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Although the Stetson Bank Long Term Monitoring program has only been in place 15 years, some years required more than one expedition. This year we conducted the 18th Stetson Bank Long Term Monitoring cruise from June 15-18, 2008. 


Sanctuary staff included research coordinator Emma Hickerson, research specialist Jennifer DeBose, outreach specialist Kelly Drinnen and research assistant Marissa Nuttall.

Also participating in this trip were several divers associated with the Texas A&M Galveston scientific diving program: Amie Hufton, Mark London, Jay Reynolds, Travis March, Sam Devenport, Sam Waltman, Kim Janusaitis, Lynn Wetmore and Shane Bombardier.  For some, this was a first chance to put their scientific diving skills to the test.

Other expedition participants included Dr. Mary Wicksten from Texas A&M University (invertebrate researcher), Joyce and Frank Burek (photographers), and volunteers Gary Merritt and Sarah Davies.

Long-term Photo Stations

Research specialist Jennifer DeBose coordinated the Stetson monitoring this year, deciding on the different tasks that needed accomplishment and in what order.  The first priority was getting photos at all of the repetitive photo stations.

Jenn assigned the TAMUG divers to specific teams then gave each team its assigned research pins to find.  Laminated photographs were available for the students to use in comparing the terrain where pins were likely to be located.  This was also intended to help them perhaps find pins that had not been located in recent years.  Volunteer Gary Merritt is said to be particularly adept at this!

As teams located each pin, they scraped the number tags clean to verify what pin had been located then placed a weighted length of white plastic chain alongside the pin.  Later, Jennifer DeBose and research coordinator Emma Hickerson submerged with the t-frame mounted camera looking for the floating chains.  They could just swim from chain to chain and get the photos done, no time wasted looking for the pins themselves as that was already accomplished.

A total of 44 pins were located and photographed with a new digital camera system. The former Nikonos film camera set up is being retired from this task.

On days two and three, additional time was spent trying to find missing photostations, reanchoring one pin, and testing additional camera equipment for comparison.

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Marine Debris

Another goal of this cruise was to begin plotting and collecting marine debris as part of a new grant-funded project through NOAA.

As divers encountered debris, they noted the location of each item, it's relative condition and apparent impact on the surroundings. Small items such as fishing line, leaders, hooks, and weights were collected as encountered. Larger items were documented for later removal.

A hook and leader snagged on another line at Stetson BankString tangled between the tubes of a tube sponge colony at Stetson BankA small boat anchor and chain that are starting to rust at Stetson BankA small boat anchor completely overgrown with algae and sponges at Stetson Bank
Some of the marine debris documented during the Stetson Monitoring expedition. Photos: Joyce & Frank Burek

Over time the total amount of debris, its sources and identifiable impacts will be assessed in an attempt better manage this problem.

Learn more about the Mapping, Assessment, and Removal of Derelict Fishing Gear (DFG) from Stetson Bank, Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary project.

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Visual Surveys

In addition to the above, divers also conducted a variety of animal surveys. Dr. Wicksten made visual surveys of various invertebrate species, particularly crustaceans, on every dive. Several firsts were noted: a rock shrimp (Sicyonia sp., photo below), a ctenostome bryozoan (Class Gymnolaemata: Order Ctenostomata) and a small polychaete worm (family Syllidae) of the variety you're likely to see swimming around in front of your dive light at night. All of these are "new records from Stetson Bank but are probably very common and widespread in their range," says Wicksten.

A small red decorator crab, without any extra decoration, sitting in a bed of algaeA close up view of a small rock shrimp almost hidden in the algae at Stetson Bank
Left: A small Macrocoeloma trispinosum, the sponge-covered decorator crab. Right: A close up view of a rock shrimp. This is the first record of any Sicyonia sp. from the FGBNMS. Photos: Joyce & Frank Burek

TAMUG divers also conducted several REEF roving diver fish surveys, and, noone could miss all the southern stingrays (Dasyatis americana)! During the night dive on June 17th, divers conducted lobster and diadema sea urchin counts. Spawning fire worms were also observed.

A ridged slipper lobster on the reef with a sea urchin to the left.  This lobster has a flattend profile and drab colors except for bright red and yellow striped legsA spiny lobster crawling out of a crevice.  This species has antenna at the front that are as long or longer than the rest of its body
Left: A spiny lobster. Right: A ridged slipper lobster next to a long-spined urchin. Both were observed during a night dive at Stetson Bank. Photos: Joyce & Frank Burek

Throughout the trip Joyce and Frank Burek photographed everything high and low, including a sea spider which is a rare find in these parts. Many divers also noticed small aggregations of sharks.

A close up of a sea spider.  Looks something lke a daddy longlegs with bits of debris stuck to its legs.
A sea spider (Anoplodactylus lentus) resting on a sponge. This animal is only a couple of centimeters across. Photo: Joyce & Frank Burek

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Monitoring Challenges

Part of the challenge this trip was tying up at Buoy 2, since that buoy is currently missing.  For the purposes of the research that needed to be accomplished, the buoy at site #4 was temporarily removed and placed on #2, then later returned to its appropriate location.

Another issue this trip was what appeared to be an influx of fresh water, which created a green, murky layer about 20-30 feet deep at the surface. Below this layer, visibility, although improved, was limited to about 40-50 feet.

Temperature and salinity readings (36kb pdf) taken during the cruise showed a lot of variability. Surface water temperatures ranged from 84 to 86.4F while temperatures at 25m ranged from 76.3 to 81.9F. As the divers will tell you, the coldest layers weren't always the deepest ones, either. Surface salinity ranged from 29.4 to 33ppt while salinity at depth (25m) hovered between 34.2 and 35.4ppt.

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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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