Benefits

To the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

NOAA is charged with maintenance of commercially viable fisheries. In the Big Bend Region (BBR), one of those fisheries is the gag grouper. Our work is of direct relevance to this NOAA objective, a feature that has resulted in our close cooperation with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) laboratory in Panama City in this effort. We anticipate quantifying the role of seagrass beds and shallow reefs to the functioning of major regional fisheries. This information is important to the managed development of the BBR. Also, climatic impacts on the fisheries will be examined. Of major importance are the fluctuations in the salinity of the shallow waters. These, in turn, respond to hydrological cycle fluctuations. The Management of upstream water usage practices requires knowledge of the regional ecosystem sensitivity to salinity. Critical information on the importance of regional water clarity will be obtained. This is also a manner in which the region can be expected to exhibit sensitivity to water usage and agricultural practices.

For Ecosystem Management:

Our efforts to clarify the on-shore/off-shore transport mechanisms of gag grouper in particular will be of central importance to efforts directed at sustaining this fishery. We anticipate that a fundamental role is played by seagrass beds in this fishery, thus stressing the need for seagrass bed protection when making management decisions about how to develop the coast. In addition, our attempts to quantify the importance of benthic primary productivity to the regional ecosystems are of great important to management decisions affect the regional water clarity of the BBR.

On and off-shore transport mechanisms are involved as well in ecosystem maintenance, for example, by transporting gag grouper larvae inshore to the seagrass beds from off shore spawning sites. Coastal hazards and management decisions thereby will be similarly affected. Sustained observations of the BBR current system, its variability and structure, will be of critical importance to disaster management.

We further expect climatic variability on a variety of timescales to impact the region, through stressing the shallow-water environments by floods, droughts, and extreme wind events as well as long-term modifications to riverine inflow. Generic regional warming can be expected to impact the utilization and population of the regional seagrass beds.

Lastly, the characterization of seagrass and faunal communities of BBR seagrass beds will be incorporated into a GIS framework to display small and large spatial scale patterns in biological abundances and distributions. These maps will be instrumental in directing future sampling efforts across the region.

To the U.S. Taxpayer:

The catchment basin affecting the Northern Gulf of Mexico Cooperative Institute (NGI) region is about 50% of the continental US and 10% of that area comprises of rivers draining into the BBR. Inasmuch as our research will comment on practical aspects of the marine environment of the BBR, significant impacts will be realized on water-usage practices throughout the southeastern US.

The Big Bend Region of the northern Gulf of Mexico also stands as one of the few remaining, relatively unimpacted stretches of Florida coastline. It is home to a variety of commercially lucrative fisheries and a source of considerable leisure and sport activity for the Gulf of Mexico states. It is also an area under attack by development and water-usage practices, as well as impending threats from the potential of offshore oil drilling, that threaten to harm this ecologically rich area. The studies outlined here are designed to provide the baseline data needed to construct a thorough understanding of the ecosystem function of the BBR. Such information is critical to the development of a sustainable ecosystem in the BBR, the mitigation of coastal hazards, and the assessment of the regional impact of climate variability. This project will also benefit NOAA by providing multiple data points within the coastal and marine forecast region for the Tallahassee National Weather Service forecast office and the National Data Buoy Center. These observation sites will provide in situ data for model and forecast validation that will enable a better understanding of the relationship between remotely sensed winds and precipitation, and the sea surface, as well as important understanding of the heat, moisture, and momentum fluxes for this environment, in a location where no such observations have ever been taken before.