The US government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has an army of different divisions and a vast array of responsibilities. Their primary mission is monitoring the condition of the oceans and atmosphere. At NOAA's Coastal Services Center in South Carolina scientists make difficult decisions about habitat conservation and resource management in a complex ocean environment. The more information they can gather, the easier it is to develop good solutions. Many tools are used to assist in their research and one of the most helpful is the towed underwater camera.
Mark Finkbeiner, the center's senior marine ecologist, is using two of JW Fishers' TOV-1 towed underwater video systems to help with his research. His team is studying seagrass communities which are among the richest and most productive coastal systems in the world. This marine vegetation protects and improves water quality, provides shoreline stabilization, and is an important habitat for an array of fish, birds, and other wildlife. It is critical that this important living resource be protected, and restored in areas where is has been damaged.
"The towed cameras have been instrumental in mapping operations all over the country", reports Dr. Finkbeiner. "The TOV is a real workhorse. We've used it in a variety of different habitats from the turbid water of estuaries to deep water reefs". In New York's South Shore Estuary Reserve, NOAA scientists worked in partnership with the NYS Division of Coastal Resources to survey over 81 square kilometers of seagrass beds. The data set will serve as a baseline inventory of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). In coastal states from Delaware to South Carolina, Dept of Fish and Game officials are working with NOAA scientists to survey oyster reefs, a marine fishery that is of vital economic importance. The underwater cameras allow researchers to determine the health of the reef and take appropriate action. Management includes planting of material to provide substrate, known as cultch, for recruitment of juvenile oysters. Similar studies are being conducted along the Texas coast from San Antonio to the Mexican border where scientists are acquiring imagery of seagrass beds, oyster reefs, mangroves thickets, and intertidal salt marsh. In central Colorado the TOV is helping with hyperstructural remote sensing to identify and monitor acid rock drainage. This occurs when acid dissolves and leaches out minerals in the rock, which degrades the quality of drainage water.
Dr. Finkbeiner adds, "these towed systems have performed brilliantly for us. The low light cameras in the TOV-1 produce better images than any of the other underwater cameras we have used. It's a great product and we're very happy to have them!"