Earlier this month, NCCOS researchers and their partners mapped the seafloor and characterized the hardbottom habitat of the potential wind energy area off of Cape Fear, N.C.This final expedition of a four leg mission ran for 10 days aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster to provide a baseline biological assessment of the distribution of marine fishes and to develop a map showing seafloor habitats essential to ecologically and economically important fishes, such as snapper and grouper.
Over the past year, the team from NCCOS, the University of North Carolina's Institute of Marine Science, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) collected data that show the texture and topography of approximately 300 square nautical miles of the seafloor. Texture is an indicator of bottom sediment (sandy, rocky), and is an important factor in understanding fish distribution and habitat use. The research team used side-scan, multi-beam, and split-beam sonars, which allowed them to cover the large area quickly and efficiently. The team also used split-beam sonar to detect and map fish abundance in the water column.
Divers documented numerous hardbottom reefs that are home to a diverse mix of tropical and temperate reef fishes and bottom organisms like sponges, corals, and algae. These reefs are hard, rocky ledges and outcroppings that are important habitats in otherwise vast expanses of sand. Prominent fish included gag and scamp groupers, and red and vermillion snappers, along with ever-present amber jack, sharks, and the invasive lionfish.
Researchers also identified two potential new shipwreck sites using the sonars. Divers collected video footage of the wrecks and documented their physical characteristics, in addition to documenting the numerous fishes and sharks that occupied the sites. Though not likely historically significant, the origins of the wrecks are still being determined.
North Carolina has some of the best conditions to support offshore wind energy in the southeast U.S., according to BOEM. The agency has identified three locations for consideration: Wilmington-West and Wilmington-East near Cape Fear, and Kitty Hawk near the Virginia border. BOEM is evaluating these areas for potential commercial wind energy.
For more information, contact Chris.Taylor@noaa.gov.