For Immediate Release - August 21, 2012

State and Federal Scientists to Study Seafloor Aboard Research Vessel

Week-long ocean survey research project starts today.

BOSTON – Tuesday, August 21, 2012 – As part of the Patrick-Murray Administration's commitment to ocean research and management, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary (EEA) Rick Sullivan today announced that a team of state and federal coastal scientists will begin a week-long research trip aboard a federal research vessel to study the ocean floor. The research project is fully federally funded, with no cost to the state.

Launching today, Tuesday, August 21, and continuing until August 27, a team of scientists made up of staff from EEA's Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM), the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Highway Division and the Massachusetts Bays Program will conduct research on seafloor habitats from Boston Harbor to Salisbury aboard the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold.

"Improving our understanding of the ocean seafloor is a key goal of Massachusetts’ pioneering Ocean Management Plan," said Secretary Sullivan. "We’re grateful to the EPA for providing resources to support the collection of essential new data that will inform our ocean management practices and allow us to better balance the development of sustainable and economically significant ocean uses with the protection of natural resources and habitats."

Using onboard laboratories and high-tech analysis techniques, the team will collect and analyze samples of sediments and organisms from the seafloor, while also taking video and high-resolution photographs. This information will help to improve the resource maps of the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan by showing clearly what seafloor habitats are present — ensuring that decisions on where to site ocean development projects protect important and sensitive ocean areas. Released in December 2009, the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan provides the framework and strategy for protecting critical marine resources and fostering sustainable uses for state ocean waters.

EPA selected the Massachusetts research project through a regional competition. State researchers will have access to the Bold, a 224-foot converted U.S. Navy ocean surveillance ship that is specifically designed to help EPA conduct a wide range of environmental monitoring activities and perform onboard data analysis. Scientists aboard the Bold will conduct research 24 hours a day, with three rotating shifts. The research time is valued at approximately $100,000.

"The OSV Bold is a great asset for conducting critical research in our coastal waters," said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of the EPA's New England office. "The data we collect helps scientists from the EPA and other agencies, as well as the general public, gain important insight into the health and condition of coastal areas. That understanding helps us to make better decisions about how to promote clean and healthy waters. We are proud to collaborate with Massachusetts experts on research here in waters that are dear to all of us."

The scientific team will perform research work including taking samples from the seafloor to analyze sediment type (like mud, sand and gravel), identifying and cataloging organisms found in the sediment and taking video of the seafloor. This information will be used to validate and improve the Massachusetts seafloor maps, ensuring they accurately portray the type of habitat present in different areas.

CZM and the USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center initiated the seafloor mapping partnership program in 2003 to develop accurate maps of seafloor resources and high-resolution geologic maps, which have been produced for more than half of the state's ocean waters. These maps were instrumental to the development of the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan and the Bold research work will help further refine these mapping results. Accurate representation of habitat types is essential for determining how to protect critical natural resource areas, such as areas of cobble on the seafloor or seagrass beds, which are highly important to commercial fish species and lobsters. The mapping is also relevant to the permitting of ocean-based projects.

"The Bold has given us access to a marine research platform that we wouldn’t otherwise have and allows us to fill key ocean management information and data needs for Massachusetts while enhancing the science-based aspects of our ocean planning efforts," said Bruce Carlisle, CZM Director. "I’d like to thank EPA and USGS for their continued support and hope that we can look forward to similar partnerships in the future."

“It’s gratifying that EPA and USGS have chosen our programs to highlight aboard the OSV Bold, as their selection is indicative of the outstanding expertise and highly-regarded professionalism of Commonwealth scientists,” said DMF Director Paul Diodati.

Researchers will use the USGS’s Seabed Observation and Sampling System (SEABOSS), which was designed by the Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center for rapid, inexpensive and effective collection of seabed images and sediment samples in coastal/inner-continental shelf regions. Observations from video and still cameras, along with sediments collected in the sampler, are used in conjunction with geological mapping surveys to provide more comprehensive interpretations of seabed character. SEABOSS incorporates two video cameras, a still camera, a depth sensor, light sources and a sediment sampler.

Video provides essential information for validating seafloor habitat type, a process that is not possible with sediment samples alone, as these samples cannot be taken on hard bottom areas such as boulder or bedrock. Video also provides an idea of what organism groups use certain seafloor types.

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