Exeter Marine Podcast – Coral Reef Bioacoustics Part I, with Prof. Steve Simpson

 

Show notes

In this episode Professor Steve Simpson talks to us about his research covering a number of topics focusing primarily on his bioacoustics work on coral reefs. He also discusses his work on Blue Planet 2 and recalls an encounter with David Attenborough.

 


 

About our guest: Steve Simpson

Professor Steve Simpson is a marine biologist and fish ecologist. His research focuses on the behaviour of coral reef fishes, bioacoustics, the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems, fisheries, conservation and management. Following a NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellowship Steve has ongoing links with industry and policy on the themes of European Fisheries and Climate Change, and Anthropogenic Noise and Marine Ecosystems. Steve works closely with Cefas and the Met Office, and is an active member of the IQOE Science Committee, he has been an Academic Advisor and featured scientist in Blue Planet 2

Steve’s work combines fieldwork, often through expeditions to remote and challenging environments around the world, with laboratory-based behaviour experiments, data-mining, and computer modelling.

Steve’s research focuses on:

  • The impact of anthropogenic noise on marine ecosystems.
  • The effects of climate change on fish and fisheries.
  • Sensory and orientation behaviour of marine organisms.
  • Dispersal, connectivity and biogeography.
  • Coral reef restoration.
  • Fisheries and Conservation Management.

 


 

 

Topics discussed:

  • Bioacoustics of coral reefs.
  • How underwater sound can reveal animals we rarely observe visually on coral reefs.
  • How fish choose communities to live in by listening.
  • Is the underwater world silent?
  • How do underwater species hear?
  • How do you record an underwater soundscape?
  • Blue Planet 2 and David Attenborough.

 

Resources:

TEDx 2019 Talk: Changing the Soundtrack of the Ocean

BBC Earth Film: Underwater acoustics work

Agile Rabbit Talk: Underwater Sound in Blue Planet II

Facebook Live: Q&A Session

Article: Exeter marine expert awarded prestigious medal for scientific contribution

Twitter

 


 

Episode and show notes produced by Ben Toulson and Katie Finnimore.

Check out other episodes of the podcast here.

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#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Emily Easman or visit our website!

 

IPCC Research Confidence in the field of Coral Reef Futures – Jennifer McWhorter

Research Confidence in the field of Coral Reef Futures

(Based on IPCC 2019 Report, Chapter 5, Changing Ocean, Marine Ecosystems, and Dependent Communities)

Author, Jennifer McWhorter, PhD Candidate QUEX (Universities of Queensland and Exeter)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) consists of a team of top researchers and scientists advising global climate action. Recently, the IPCC wrote a special report updating research findings pertaining to 1.5 ℃ of warming, of particular interest to my field of research is the section on coral reefs. Based on Chapter 5 of the latest IPCC report (Bindoff, N.L et al., 2019), I have highlighted the consensus of scientific research by summarizing key topics of coral reef research by research confidence. In italics are statements summarized from the report.

 

Very High Confidence Overview of Research

Some alarming numbers on the future of coral reefs were confidently stated in the latest IPCC report, “coral reefs are projected to decline by a further 70-90% at 1.5 ℃ with larger losses (>99%) at 2 ℃ ”. Since the industrial revolution in the 19th century, human activities have contributed to approximately 1.0 ℃ of global warming. At our current rate of emissions, global warming is estimated to reach 1.5 ℃ between 2030 and 2052. (IPCC, 2019: Summary for Policymakers). To give you some perspective on those numbers, future generations will have a difficult time finding coral reefs in the state in which we have had the privilege of experiencing them.

The corals in the image above were photographed two months apart showing the effect of the last warming event at Pixie Reef, just north of Cairns, on the Great Barrier Reef. On the left, the corals are healthy and then two months later, the image on the right shows many of the same corals are stressed and near mortality (bleached or white in colour). (Photo credit: Brett Monroe Garner)

 

High Confidence Overview of Research

When the human body has a weakened immune system, such as experiencing chemotherapy from cancer treatment, a common cold or flu can be detrimental, leading to a worsened state or even death. Coral reefs facing multiple disturbances such as warming and ocean acidification, reef dissolution and bioerosion, enhanced storm intensity, enhanced turbidity, and/or enhanced run-off have a lower chance of recovery. In the future, when faced with multiple threats, there will be a shift in species composition and biodiversity. This shift will be towards soft corals and algal dominated reefs as opposed to reef building corals. Albeit, regional differences in levels of reef vulnerability exist on a scale of 100 km or by latitudinal gradients.

The image above portrays an example of the shift in dominance from reef building corals to a dominance of non-coral organisms, such as the pictured ascidian, Didemnum molle and algae in Palau, Micronesia. (Photo credit: Dr. Kennedy Wolfe)

 

Medium Confidence Overview of Research

Record breaking warm water temperatures during 2014-2017 resulted in severe and wide-spread global coral mortality (Eakin et al., 2019). The reefs that have survived this event have a higher thermal threshold resulting in a dominance of species that are not as sensitive and have a high adaptive capacity. Is this a glimmer of hope? Perhaps but, it is important to note that this is the category of medium confidence of an overview of the research.

Branching corals are typically less resilient in warm water conditions than stony, non-branching corals (Hughes et al., 2018). This juvenile Acropora (branching coral) offers hope of recovery on a reef in Palau, Micronesia. (Photo credit: Dr. Kennedy Wolfe)

In a physical world, the ocean is complex, different zones of the ocean experience various conditions in space and time. Coral reef habitats are not uniform. Deeper coral reefs (30-150m) and upwelling zones may serve as a refuge and source of larval supply to disturbed reefs. On the contrary, these reefs could be more at risk than suggested.

