Monday, September 15, 2014

One more mooring in the water

Crown of thorns starfish devouring a coral
Lots of three-dimensional structure at Honolua Bay, where
instruments were deployed on Saturday.
After Thursday's boat issues and some small fixes here and there, we hoped that the boat would be issue-free and run perfectly come Friday morning. Our hopes were dashed early on when, after putting the boat back in the water, it failed to start. Eventually we resigned ourselves to the fact that this boat needed a more thorough fix than something we could provide. A few hours of searching for boats ensued and ultimately we were offered two boats to borrow. So on Friday and then again on Saturday we went out on the Whale Trust's Charles B II, managing to deploy one recorder on each day. Saturday's deployment was in Honolua Bay, a popular snorkel and dive site. This site had lots of physical structure and many different fish species, although there was much dead coral overgrown with turf algae.

On Monday we are getting another boat that will help us continue to deploy instruments through the middle of this week. As a result of the generosity of several people, we may yet succeed in deploying all of the instruments that we initially planned on.


Octopus at Honolua Bay

Friday, September 12, 2014

Coral reef soundscape study: Maui, HI

EAR acoustic recorder boards
ready to program



Today marked the first field deployment of a project that has been several months in the making. I am in Maui, working with Marc Lammers and Eden Zang of Oceanwide Science Institute, which is based here in Maui. The purpose of this investigation is to comprehensively study coral reef soundscapes and link them to the biota on those reefs. To do this, we have selected several reefs from all along the west coast of Maui.

We are deploying two types of acoustic recording device: the EAR, developed by Marc, and the DMON, developed at WHOI. The last few months have involved tireless work on the DMON by Jim Partan, a WHOI engineer, and after some lessons learned from field testing in Palau last month, Jim has made the DMON as robust as possible. The first of many went in the water today and, a few months from now, we will see how they fared.

Back in business
Marc with the faulty
ignition coil
The first days of this expedition went very smoothly and involved pouring concrete moorings to affix the recorders to and preparing the instruments for deployment. Today was our first field day, and from the beginning, things felt a little different. To our immense dismay, the boat we are using did not start once in the water. After a few hours of peering into the engine compartment, with the help of a mechanic who happened to be at the boat ramp, we had identified what we thought at the time was our problem - a broken ignition coil. A quick trip to an auto parts store for the part and we were almost back in business. However, in our earlier attempts to start the engine, we had killed the battery! Back to the store for a new battery, and we finally made it out to sea.

Instruments deployed
We deployed our instruments on a patch reef and carried out visual surveys for coral cover and fish diversity right then. The recorders will be out for 4-5 months, and we hypothesize that the recordings will vary considerably among different reefs. But how different are the deployment sites in what lives there and their 3-dimensional structure? That remains to be seen.

Max Kaplan


A large turtle resting on the reef as we carry out our visual surveys

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 !