retrieved from EFGB for TAMU-CC researchers, Ian MacDonald and Doug Weaver.  

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R/V MANTA ($5,000)
January 21-23, 2009

Emma Hickerson, Jenn DeBose, Tracy Hamburger, Marissa Nuttall, and PBS&J biologist Jeremy Marshall joined the crew of the R/V Manta on a quick trip out. The objective of the cruise was to download the Seabird water quality instruments and the acoustic receivers.  This was accomplished at EFGB and WFGB, but not at Stetson Bank. 

Only EFGB buoys #2 and #6 were in place, and #5 was marked by a Norwegian buoy.  At WFGB, only buoy #2 was in place.  Two buoys were seen at Stetson Bank. 

Water temperature was 68F and seas were 1-2 feet during dive operations on January 22nd.  Visibility was approximately 70 feet at EFGB and 30 feet at WFGB.  Seas picked up to 6 feet during the early morning hours on January 23rd, and forced us to head into Galveston before getting the instruments downloaded at Stetson Bank. 

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R/V MANTA ($15,000)
March 17-19, 2009

The FGBNMS research team (DeBose, Hickerson, Schmahl, Nuttall, Hamburger) was joined by five TAMUG AAUS divers to conduct an assessment to determine the effects of Hurricane Ike on the benthic habitat at Stetson Bank. 

Conditions were decent for winter at Stetson, with 2-4 foot seas, 40 foot visibility, and water temperature of 66F.  Buoys #1 and #5 were in place. Twenty-five long-term monitoring stations were located and photographed, however, there appear to be many stations missing.  

Large schools of Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, cero, and wahoo were observed.  Other sightings included a pod of bottlenose dolphins on the surface, a loggerhead sea turtle on the surface, hammerhead sharks, a sandbar shark, and fields of sailfin blennies.  The acoustic receiver and Seabird water quality instrument were both downloaded.

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R/V MANTA ($25,000)
May 11-13, 2009

Two men stand next to a remotely operated vehicle resting on the back deck of a ship. A large coil of red cable sits alongside. Gulf of Mexico waters are visible in the background

Phanton S2 ROV on the back deck of the R/V Manta, ready for deployment. Photo: Hickerson/FGBNMS

The FGBNMS research team (Hickerson, DeBose, Nuttall) partnered with National Undersea Research Center/University of North Carolina at Wilmington (NURC/UNCW), to conduct remotely operated vehicle (ROV) surveys on board the R/V Manta.  The cruise was originally scheduled for six days, but was reduced to three due to inclement weather.  This was the first FGBNMS ROV cruise to be conducted on board the R/V Manta.

NURC/UNCW's Phantom S2 ROV successfully conducted fourteen surveys to characterize the biology at MacNeil and McGrail Banks in the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico.  These two banks are included in the sites for possible sanctuary expansion.  NURC ROV pilots were Lance Horn and Glenn Taylor. 

Surveys were also conducted at Stetson Bank to document marine debris in the deepwater habitat. Ten discarded shrimp nets were observed draped over the siltstone/claystone outcroppings ringing Stetson Bank. 

A deepwater coral that looks like a giant orange mushroom sits on the silted sea floor. Pale white polyps extend off of the "mushroom cap".

Anthomastus robusta as viewed by the Phantom S2 ROV. Photo: NURC/UNCW

R/V Fulmar Captain Dave Minard assisted Captain Chuck Curry to run the R/V Manta. Wes Haislip and Lt. Tracy Hamburger also assisted in vessel operations. Volunteers Andrew McInnes and Travis March from Texas A&M University Galveston provided excellent deck support during the ROV operations.

An online report of this trip is available through NOAA Fisheries' Habitat Conservation/Habitat Protection website:

Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Deep-Sea Coral Investigations

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M/V MANTA ($15,000)
June 5-7, 2009

The FGBNMS research team (Schmahl, Hickerson, DeBose, Nuttall) partnered with AAUS scientific divers from Texas A&M University Galveston to successfully complete the 16th annual long-term monitoring mission at Stetson Bank.

Of the 45 pin locations found in 2008 (prior to Hurricane Ike), 28 pins were found intact and 11 photostations were found unmarked during this cruise. Due to the high number of ‘lost’ stations, pin reestablishment is a priority.  Annual long-term monitoring of Stetson Bank has been ongoing since 1993.

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R/V MANTA ($25,000)
July 7-9, 2009

The FGBNMS Research Team (Schmahl, Hickerson, Nuttall, Embesi) conducted a Long-Term Monitoring (LTM) reconnaissance cruise July 7-9, 2009 to acquaint divers with the study sites that will be the targets for monitoring activities next month.  FGBNMS divers were joined by Dr. Steve Gittings from the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS), and four Texas A&M University Galveston AAUS Divers. Corner sites and moorings were located and marked. 

Water samples were collected for analysis as part of the long-term monitoring, as well as a TAMUG research project.  The FGBNMS LTM, a partnership between FGBNMS and Minerals Management Service, has been conducted through contractors for many years, and as of this year, will be conducted by the FGBNMS research team and partners.

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R/V MANTA ($25,000)
July 20-25, 2009

Click here to see a detailed summary of the Tech Diving Research Cruise with links to daily blogs.

A group of 11 people gathered for a photo amid crates and containers on the back deck of the R/V Manta.  Part of Galveston harbor is visible in the background.

