Thursday, April 11, 2013

New field project: coral reef soundscapes in the US Virgin Islands National Park 11-22 April 2013

The US Virgin Islands

Aran, Max, and Samantha Zacarias, a Guest Student in the lab, are en route to the Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station to start up a new field project. The research station is located on St John, US Virgin Islands inside the Virgin Islands National Park. This project’s goal is to learn more about what factors affect the ‘soundscape’ of a coral reef. Because many animals that live on coral reefs make sound, we’re testing the hypothesis that a more species rich and diverse reef ecosystem will also have a more diverse soundscape. To investigate this we will be carrying out visual and photographic surveys while SCUBA diving and we will also be deploying a range of acoustic recorders to learn more about how the soundscape varies both within a site and between sites. Some of these recorders will be deployed for a short period of time (24 hours) and others will be left for up to 4 months, recording intermittently on a ‘duty cycle’. We will also be recording some environmental parameters during the 4-month period including ambient light intensity, temperature, and salinity, which are important factors in determining coral reef health.

Samantha and Aran with our (extensive) luggage waiting for the ferry from St Thomas to St John, USVI

One of the acoustic recorders that we’re using – the DMON – was developed at WHOI and we have expanded its capabilities in order to add in duty cycling. This project could not have gone ahead without the huge amount of effort put in by Jim Partan, an engineer at WHOI. Jim’s efforts to add in duty cycling capabilities and exhaustively test these new devices were critical in allowing us to carry out this investigation. Other engineers who have also worked incredibly hard on making this work are Dan Bogorff and Steve Faluotico, and the efforts of these three allowed us to collect the instruments late last night, 3 hours before heading to the airport.

Thanks are also due to Rob Lewis, who pressure tested these new devices as soon as they were ready to ensure that they would stand up to the rigors of a 4-month deployment. Additionally, Tom DeCarlo and Marshall Swartz provided assistance late yesterday with ensuring that our new salinity data loggers were working correctly. Modern oceanographic research often depends on collaborations and it is only as a result of those collaborations we are able to ask this question of how biodiversity influences the soundscape of Caribbean coral reefs.  

Follow along on this research blog for updates over the next 10 days.

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