Friday, August 29, 2014

Back to port and headed home

Acoustic recorder deployed on a reef in northern Palau
(Photo: M. Kaplan)
After our rare opportunity to travel down to the remote Helen Reef, we headed to the very north of Palau - Kayangel - to collect visual survey data and water samples for seawater chemistry. Just like at Helen Reef, we had great support from local Rangers, who took us to our various sites on their boats during our time there.

Two days later, we were back in port in Koror. From there we continued our data collection on local boats.

Feather star (Photo: M. Kaplan)
I was able to collect approximately two-week long recordings at three reefs, in addition to a 24-hour recording on a northern reef. These data, when examined in the context of the visual survey and water chemistry data, will allow me to make inferences about links between sound production at these reefs and the physical, chemical, and biological environment present there.

Over the course of approximately 20 dives, I was able to see some great marine life, some of which I have included here. Palau's reefs are some of the nicest that I've seen. In many places I saw large fish, which are rare in many parts of the world. Palau is working to protect these resources, and is currently planning to ban commercial fishing in all of its territorial waters. If they proceed with these plans, Palau's marine resources will continue to be a big draw for tourism. Of course, increasing numbers of visitors bring with them other environmental problems.

The expedition ended with a trip to a Jellyfish Lake, an enclosed saltwater lake with very dense swarms of non-stinging jellyfish (photo below).

I am grateful to Anne Cohen and her lab for inviting me along on this great trip, the boat drivers at PICRC, and the Captain and crew of the M/V Alucia, whose hospitality and vessel support was instrumental in making this trip a success. This trip was also an opportunity for me to field test the acoustic recorders that I will be using next week in Maui, when I deploy them for approximately 4 months. While most of the recordings were flawless, a couple glitches highlighted some areas for further improvement. Without the hard work of Jim Partan and Walter Zimmer, these recorders would not exist in their current form and I am especially grateful for their engineering efforts.

Max Kaplan

Moorish idol (Photo: M. Kaplan)
Moray eel (Photo: M. Kaplan)
Octopus (Photo: M. Kaplan)
Sea cucumber (Photo: M. Kaplan)

Whitetip reef shark (Photo: M. Kaplan)
Jellyfish in Jellyfish Lake, Palau (Photo: M. Kaplan)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Helen Reef

Helen Island (M. Kaplan)
After departing Koror on Wednesday and a 30 hour steam south we arrived at Helen Reef, close to the equator and very remote. Other than three rangers that inhabit Helen Island, a small sandy island at the top of the reef, there are no other people for miles. The rangers are tasked with monitoring reef conditions and guarding against illegal fishing activity.

The rangers were also extremely helpful, taking us in their boats to a range of sites around the reef where we collected coral cores, tissue, and water samples.

After a short day-and-a-half stay we had to depart again, this time heading to the very north of Palau's archipelago. We would have been happy to stay for a few more days to further explore the beautiful reefs. One of the rangers we spoke to told us that he had been there for five years. Perhaps we wouldn't have wanted to stay quite that long.

A view from the island (M. Kaplan)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Palau: Out to Sea

Coral reef in Palau replete with juvenile fish (M. Kaplan)
It's day 3 of the Cohen Lab Palau expedition and we are heading out to sea. Since arriving on the night of August 8, we have been busy deploying instruments and collecting coral and water samples on reefs around the island of Koror, Palau. Many of the reefs that we've dived here so far are in excellent condition, and the ones that aren't have largely been affected by natural disturbances (El Nino surface water warming, typhoons, etc.).

A shallow coral lagoon in Palau (M. Kaplan)
I am on this expedition to help collect water samples to study the carbon chemistry and nutrient fluxes of reefs here, which display a natural gradient in acidity as one moves inshore and into shallow lagoons. The fact that corals can thrive in these low pH environments is surprising, given that most experiments and field studies have shown that corals struggle to maintain and grow their calcium carbonate skeleton in low pH waters.

Acoustic recording device (left) &other instruments
(M. Kaplan)

I've also been given the opportunity to collect coral reef acoustic recordings while here. My PhD research is focused on exploring links between biological sound production on coral reefs and the species assemblages present - in other words, what is the link between the sounds produced on a given reef and the fish and invertebrates that live there. Luckily, visual survey data is available for many of the reefs we are going to on this trip, courtesy of the Palau International Coral Reef Center.

At the moment we are preparing to head out to sea, first to collect offshore water samples and then to head south to some of Palau's more remote reefs. This is a rare opportunity to sample in some of these areas, and in part because access is so infrequent we are bringing fuel and a boat for the three rangers that live on one of these remote reefs.

 Max Kaplan

Friday, August 1, 2014

Back to the field

Over the last few weeks of July, Aran and I have have been preparing for separate field projects taking place this August. Aran is going back to Alaska to carry out a suite of studies on beluga whales and I am heading to Palau, collaborating with Anne Cohen's lab at WHOI to deploy acoustic recorders and collect a number of water and coral samples.

Aran in the WHOI truck, after having safely secured our hi flyer.
Our preparations were brought to an abrupt halt on Tuesday when we received word from a shark researcher that part of one of our local moorings had washed up on a beach in Harwich, on the south shore of Cape Cod. Aran and I immediately got in a truck and headed to the outer cape, where, sure enough, our hi flyer was sitting right on the beach.

This hi flyer was part of one of three moorings that we currently have deployed in Nantucket Sound, collected baseline acoustic recordings year-round. These recordings will be used to determine whether the soundscape changes after wind farm construction starts in the Sound. We periodically service these moorings, but occasionally some go missing or get damaged in the meantime. Thanks to some helpful researchers working in the area and a quick response this time, we were able to salvage at least part of this mooring.

Check back here for updates from the field over the next few weeks as Aran and I check in from our respective field projects.

Max Kaplan

Thursday, July 31, 2014

It's not even August at it feels like the summer is wrapping up already!  We have been busy with conducting Ocean Acidification experiments, deploying acoustic moorings in Horseshoe Shoals, tagging toadfish and various other science projects. Today, Doriane Wheeler gives her end of summer talk to the WHOI Biology Department on the behavior of paralarval squid raised in different CO2 (Ocean Acidification) conditions.

Mooney Lab Undergrad Summer Crew: Jessie, Doriane, Aran, and Greg. Thanks !