The research team from the technical diving expedition. Photo: FGBNMS

This mission was funded by NOAA's Marine Debris Program.

Large rusty anchors resting in a metal mesh crate on the back deck of a boat.  Two people wearing life vests are inspecting the debris.

A pile of marine debris rests on the back deck of the R/V Manta.
Photo: FGBNMS/Schmahl

R/V MANTA ($20,000)
August 11-14, 2009

A large colony of star coral spawning at night.  The spawn is visible as hundreds of small white bundles floating up and away from the coral colony.

A spawning colony of Orbicella (Montastraea) faveolata. Photo: FGBNMS/Schmahl

Click here to see a detailed report of the 2009 Coral Spawning Cruise.

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R/V MANTA ($25,000)
August 17-21, 2009

The FGBNMS research team (Schmahl, Hickerson, Embesi, Nuttall, Hamburger, Eckert) conducted the annual data collection cruise for the Long-Term Monitoring (LTM) at the coral caps of East and West Flower Garden Banks.  They were joined by Steve Gittings (ONMS), two representatives from Minerals Management Service (MMS), and two volunteer divers from Texas A&M University Galveston.

The FGBNMS LTM has been conducted through a contract for many years, and is now back in the hands of sanctuary staff.  It is co-funded by FGBNMS and MMS. 

This is a significant year for the data collection as it is 35 years since the first monitoring data was collected at the sanctuary, and 20 years since the current regime of monitoring was initiated.  Objectives met included the collection of close to 200 repetitive photostations, thirty-two 10 meter random transects, 24 fish surveys, perimeter surveys, and lobster and urchin surveys.

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The R/V Manta was chartered by several different user groups during the 2009 research season.

March 1-6, 2009

The R/V Manta conducted a surveying cruise at Sabine Bank and offshore Galveston during the week of March 1-6, 2009. The science project was conducted by researchers from Texas A&M University Galveston (Tim Dellapenna), and USGS, St. Petersburg (Jim Flocks). A total of 380 miles of SWATH and CHIRP surveys were completed. Sea conditions were 3-4 feet. This was the first surveying cruise to be conducted by the R/V Manta and crew, and also the first cruise conducted by a visiting science crew.

This cruise is explained in more detail on our Chirp 2009 web page.

March 30-April 1, 2009

TAMUG researcher Tim Dellapenna, utilized the R/V MANTA to take students out to the Sabine area to demonstrate the use of box cores, gravity cores, shell dredges, and CTD casts.  Fish sampling was also conducted.

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May 24-31, 2009

FGBNMS teamed up with the University of Texas at Austin (UT) to give future ocean scientists hands-on experience in their field of study.  The sanctuary's R/V Manta worked out of Port Aransas, TX supporting science at sea for UT's Institute of Geophysics. 

From May 25-29, three UT instructors, three marine technicians, and eleven graduate students embarked on the Manta daily to collect seismic data using a portable multi-channel seismic system.  Students learned how to safely deploy and recover a sub-bottom profiler (CHIRP), a seismic air gun (producer), and a seismic streamer (receiver), which were towed simultaneously behind the vessel. 

The students designed study areas to locate old river channels that used to run through Corpus Christi and Port Aransas Bay, acquired the data, and began to process it the next day, with direction from the instructors.  To complement the data being acquired off the Manta, a university run small boat, the Itasca, surveyed the same areas towing a side scan sonar and pole-mounted multibeam system. 

Thank you to UT Marine Science Institute for providing a sturdy dock and logistical support to the visiting crew and scientists.  Special thanks also to the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation for facilitating this valuable partnership by providing critical administrative support to enable cost sharing between the partners. 

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June 10 & 23, 2009

The R/V Manta supported Texas A&M University's (TAMU) Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG) at a Wind Farm project 10 miles south of Galveston.  R/V Manta was used to deploy a 300 pound anchor package and then support TAMU and TAMU Galveston AAUS divers to connect instrumentation cables underwater.   This instrument package detected evidence of hypoxic waters.

A catamaran style research vessel (the R/V Manta) floating next to a very tall metal-frame tower in the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston.A

The R/V Manta stationed next to a tower at the GERG Wind Farm Project near Galveston. This photo was taken from the sanctuary skiff. Photo: FGBNMS/Hamburger

June 26, 2009

The R/V Manta supported University of Texas Marine Science Institute researcher Tracy Villareal during a cruise to sample for nitrogen fixing symbionts in relation to the Mississippi plume.  Plankton tow sampling began off the edge of the continental shelf south of the Flower Garden Banks and worked closer to shore.

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(additional cruises were cancelled due to budget constraints)

  1. January 27–29, 2009.  R/V Manta FGBNMS Cruise
  2. February 17–20, 2009.  R/V Manta FGBNMS Cruise
  3. March 9–13, 2009.  R/V Manta Stetson Bank Post-Hurricane Cruise
  4. September 9-12, 2009.  R/V Manta Coral Spawning Cruise

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Return to 2009 Research Summary web page.

Download a copy of the full 2009 Research Report (1MB pdf)

Access other sanctuary Research Reports.

If you have any questions about the sanctuary's 2009 research activities or the 2009 Research Report, please contact Emma Hickerson.

weather report observations cool stuff get wet

Orange, branching gorgonian (soft coral) anchored in a bed of sponges and other sea life.
National Marine Sanctuary logo - a stylized whale tail above waves