South Carolina Aquarium Announces New In-Water Research Program

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Research to take place in newly-designated Marine Protected Areas

South Carolina Aquarium Reef Research Site at Area 51

South Carolina Aquarium Reef Research Site at Area 51

We’re thrilled to support the state in this groundbreaking research initiative, which will suggest new ways to protect vulnerable marine species from both natural and man-made pressures.

Today, the South Carolina Aquarium announced the start of South Carolina Aquarium Reef Research. The Reef Research studies will be conducted in newly-designated marine protected areas (MPAs) comprised of artificial reefs created by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). In partnership with SCDNR and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, the Aquarium has sponsored a site within the MPA, the South Carolina Aquarium Reef Research Site at Area 51.

The Aquarium Reef Site represents the benefits of MPAs, serving as both a refuge for local marine life and part of a living laboratory space for South Carolina Aquarium Reef Research. Critical scientific research that focuses on sustaining a healthy, balanced ocean for future generations will occur within SCDNR’s artificial reefs, including the Aquarium Reef Site.

“We’re thrilled to support the state in this groundbreaking research initiative, which will suggest new ways to protect vulnerable marine species from both natural and man-made pressures,” said Kevin Mills, South Carolina Aquarium President and CEO. “South Carolinians should be proud that their state is the first in the nation to pioneer this innovative approach.”

SCDNR biologists established Areas 51 and 53 as experimental sites – artificial reefs with little to no fishing pressure where they could study the abundance of reef fish and document spawning behavior. Both reefs were established on flat, sandy stretches of the seafloor, where staff added low-relief concrete structures that mimic the profile of natural reef areas. Within several years of construction, each site was home to much higher numbers of fish than fished artificial reefs in similar water depths.

“We created Area 51 and Area 53 about twenty years ago to specifically study the dynamics of artificial reefs and how they can be used to enhance our reef fish populations,” said Robert Martore, SCDNR’s Artificial Reef Coordinator. “The new federal protections should increase the natural productivity in these areas, further aiding our conservation efforts. Partnering with the South Carolina Aquarium will allow us to expand our research activities here, and the information we gather will enable us to create more effective artificial reefs in the future.”

South Carolina Aquarium Reef Research is made possible by the generosity of Scott and Jordana Snider. Mr. Snider is a natural history filmmaker and a member of the South Carolina Aquarium Board of Directors. His work takes him around the world to film some of the most elusive and endangered animals on the planet. Mrs. Snider is an accomplished wildlife photographer and works closely with South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Care Center staff as a volunteer videographer. Together, the Sniders own Half Moon productions, a film and photography studio based in Charleston, S.C.

The pilot project under Reef Research will focus on the invasive lionfish population. The South Carolina Aquarium will study the effects of lionfish removal on local populations of snapper and grouper, species that compete with lionfish for prey, to determine any changes to their abundancy and diversity.

About the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources:
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources serves as the primary advocate for and steward of the state’s natural resources. For more information, visit dnr.sc.gov.

About the South Carolina Aquarium:
The South Carolina Aquarium, Charleston’s No. 1 family attraction, features thousands of aquatic animals from river otters and sharks to loggerhead turtles in more than 60 exhibits representing the rich biodiversity of South Carolina from the mountains to the sea. Dedicated to promoting education and conservation, the Aquarium also presents sweeping views of the Charleston harbor along with interactive exhibits and programs for visitors of all ages.

The South Carolina Aquarium is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the Aquarium is closed Thanksgiving Day, half day Dec. 24 (open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and Dec. 25. Admission prices are: Toddlers (2 and under) free; Youth (3-12) $22.95; Adults (13+) $29.95. For more information, call (843) 577-FISH (3474), or visit http://www.scaquarium.org.

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Bethany Morgan
@SCaquarium
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