Most of us only get to experience the ocean as it appears to us on the surface. As for what’s below, that’s always been part of the mystery of the sea. It’s inspired songs, paintings, and novels — and it inspires science too.
For the last three years, researchers from GMRI and elsewhere have conducted an ecosystem survey that explores the connections between what we see at the surface and what’s happening below.
The Gulf of Maine Coastal Ecosystem Survey (GOMCES) is an integrated project that brings together researchers and managers from multiple organizations, universities, and agencies to map the biodiversity in the Gulf of Maine coastal region.
Most scientists recognize that species don't exist alone in a vacuum. Still, few studies in the region have translated this prior understanding into a truly integrated research project. GOMCES attempts to meet this challenge. This survey takes a surface-to-seafloor approach — assembling experts who study everything from plankton to marine birds.
The group hopes to understand how key species are distributed and how abundant they are. Beyond that, the study also explores how these species relate to their environment and to each other. This ecosystem-level understanding is critical if we hope to understand how environmental disturbances, such as climate change, might affect the ecosystem in the future.
The team of researchers focuses on the nearshore waters, ranging 2-150 meters of depth. Over the years, GMRI has played a key leadership role in the project, from survey design, to data collection and analysis. Catch a glimpse of some of their sampling locations featured in the short video below.
Learn more about the three major research themes within GOMCES from GMRI scientists:
Marine Bird & Mammal Ecology
Whales, terns, seals, petrels, and more are under the purview of this segment of the study. The team monitors changes to the location, population density, and nesting/breeding habits of the birds and mammals that rely on the sea. Currently, GMRI staff member Andrew Allyn and Aly McKnight from the University of Maine have the honor of manning these observations over the course of the survey.
Andrew Allyn, Research Technician:
One of the goals of GOMCES is to characterize the physical characteristics of the water column, such as temperature and salinity. Further investigation of the planktonic community will reveal the distribution and abundances of numerous zooplankton species. These minute animals are essential for transferring energy up the food web from phytoplankton to fish. GMRI/UMaine staff Dr. Jeff Runge and Cameron Thompson spearhead this portion of GOMCES.
Cameron Thompson, Research Associate:
Another important measurement of biodiversity is the distribution and abundance of fish. GOMCES uses multiple frequency acoustics — which you can think of as fancy fish finders — to establish these. Given our expertise in using acoustics to track herring and now shrimp in nearshore waters, GMRI is responsible for this portion of the survey. Dr. Graham Sherwood and Julek Chawarski lead this component.
Julek Chawarski, Research Technician:
For a list of all project partners, and more on GOMCES, visit their blog: https://gomces.wordpress.com/
Don’t forget to catch Andrew Allyn at GMRI later this fall for his Sea State lecture, Biological Hotspots: Finding Birds, Fish, and Plankton in the Gulf of Maine