The Voss Lab recently completed a 5-day research expedition to Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) as part of a collaborative NOAA CYCLE project with Dr. Santiago Herrera. The overall goal of this project, funded by NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, is to investigate connectivity of coral, sponge, and fish species between shallow and mesophotic coral ecosystems of FGBNMS including the new sanctuary expansion areas.
For this trip we were limited to only 5 divers due to COVID-19 safety protocols. The divers consisted of PI and executive director of the Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration Research and Technology (CIOERT), Joshua Voss, Voss Lab graduate students Ryan Eckert, Alexis Sturm, and Ashley Carrerio, and long-time collaborator and colleague, Moody Gardens Dive Safety Officer Jake Emmert. Despite being short on science crew, during 5 days aboard R/V MANTA we collected more than 300 coral (Stephanocoenia intersepta, Orbicella faveolata) and sponge (Xestospongia muta) samples from shallow and mesophotic depths over 19 shallow and technical Trimix SCUBA dives. These samples will be combined with samples collected in 2018 to determine the levels of vertical and horizontal connectivity between coral and sponge populations in the northwest Gulf of Mexico using single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genetic markers as a part of Ryan Eckert’s dissertation research.
We would like to sincerely thank the crew of R/V MANTA for a productive and safe week offshore, and FGBNMS staff for providing research permits and coordination.