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Long-Term Monitoring of Ecological Conditions In Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary: Comparison of Soft-Bottom Benthic Assemblages and Contaminant Levels in Sediments and Biota in Spring 2000 and 2005

Author(s): Balthis, W.L., J.L. Hyland, C. Cooksey, M.H. Fulton, E. Wirth, G. McFall


Publication Type: NOAA Technical Memoranda

Journal Title: NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS 68

Date of Publication: 2007

Reference Information: 29 pp. + Appendices

Keywords: Gray’s Reef; benthic macroinfauna; biodiversity; sediment contaminants

Abstract: As part of an ongoing program of benthic sampling and related assessments of sediment quality at Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) off the coast of Georgia, a survey of soft-bottom benthic habitats was conducted in spring 2005 to characterize condition of macroinfaunal assemblages and levels of chemical contaminants in sediments and biota relative to a baseline survey carried out in spring 2000. Distribution and abundance of macrobenthos were related foremost to sediment type (median particle size, % gravel), which in turn varied according to bottom-habitat mesoscale features (e.g., association with live bottom versus flat or rippled sand areas). Overall abundance and diversity of soft-bottom benthic communities were similar between the two years, though dominance patterns and relative abundances of component species were less repeatable. Seasonal summer pulses of a few taxa (e.g., the bivalve Ervilia sp. A) observed in 2000 were not observed in 2005. Concentrations of chemical contaminants in sediments and biota, though detectable in both years, were consistently at low, background levels and no exceedances of sediment probable bioeffect levels or FDA action levels for edible fish or shellfish were observed. Near-bottom dissolved oxygen levels and organic-matter content of sediments also have remained within normal ranges. Highly diverse benthic assemblages were found in both years, supporting the premise that GRNMS serves as an important reservoir of marine biodiversity. A total of 353 taxa (219 identified to species) were collected during the spring 2005 survey. Cumulatively, 588 taxa (371 identified to species) have been recorded in the sanctuary from surveys in 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2005. Species Accumulation Curves indicate that the theoretical maximum should be in excess of 600 species. Results of this study will be of value in advancing strategic science and management goals for GRNMS, including characterization and long-term monitoring of sanctuary resources and processes, as well as supporting evolving interests in ecosystem-based management of the surrounding South Atlantic Bight (SAB) ecosystem.

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