US Navy

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Marine Species Monitoring

NAS Patuxent River Marine Species Surveys

Introduction & Objectives

The purpose of this project is to collect information and quantitative data on the seasonal occurrence, distribution, habitat use, and density of protected marine species (i.e., marine mammals and sea turtles) in the waters surrounding the Naval Air Station Patuxent River (NAS PAX) in the Chesapeake Bay. Data collected during this monitoring effort will support planning and impact assessment analyses under NEPA, MMPA, and ESA.

Technical Approach

The study area covers portions of the Chesapeake Bay as well as the mouth of the Potomac River. University of North Carolina, Wilmington (UNCW) is conducting monthly fixed-wing aerial surveys comprised of almost 600km of trackline effort covering a ~2400 km2 area. Aerial survey design follows those used in other offshore areas with similar monitoring goals.

HDR will deploy and analyze data collected by C-PODs (i.e., passive acoustic data loggers) to document the seasonality and occurrence of echolocating cetaceans in the area. Photo-ID efforts ofrom a small vessel will also be conducted opportunistically during C-POD deployments/refurbishments.

Researchers from the Center for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling (CREEM) at University of St. Andrews advised on survey design for both the visual data and the passive acoustic data and will analyze data from the line-transect surveys using standard design-based analysis methods.

Progress & Results

UNCW began conducting aerial survey in April 2015; survey effort continues on a monthly basis. Bottlenose dolphins, and loggerhead and unidentified sea turtles have been observed. Dolphin sightings thus far are concentrated in the south-west portion of the survey area where the Potomac River empties into Chesapeake Bay. Year 2 survey converage may be adjusted based on results from Year 1.

HDR deployed five C-PODs in July 2015. During the deployments researchers also encountered and collected photo-identifications of a group of approximately 25 bottlenose dolphins in the Chesapeake Bay, just to the northeast of NAS PAX. C-PODs will be refurbished and re-deployed every four months for the duration of the project. Year 2 C-POD deployment locations may be adjusted based on results from Year 1.