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Project Details

Ecological Characterization of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Project Status: This project began in September 2003 and was completed in December 2006

We provided an ecological and oceanographic profile of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) and Gulf of Maine region, including analysis of pollution levels. The project was designed to help managers see where various animals and physical structures are located so they can better coordinate conservation efforts using limited resources.

Why We Care
Marine sanctuaries help conserve, protect, and enhance marine resources.  In order to their effectiveness, managers need information on the distribution and abundance of resources in the Sanctuary. The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) is an area that is used by a wide variety of animals, including seabirds, whales (including the endangered North American right whale), and many varieties of valuable fish and shellfish.  It is also a region of cultural significance, highlighted by the recent discoveries of several historic shipwrecks.


What We Did
Working with many collaborators, we conducted an ecological assessment of the region surrounding Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS). The purpose of this study was to characterize the distribution of selected fishes, seabirds, marine mammals, and contaminants within the Sanctuary and Gulf of Maine region. Computer models were used to predict changing spatial and seasonal patterns of key species.

For this project, NCCOS researchers assembled a large numbers of datasets previously collected by scientific studies conducted by numerous organizations in the region, but which had never been thoroughly analyzed. This included the analysis of information on several contaminants within the Sanctuary so as to provide a valuable assessment of human threats on marine resources. The maps and informational datasets produced provide the most current and thorough assessment of conditions within the Sanctuary and region to date. These products were generated to support the Sanctuary management plan review process and also regional coastal and marine management planning.

Partners included the NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, the University of Connecticut-Dept. of Marine Sciences, the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, the University of Rhode Island-School of Oceanography and the US Geological Survey.


What We Found
Among the findings of the report was the confirmation of a link between the distribution of humpback whales and sand lance, a small fish that is a favorite prey of the whales. While the location of humpbacks had long been thought to coincide with "ecological hotspots" containing high sand lance concentrations, this assessment confirmed the connection with solid data.

"It is enormously helpful to be able to view the sanctuary in relation to the rest of the Gulf of Maine," said Craig MacDonald, superintendent of the NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. "One of the things we find so valuable about this study is that it integrates massive amounts of data over long periods of time and over very large areas, and it uses that information to paint a coherent picture of predicted species distribution."


Benefits of Our Work
This NOAA study incorporated extensive data about the abundance and distribution of key species, like humpback whales, both within and beyond the boundaries of the sanctuary. By expanding the survey to include the entire Gulf of Maine, researchers are now able to better understand where marine resources are located in the region and how they relate to the Sanctuary.

This report has been used extensively to support management decisions, including: the alteration of the shipping channel into Boston Harbor in order to reduce ship strikes of marine mammals; the development of Massachusetts Ocean Plan; and release of the Final management Plan for the Sanctuary.

"It is enormously helpful to be able to view the sanctuary in relation to the rest of the Gulf of Maine," said Craig MacDonald, superintendent of the NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. "One of the things we find so valuable about this study is that it integrates massive amounts of data over long periods of time and over very large areas, and it uses that information to paint a coherent picture of predicted species distribution."

Related Regions of Study: Atlantic Ocean, Atlantic Seaboard, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York

Primary Contact: Tim Battista

Research Area: Science for Coastal Ecosystem Management (Biogeographic Assessment, Marine Spatial Planning, Protected Species)

Related NCCOS Center: CCMA


Project Products

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* Printed on September 21, 2014 at 6:11 PM from http://coastalscience.noaa.gov/projects/detail?key=141.