All Things Fishy
Dr. Steve Ross is native Tar Heel who took to the water at a young age. He spent lots of time at the shore as a kid, and learned how to sail early on. He soon found his life began to revolve around boats. He started sailing more, handling the sheets on Sunfish, Flying Scots, and Lightnings.
Dr. Ross did his undergraduate work at Duke University, and was first exposed to a career with fish when he got a summer job sampling fish for an environmental impact study. He soon earned a Master’s degree from the University of North Carolina, after which he worked for seven years for the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries. It was during this time that he realized, to study the things he was really interested in, he would need a Ph.D. While living on a sailboat, he completed his doctorate at North Carolina State University, studying estuarine fishes’ survival versus habitat quality.
Much of Dr. Ross’s recent work has been looking at fish communities in deep-sea areas off the Southeast Atlantic. One study looked at fish populations in sargassum beds, comparing those species found in the seaweed to those in open water around it. Another looked at species distributions off Cape Hatteras compared to those in Norfolk Canyon. While it is common to think that the ocean is one big fishbowl, Dr. Ross showed that there are distinct biogeographic provinces in the ocean. This has implications for fisheries, as protecting habitat for one species may not provide protection for other species that may be found with it but do not use the same areas for spawning or nurseries.
On the Deepwater Canyons Expedition, the fish sampling so far has used the ROV. Several sites have been surveyed, and in a preliminary fashion it can be said that different species of fish occur along the axis of the canyon and at different depths in the canyon. Each species finds the niche that it is most easily able to exploit for its survival. This again can complicate managing the area for habitat preservation.
Dr. Ross is involved in all of the work going on literally 24 hours a day. We have been sampling substrate, the water column, benthic infauna, and with the ROV collecting corals, for genetic studies, and all manner of fish and other animals, to be used for isotope studies to determine food webs. These have all been preserved for identification. Other long term studies include the coral physiology studies with Dr. Sandra Brooke, and all the data on water and sediment that will be recovered along with the benthic landers a year from now.
Perhaps the most fascinating days for me were the two spent exploring the cold water seep. This area of the canyon is actively releasing methane into the water. Like the more familiar vents along the mid-Atlantic Ridge, the cold water seep attracts a whole group of animals that feed on the bacteria that use the methane as a food source. First discovered by Barbara Hecker in 1983 using a camera tow, the exact location was not known. But now there is a whole new methane seep to study, the most northern one on the US east coast found to date.
I have enjoyed learning about the science involved in this expedition and meeting all the interesting scientists and NOAA crew members. I want to thank them all for putting up with my endless questions and letting me participate in their work.
I hear the first few days off the boat I could be landsick.