UNCW Professor Receives National Award for Study of Atlantic Ocean Canyons

Friday, November 20, 2015

WILMINGTON, NC – University of North Carolina Wilmington research professor Steve Ross has received national recognition for a project he co-led studying deep-sea canyons of the Mid-Atlantic and the diverse ecosystems they support. The research, done in collaboration with scientists from other institutions and funded through federal grants, won the 2015 Excellence in Partnering Award from the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP).

The project, “Atlantic Canyons: Pathways to the Abyss,” came about as a result of increased interest in developing offshore oil and gas resources. Federal agencies targeted the canyons and their unique ecosystems as areas of environmental concern. The NOPP award is the second for the five-year project. Last year, it won the Department of the Interior’s Partners in Conservation Award. The research is led by Ross, a fisheries biologist, and Sandra Brooke of Florida State University.

“Our findings have led to proposed federal protection of these canyons and the marine life that thrives within them, said Ross, who is based at the UNCW Center for Marine Science. “Not only has this been recognized as good research, but it has resulted in a strong resource management component as well.” 

Among the variety of marine life the research team found thriving in the canyons and around the methane seeps that occur in the region were deep-sea corals, including a coldwater species known as Lophelia, and 123 species of fish.

In addition to UNCW and FSU, the research team included scientists from Wales, the Netherlands, the University of Rhode Island, Oregon State University, Texas A&M University, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the U.S. Geological Survey and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. The group’s work was featured in the October issue of Chesapeake Quarterly.

NOPP is collaboration among federal agencies, including the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and USGS, that promotes ocean-related research partnerships, with a focus on developing interagency initiatives to manage and protect our ocean resources. The partnership award will be presented at February’s Ocean Sciences 2016 Conference in New Orleans.

-- Tricia Vance


Bubblegum coral
Cusk and coral

Photos: Bubblegum coral; cusk and coral. Photo credit: Steve Ross