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Protecting Ocean and Marine Species

Ocean Action Plan Updates

Here is a closer look at some of the exciting projects we are working on through the New York Ocean Action Plan:

Monitoring of Endangered and Threatened Marine Species Inshore, Offshore, and in Estuaries

Aerial image of a North Atlantic right whale at the surface of the water releasing water through it's blowhole
North Atlantic right whale
Photo Credit: NOAA/NEFSC, Peter Duley

The New York Bight is an important seasonal aggregation area for many endangered species. These species include: Atlantic Sturgeon, sea turtles, and six large whale species. The use of acoustic telemetry (receivers used to detect signals emitted from tagged marine species like sturgeon), helps monitor the movements of endangered species to be used to create effective conservation measures. Telemetry data can be used in some species to provide information on stock structure, preferred habitat, and seasonal movements. The information helps give insight into species interaction with climate change, and remains essential for shaping sound management strategies. The Acoustic Array Maintenance Project heads this effort by maintaining nearshore trawling and acoustic equipment for various species identified by the Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) designation. Acoustic backscatter measurements quantify the abundance of pelagic fish. Active acoustic data collected via survey is gathered aboard the RV Seawolf. These projects improve the scientific understanding of migrating species and identifies important aggregations and habitats. These projects are associated with multiple actions including Actions 22, 21, and 25 of the OAP.

Monitoring Survey for Large Whales in the NY Bight

The six large whale species designated as species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) within the New York Bight are: the North Atlantic right whale, sperm whale, blue whale, sei whale, fin whale, and humpback whale. In 2014, DEC held a workshop to identify feasible methodologies for monitoring and conserving large whales. Experts recommended NYS follow an integrated monitoring approach, and collect a minimum of three years of baseline data to determine basic trends. Starting in March 2017, the Large Whale Monitoring Program, has tracked the movements of large whales through monthly aerial flight observation, which determines which area will be designated as a critical habitat. In September 2017, the deployed passive acoustic buoy (link leaves DEC website) system is collecting data about whale traffic and migration patterns near commercial shipping lanes in the New York harbor. This project helps whale conservation and achieves goals laid out in Actions 19 and 20.

Monitoring Survey for Sea Turtles in the NY Bight

Image of a sea turtle on the sand with a monitoring device on its back

There are several endangered and threatened sea turtle species, such as the Loggerhead, Leatherback, Green Sea Turtle, and the Atlantic Ridley Sea Turtle, living in the NY Bight. However, very little is known about the relative abundance, distribution and behaviors of the species living in the area. In order to adequately conserve sea turtle species, the Monitor Sea Turtle Distribution and Abundance: Phase 1 project is a necessary monitoring program that assesses both distribution and abundance of sea turtles. This program provides baseline information about the seasonal use and movements of sea turtles. The data collected helps ensure sea turtles remain protected. This fall, researchers plan to hold a workshop to determine the best approach for sea turtle conservation following a similar strategy as accomplished with whales in cooperation of Action 21 of the OAP.

For more information, read NYS Conservationist article about Sea Turtles of New York (PDF, 277 KB).

Reduce the Incidental Catch of Marine Organisms

Bycatch and bycatch mortality of protected resources, such as sea turtles, Atlantic Sturgeon, and marine mammals, is one unintended consequence of commercial fishing activity. In 2015, the Fishery Observer Program, established a way to account for bycatch through collection of at-sea observed fishery data aboard NY-based vessels. This Program works with the Northeast Fisheries Observer Program (link leaves DEC website), to ensure that bycatch data is accurate and properly recorded. There is added emphasis on Atlantic Sturgeon, a federally listed endangered species, to ensure NY net fisheries can remain open without causing excessive mortality. In 2016, increased observer coverage improved bycatch estimates and fishery management decision-making. Bycatch reduction is a key goal outlined by the OAP, and helps achieve Action 9 and 25.

Two of DEC employee's releasing a large Atlantic Sturgeon into the water

Atlantic Sturgeon in the Hudson River Estuary

Atlantic Sturgeon is an anadromous fish species that uses riverine, coastal, and oceanic habitats throughout its life cycle. While harvest is prohibited, Atlantic sturgeon do suffer bycatch mortality when caught by fishers targeting other species in the New York Bight. The Atlantic Sturgeon Monitoring Project provides acoustic data about the movements and habitat use of Atlantic sturgeon. The DEC can utilize this information to minimize unintended catch and mortality of Atlantic sturgeon. Overall, the project has succeeded in identifying areas that contain critical habitat.This project works collaborates with the NMFS to monitor Atlantic Sturgeon as well as carry out a success strategy for OAP's Action 18.

Expansion of the New York Heritage Program

The New York Natural Heritage Program supports environmental stewardship of New York's rare plants, rare animals, and significant ecological communities throughout the state. Information complied by the NHP is used in permitting decisions, species and communities protection, and conservation management. The Marine Component of the Natural Heritage Program was established in 2015 to create conservation methods for threatened species living in the New York Bight. The NHP leads multiple actions within the OAP, including the identification of invasive species, and the conservation of important marine species like whales. This program provides DEC with important information, and assists in decision-making and management. An example project included the Plum Island Biodiversity Inventory (link leaves DEC website), which serves as a comprehensive, four-season inventory that documents rare plants and animals on Plum Island. The purpose: to refine the understanding of the island's ecological communities and document communities of statewide significance. This information helps future decisions regarding the potential sale and future use of Plum Island, which relates to both Action 4, 23, and 26 of the OAP.

Horseshoe Crab Population Evaluation: Inshore, Offshore, and in Estuaries

Two workers measuring the width of a horseshoe crab on the beach.

Horseshoe Crabs (HSC) (PDF, 321 KB) play an important ecological role in the marine food web. They serve as an important food source for sea birds, finfish, and sea turtles species. They also remain one of the oldest living creatures on Earth and are often referred to as "living fossils." HSC have an interesting genealogic history and their genes trace back to ancient relatives of both spider and tick species. In addition to their ecological and historical importance, HSC are harvested for bait and biomedical products. The HSC population around some parts of New York are in decline, while stable or increasing elsewhere in the state. Monitoring the migratory behavior of horseshoe crabs both temporally and spatially, can help develop effective conservation measures for horseshoe crabs. The Horseshoe Crab Monitoring Program evaluates the movement and distribution of HSC as they migrate in and out of ocean inlets. Additionally, the Horseshoe Crab Spawning Survey (link leaves DEC website), carried out by DEC and Cornell Cooperative Extension, monitors species reproduction at 13 NYS sites. The information collected by these surveys is necessary for the assessment and management of HSC, and relates to Action 24.