About the Project
Sargassum is a floating brown algae complex found in neritic and oceanic waters of the western North Atlantic Ocean, including the Gulf of Mexico. The structural complexity of Sargassum provides surface area for sessile epibiota, such as hydroids, bryozoans, and other organisms, which combined form the base of a Sargassum “community”, and provide an oasis of structure in an otherwise featureless open ocean. A diverse assemblage of fishes and invertebrates are found in association with Sargassum, which presumably provides refuge from predators, enhanced feeding opportunities, and serves to concentrate organisms with flotsam-seeking behaviors. Sargassum is therefore often considered a “nursery habitat” for many managed fisheries species, yet quantitative (and habit-specific) assessments of nursery function are lacking for Sargassum, and little is known about the environmental and climatic factors that drive variability in Sargassum biomass and distribution.
How much Sargassum is in the Gulf of Mexico? What is the temporal (annual, seasonal) and spatial (neritic, oceanic) variability in its distribution and biomass? What environmental factors control Sargassum spatial and temporal variability? Are there quantifiable survivorship “advantages” (in terms of food web dynamics, diet, growth, condition) for juvenile fishes associated with Sargassum that lead to enhanced recruitment, relative to individuals not associated with Sargassum? Overall, does a “good” Sargassum year equate to “good” recruitment for managed species? Can a Sargassum habitat index provide managers with a valuable assessment tool?
This project, funded by the NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program, is a collaborative research effort among scientists from the University of Southern Mississippi, the University of South Florida, and the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center (Pascagoula Laboratory) with the goal of addressing these questions. To do so, we will conduct several research cruises in the Gulf of Mexico to collect data in Sargassum and adjacent open water habitats. The first cruise was successfully completed in July 2017. This summer (2018), we have two additional cruises planned: May 30-June 7 and July 9-17.
In an effort to engage both the general public and the scientific community, we will blog from sea during our cruises. We hope to provide daily updates, lots of cool pictures, and additional information related to our research.
So please join us here and on Twitter (@larvalfishlab) as we set sail in search of Sargassum !