For Immediate Release - September 09, 2011

State and Federal Scientists to Study Seafloor aboard Research Vessel

Week-long ocean research project starts today

BOSTON - Friday, September 9, 2011 - As part of the Patrick-Murray Administration's commitment to ocean research and management, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary (EEA) Richard K. Sullivan Jr. 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.

Beginning today and continuing until September 16, a team of scientists made up of staff from EEA's Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM), the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Woods Hole's Coastal and Marine Science Center will conduct research on seafloor habitats throughout state waters aboard the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold.

"Improving our understanding of the ocean seafloor and its habitat is a key goal of Massachusetts' first-in-the-nation Ocean Management Plan," said EEA 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 high-tech onboard laboratories, the team will collect and analyze samples of sediments and organisms from the seafloor and take video and high-resolution photographs. This information will help to refine 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 do not harm 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 in state ocean waters.

EPA selected the Massachusetts research project through 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. Scientists aboard the Bold will conduct research 24 hours a day with three rotating shifts working four hours on and eight off. 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 that we collect helps scientists from EPA and other agencies, as well as the general public, to gain important insight into the health and condition of coastal areas, and 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."

Led by an EPA chief scientist, the scientific team will perform research work, that will include taking samples from the seafloor to analyze sediment type (e.g., mud, sand, gravel, cobble, boulder), identifying and cataloging organisms found in the sediment, and taking video of the seafloor. This information will be used to validate and continue to improve the Massachusetts seafloor maps and ensure that they accurately portray the type of habitat present in different areas.

CZM and the USGS Woods Hole 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. The Bold research work will help further their utility by validating mapping results. Accurate representation of habitat types is essential for determining how to protect critical natural resource areas, such as areas of cobbles and seagrass and kelp beds, which are highly important to commercial fish species. The mapping is also relevant to the permitting of ocean-based projects.

"Through this great enterprise with our federal partners, we've been able to focus joint resources on filling key ocean management information and data needs for Massachusetts and enhancing the science-based aspects of our ocean planning efforts," said Bruce Carlisle, CZM Director. "I'd like to thank my staff for their initiative in making this happen, and I'd like to thank EPA and USGS for their continued support."

Researchers will use the USGS's Seabed Observation and Sampling System (SEABOSS), which was designed by the Woods Hole 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, which is not possible with sediment samples alone, which 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.

"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.

In addition to the seafloor analysis, CZM and DMF staff will assist EPA by collecting water samples in Buzzards Bay to determine nutrient levels. These data will support efforts to control pollution from septic systems, lawn fertilizers, pet and livestock waste, and other sources entering Buzzards Bay.