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On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the US Gulf Coast. The destruction was widespread across the states of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. One of the casualties of the storm was a small building at the Gulf Coast Research Lab in Gulf Shores, Mississippi (Figure 1a+b). While the building itself may not have been a great loss, the invaluable contents were. This building housed the Southeast Assessment and Monitoring Program (SEAMAP) sample archive.

The SEAMAP program is one of the longest, continuous, surveys of plankton and fish in US waters and even global coastal waters. The surveys cover a huge extent of the northern Gulf of Mexico and have been regularly collected since 1982 (Figure 2). While the larval fish in the samples have been sorted and identified, the rest of the plankton in the samples have for the large part never been analyzed. At a time when scientist and managers are trying to understand the effects of climate change on ecosystems and the critical role of the marine environment in carbon cycling, the loss of such an incredible database that has the potential to answer so many of these questions was a devastating consequence of the storm.

Hurricane Katrina caused heavy damage to the GCRL where the SEAMAP Plankton Archive was housed.
Fig 1a: Hurricane Katrina caused heavy damage to the GCRL where the SEAMAP Plankton Archive was housed.

Hurricane Katrina caused heavy damage to the GCRL where the SEAMAP Plankton Archive was housed.
Fig 1b: Hurricane Katrina caused heavy damage to the GCRL where the SEAMAP Plankton Archive was housed.

Fortunately, many of the samples survived and have been recovered from the wreckage. This catastrophic event revealed clearly how vulnerable physical samples can be and what a wealth of information is not available to the science community because due to the labor-intensive nature of sample analysis, the zooplankton portion of these samples has not been analyzed. We felt there was a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to establish a method to archive and analyze these samples. Through funding from the National Marine Fisheries Marine Fisheries Initiative Program (NMFS MARFIN Program), we have begun this task. We are utilizing digital scanning methods and semi-automated plankton identification techniques to create a secure, digital, archive of all the remaining samples and to begin to analyze the content of those samples to answer important ecological questions about the Gulf of Mexico.

Locations of SEAMAP fixed sampling stations in the Gulf of Mexico. Figure reproduced from Lyczkowski-Shultz and Hanisko (In Press). Used with permission.
Fig 2: Locations of SEAMAP fixed sampling stations in the Gulf of Mexico.
Figure reproduced from Lyczkowski-Shultz and Hanisko (In Press). Used with permission.