The Center is organized into three National Ocean Service (NOS) teams and three National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) teams conducting research on coastal and estuarine ecology, fishery productivity and protected species conservation. Ecological research is directed at five types of coastal stressors: 1) pollution, such as nutrients and mercury; 2) land and resource use; 3) extreme events, such as hurricanes and harmful algal blooms: 4) global climate change; and 5) invasive species. The Center provides scientific information to coastal managers useful for their roles as coastal stewards and decision makers. NOAA managed marine sanctuaries and estuarine reserves, as well as estuaries and coastal waters, are areas of special emphasis. We describe, map and characterize coastal habitats such as salt marshes, seagrass meadows and coral reefs to develop an understanding of the processes that determine their functioning and utilization by humans and other species. A primary use of this knowledge is to plan and monitor restoration of damaged habitats. In addition, the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas is a related subject of current research.
Fisheries research emphasizes development of stock assessments for commercially important species in the South Atlantic and Gulf coasts. This work involves understanding critical life history characteristics and the impact of harvest, environmental variability and natural mortality on population dynamics. Reef fish and menhaden populations are of special concern with long term data sets exceeding thirty years. Supporting research includes habitat dependence, ecosystem modeling, food web definition, physiology, genetics and oceanography. Marine mammal and sea turtle biological studies are conducted to better sustain these protected species.
Sophisticated ecological, chemical, biochemical and satellite imagery methodologies are used in the course of these studies. The Information Technology Group provides computing and statistical assistance, satellite imagery, and GIS and library resources used by other research groups within the Center. These resources, publications and data outputs of our research are shared with the wider academic and governmental research communities. A growing area of our efforts seeks to turn our scientific understanding into predictions and ecological forecasts for use by the public.