In addition to collecting samples and scouting for mesophotic transplant sites, the Voss Lab also utilized the ROV’s capabilities to explore deep habitats by surveying the nearby McGrail Bank. McGrail Bank is located just outside of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary boundaries and also contains potentially important deep reef communities. All members of the team rotated through various jobs associated with ROV ops, including identifying species, annotating bottom characteristics and species in Harbor Branch’s database, taking photos for the 30 randomly selected photo transects, and assisting with ROV deployment and recovery. Jobs rotated every two hours so that each team member had the opportunity to participate in all aspects of the ROV exploration. Doing the first two jobs required a keen eye and quick typing, as some areas had extremely dense patches of corals and fish. Using the database allows us to easily group all of the ROV data into one repository and makes data analysis downstream much easier. For instance, the instant we walked off the ship at the end of the cruise, the database could generate a report of ROV sites, transect coordinates and times, species tallies, and even lionfish sightings, all of which are to be submitted to NOAA.
After exploring McGrail Bank, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to explore Bright Bank for the last half working day of the cruise. An additional 9 random photo transects were completed here, east of the East Flower Garden Bank. Photos from the transects, which were taken every 30 seconds, will be used to analyze the communities’ composition and percent cover in the coming months.