For Immediate Release - June 18, 2010

State Scientists to Study Seafloor as Part of EPA Ocean Research Project

Week-long ocean research project starts today, EPA to host boat tour later this month

BOSTON - June 18, 2010 - As part of the Patrick-Murray Administration's first-in-the-nation ocean management strategy, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary (EEA) Ian Bowles today announced a team of state coastal scientists will begin a week-long research trip today aboard a federal research vessel to study the ocean floor.

The trip begins today and is scheduled to end on June 25. The team of scientists is made up of staff from EEA's Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) and the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF). The goal of the project is to conduct research on seafloor habitats throughout state waters aboard the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ocean survey vessel the Bold.

"Now more than ever, it's important for us to deepen our understanding of our coastal waters," said Secretary Bowles. "Thanks to the support of the EPA, this project will provide vital scientific information that will help us protect natural resources and habitats and develop long and short-term ocean management strategies."

Using state-of-the-art equipment and onboard laboratories, staff will collect and analyze samples of sediments and organisms from the seafloor and take video. This information will help the state implement the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, which was released in December 2009. The first-in-the-nation plan protects critical marine resources and fosters sustainable uses in state ocean waters.

In addition to the seafloor analysis, CZM and DMF staff will assist EPA in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) with side-scan sonar equipment to image and map the extent of historically disposed waste containers at the Industrial Waste Site in Massachusetts Bay. These images will be used by USACE to plan a proposed project to cover the containers with material dredged from Boston Harbor.

EPA selected the Massachusetts research project via a regional competition. In being selected, state researchers 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. The research time is valued at approximately $100,000, at no cost to the state.

"EPA's ocean research vessel, the Bold, is a great resource that is helping us better understand how our actions on land impact the oceans around us," said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of the U.S. EPA's New England office. "We're very happy to be partnering with the Commonwealth to accomplish important research in Massachusetts waters."

Led by an EPA chief scientist, a scientific crew from CZM, DMF and EPA will perform the research work, which will include taking samples from the seafloor to analyze sediment type (e.g., cobble, mud, sand) and grain size distribution and identify and catalogue organisms found in the sediment and take video of the seafloor. This information will help validate the Massachusetts seafloor maps, ensuring that they accurately portray the type of habitat present in different areas. Accurate representation of habitat type is essential for determining how to protect natural resources, such as kelp beds and cobble areas important for commercial fish species, during ocean permitting.

"This unique partnership focuses federal resources toward fulfilling distinct state information needs and will go a long way to improving the science-based aspects of ocean planning in Massachusetts," said Deerin Babb-Brott, EEA Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Coastal Zone Management. "I'd like to thank my staff for their initiative and EPA for this opportunity."

To maximize the opportunity, research will be conducted 24 hours a day with three rotating shifts working four hours on and eight off. The underwater video component of the research is made possible by the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF). Video provides essential information for validating seafloor habitat type - validation that is not possible with sediment samples alone, which cannot be taken on hard bottom areas such as boulder or bedrock.

"We appreciate the opportunity for continued collaboration with EPA while working to expand our knowledge of coastal habits. With this information we'll be able to make important connections between the value of this habitat and fisheries resources," said DMF Director Paul Diodati.

The Bold research also complements Massachusetts's multi-million dollar seafloor mapping program, which is largely funded by mitigation fees contributed by ocean development projects. CZM and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Woods Hole Science Center initiated the program in 2003 to develop accurate maps of seafloor resources to promote sound ocean management. Since 2003, high-resolution geologic maps 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 their utility by validating mapping results.

After the CZM survey cruise, the Bold will be docked along the Harborwalk at Fan Pier between the Moakley Courthouse and the Institute for Contemporary Art.

On June 27, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., EPA will host a free public open house aboard the vessel. In addition to demonstrations of how the Bold's state-of-the art oceanographic equipment is used, scientists from partner agencies - CZM, the Massachusetts Bays Program, and the University of Massachusetts Boston Urban Harbors Institute - will present information about recent research from coastal Massachusetts. There will also be a "touch tank" full of sea organisms from New England waters provided by the New England Aquarium.