Priority Ocean Areas for Protection in the Mid-Atlantic
Findings of NRDC's Marine Habitat Workshop
There are three primary sources of information about the distribution of marine invertebrates in the sediments of the Mid-Atlantic Bight area. These are the reports of Boesch et al. (1977), Wigley and Theroux (1981), and Maciolek et al. (1987). Wigley and Theroux (1981) summarized in detail the studies that dealt with the fauna of the continental shelf of the area up to the time of their report. Their report also deals with the results of a large-scale sampling program involving 667 quantitative samples taken at 563 stations between 1962 and 1965. Boesch et al. (1977) summarize the results of a study funded by the Bureau of Land Management -- now Minerals Management Service (MMS) -- on the continental shelf and upper slope, during which quantitative samples were taken at 24 stations on a quarterly basis and 27 stations in winter and summer. In addition, nine stations were sampled quarterly using small trawls or anchor dredges. The Maciolek et al. study (1987) was also funded by MMS and included 14 stations at depths ranging from 1,500 to 2,100 meters. These stations were sampled six times over a two-year period using a 0.25 m2 box corer. Additional smaller-scale studies were conducted by Pearce et al. (1976), Maurer et al. (1976), and Boesch (1972). Data from all these studies will be used in the following account.
POLYGONS LW1 and LW3
These upper and mid-slope areas, one off Delaware Bay and the other off the Virginia capes, both range in depth from 500 to 200 meters. The site off Delaware Bay encompasses stations 13 and 14 in Maciolek et al. (1987), whereas the more southern site shows hints of unusual diversity in Wigley & Theroux (1981), especially with respect to groups such as sipunculans, echiurans, and holothurians. Maciolek et al. (1987) also note extremely high levels of biodiversity at their stations 13 and 14.
POLYGONS LW2 and LW5
There are two areas with a high density of zoantharians in the Wigley & Theroux (1981) report. One is centered at 40° N and 71° W at about 180 meters depth, and the other, in slightly deeper water, is centered at 38.3° N and 73.5° W. Of course, this part of the fauna was vastly undersampled using the techniques available at the time.
This is a section of inner-shelf coarse sands located far enough south so as to be out of any contaminant problems emanating from the New York Bight. A typical part of the area would be centered at 39.3° N and 74.3° W. The fauna of these inner-shelf coarse sands is quite different from most of the rest of the shelf in this area, and includes in particular a few unusual species of worms and amphipods.
This area is within the sand and gravel banks of Nantucket Shoals. Centered at 41° N and 69° W, this site, which is documented in Wigley & Theroux (1981), has very high densities of individuals and moderate levels of biomass, suggesting that most of the individuals are small. An inspection of the maps in Wigley & Theroux shows the area to be characterized by high numbers of bryozoans, brachiopods, decapods, hydroids, sea spiders, and a host of smaller phyla.
An additional area of high priority is indicated by polygon TH1 on the map of Tom Hoff. This area encompasses the tilefish burrows or "grottoes" of the outer shelf and is so noted for the protection of the fish. However, the grottoes are important for invertebrates as well as fish, since many invertebrate species find both food and shelter in the grottoes.
Boesch, D.F. 1972. Species Diversity of the Marine Macrobenthos in the Virginia Area. Chesapeake Science, 13: 206–11.
Boesch, D.F., J.N. Kraeuter, D.K. Serafy. 1977. Distribution and Structure of Communities of Macrobenthos on the Outer Continental Shelf of the Middle Atlantic Bight: 1975–1976 Investigations. Virginia Institute of Marine Science Special Report in Applied Marine Science and Ocean Engineering, no. 175.
Maciolek, N., et al. 1987. Study of the Biological Processes on the U.S. Mid-Atlantic Slope and Rise. Vol. 2, Final Report. (OCS Study MMS 87-0050). U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service, Washington, DC.
Maurer, D., P. Kinner, W. Leathem, and L. Watling. 1976. Benthic Faunal Assemblages off the Delmarva Peninsula. Estuarine and Coastal Marine Science, 4: 163–77.
Pearce, J.B., J.V. Caracciolo, M.B. Halsey, and L. H. Rogers. 1976. Temporal and Spatial Distributions of Benthic Macroinvertebrates in the New York Bight. American Society of Limnology and Oceanography Special Symposium, 2: 394–403.
Wigley, R.L. and R.B. Theroux. 1981. Atlantic Continental Shelf and Slope of Faunal Composition and Quantitative Distribution. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 529-N, pp. 1–198.
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