Low Confidence Overview of Research

Coral reefs require certain light and temperature conditions in order to grow. The rate of sea level rise may outpace coral growth. Sea level rise would send corals into deeper habitats potentially limiting these ideal light and temperature conditions.

Resilience and adaptation is broadly still unknown, few reefs are showing resilience. Luckily, some of the best in the world are working hard to close this gap.

In Palau, Micronesia, Professor Peter Mumby descends onto the reef. Pete’s Marine Spatial Ecology Lab conducts research into coral reef ecosystems, fisheries, modeling, and socioeconomics. (Photo credit: Dr. Kennedy Wolfe)

Support climate change research initially by learning about it. Thank you for reading.

You can follow Jen on Twitter to keep up to date with her research!

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, biological,  medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields.

Find us on: Facebook : Twitter : Instagram : LinkedIn  

If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

 

References:

Bindoff, N.L., W.W.L. Cheung, J.G. Kairo, J. Arístegui, V.A. Guinder, R. Hallberg, N. Hilmi, N. Jiao, M.S. Karim, L. Levin, S. O’Donoghue, S.R. Purca Cuicapusa, B. Rinkevich, T. Suga, A. Tagliabue, and P. Williamson, 2019: Changing Ocean, Marine Ecosystems, and Dependent Communities. In: IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, M. Tignor, E. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Nicolai, A. Okem, J. Petzold, B. Rama, N.M. Weyer (eds.)]. In press.

Eakin, C. Mark, Hugh PA Sweatman, and Russel E. Brainard. “The 2014–2017 global-scale coral bleaching event: insights and impacts.” Coral Reefs 38.4 (2019): 539-545.

Hughes, T. P., Kerry, J. T., Baird, A. H., Connolly, S. R., Dietzel, A., Eakin, C. M., … & McWilliam, M. J. (2018). Global warming transforms coral reef assemblages. Nature, 556(7702), 492.

IPCC, 2019: Summary for Policymakers. In: IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, M. Tignor, E. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Nicolai, A. Okem, J. Petzold, B. Rama, N.M. Weyer (eds.)]. In press.

A Day in the Life of a Marine Bioacoustics Intern

Words by Ellie May and Ben Williams, ExeterMarine Undergraduate Students

 

Hi there, this is Ellie May and Ben Williams giving you an update on our current trip to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi to assist Tim Gordon and Lucille Chapius in looking at the soundscapes of healthy and degraded reefs. We are currently based in the city of Makassar, where we take one of MARS symbioscience’s boat out to the islands of Bontasua and Badi to measure the acoustic complexity, richness and invertebrate snap rates of different spots around the reef. Our first day out on the islands consisted of observing and understanding the scale of restoration provided by MARS via their spider systems, in which they attach fragments of healthy reef colonies to a metal spider structure in order to promote growth in degraded areas. Our interest is understanding whether adult fish respond to the soundscapes of different reefs, and whether playing recordings of healthy soundscapes will increase not only the abundance of fish but also their rate of grazing.

The spider structures used by MARS to promote coral growth.

A typical dive day consists of being up at 7.30am to prepare our equipment and make any final adjustments before we head out to the islands at 9am. A member of the MARS team will take us to the relevant reef spot, where we deploy hydrophones to sample the baseline of the reef at various times of the day. GoPro’s are set up adjacent to the hydrophones in order to test the quality of sound they record in comparison to the hydrophones. Both Ben and I have our own side projects we are working on throughout the duration of our time here. I’m trying to prove that GoPro’s can be just as useful as hydrophones in recording reef soundscapes, which then allows any individual with access to a GoPro and free coding applications to discriminate between key components of sound, massively increasing the data sets researchers can use to measure reef health.

Our daily commute!

 

During our first week, our time was split between days in the water and daily trips to the local hardware stores in order to find extra bits of equipment we needed, and safe to say we had to be pretty inventive! However, as the days pass, we’re all getting into the swing of things and learning which tasks need prioritising and where we individually fit in to the project. During our days in the water we are constantly moving between locations to record as much as possible, as well as setting up quadrats to measure fish grazing rate in response to healthy reef sound played through our underwater speaker.

Part of our Speaker system that needs to stay dry!

 

We usually return to Makassar’s port by 5pm, cram all our equipment into a ‘Grab’ taxi and head back to our accommodation for a debrief and evening plan. Luckily as food is so cheap we tend to go out for dinner every night, and try to sample a mix of local Indonesian food as well as a few more Western cuisines. Gado-Gado is our favourite local dish and we have a tally of how many our team can eat within the approximate month we are all staying here, as this is the only vegetarian Indonesian dish we have found as of yet!

Ben setting up our hydrophone and GoPro system.

 

After supper and a debrief we get on with preparing everything for the next day in the field, whether that be making slight adjustments to the equipment to decrease set up time or cutting and editing our audio recordings to make the data analysis in the future a lot less time consuming. We tend to get relatively early nights here as everyone is usually shattered after a long day that is both mentally and physically taxing! Often in the evenings Ben and I reflect on how truly privileged we are to be able to learn about bioacoustics on such beautiful and diverse reefs, and be able to have a first-hand insight into the incredible work MARS are doing on coral restoration. To be able to see both the logistical planning and fieldwork skills it takes to organise and run such a project is amazing, especially as a current undergraduate. Observing the differences between the restored and untouched reefs really consolidates how important restoration projects are, and hopefully there is a much wider community finally realising that big changes are needed in order to save the biodiversity of our reefs.

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, biological,  medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields.

Find us on: Facebook : Twitter : Instagram : LinkedIn  

If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!