New Survey To Study Marine Life In Deep Waters

This story was reported for WWNO -- New Orleans Public Radio

Sea turtles are just one of the many animals the new survey aims to catalogue. (IAN KENNEDY/FLICKR: CC BY-SA 2.0)

Several federal agencies are teaming up to do a multi-year survey of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. The goal is to better understand how oil and gas activities impact marine species, and it’s huge in scope.

“So what we’re trying to do is figure out who is there, and when,” says environmental scientist Rebecca Green. She’s leading the survey and works for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management -- or BOEM. They’re the federal agency that regulates oil and gas activity offshore.

To complete this aquatic census, they’ve teamed up with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), US Fish and Wildlife, and the US Geological Survey. That same group of agencies launched similar survey off the Atlantic Coast a few years ago. But this is a first for the Gulf of Mexico.

Green says it’s unique for two reasons -- what they’re studying and where they’re looking.

Most studies tend to focus on one particular species. But in this study they’re looking at all kinds -- from dolphins to sea turtles to birds.

Other studies also usually happen closer to shore. It’s cheaper and easier that way because you don’t have to travel far.

Green says we know a lot about Gulf sea turtles on the beach, for example, but when it comes to how they spend their time offshore she says “we have very little information.”

So for this survey, they’re going into deep water -- up to two hundred miles beyond the state boundaries -- to better understand how species like sea turtles react when their environment changes.

Green says the survey will take about three years to complete.