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Listen In: Acoustic Monitoring of Estuarine Communities Facing Ecosystem Change

Listen In: Acoustic Monitoring of Estuarine Communities Facing Ecosystem Change

Acoustic monitoring offers an unobtrusive way to study aquatic life. (Photo credit: Thomas Swafford)

This project brought together academic leaders in bioacoustics, estuarine ecology, and fisheries ecology with reserve research, education and stewardship staff to develop a framework to integrate acoustic monitoring into reserve programs throughout the southeast region.

The project

Soundscape ecology is a promising new field that studies the sounds produced above and below water using a variety of acoustic sensors. Passive listening devices, such as hydrophones, can be used to monitor biodiversity and animal behavior, including shrimp feeding, fish courtship and reproduction, and marine mammal communication. Soundscapes can also provide insight to ecosystem health and function. Despite growing enthusiasm, there are many challenges and questions related to how best to collect, process, and interpret acoustic data for management applications. This one-year project launched a regional collaboration to leverage expertise and resources to advance acoustic monitoring for use in stewardship, research and education.

The project team collaborated with NERR research, stewardship and education staff as well as state fisheries agencies, resource managers, and conservation groups to ensure that the monitoring framework produced usable information that addressed specific management needs. Based on input from the two user groups, the team developed a monitoring framework that included placing hydrophones at System-Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) stations and monitoring targeted sites of interest within each NERR. Meetings and workshops provided opportunities to develop and refine the framework and identify strategies for integrating research activities within existing NERR programs. 

The impact

  • The project team created an infographic-based booklet about acoustics that can be shared among other NERRs and management agencies to stimulate interest and support in acoustic monitoring. This tool provides an overview of acoustic monitoring in aquatic ecosystems, including sources of sound, metrics for measurement, data collection and analysis, and applications for habitat assessment, stewardship, and education.
  • Team members and regional habitat managers worked together via meetings, workshops, and other activities to identify specific research questions and co-develop a detailed and actionable strategy for pursuing future funding opportunities by the NERR Science Collaborative and other relevant funding opportunities.

Project partners

Texas Parks and Wildlife, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, The Nature Conservancy, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Florida Sea Grant, Florida International University, University of South Carolina, University of South Carolina - Beaufort, University of Texas at Austin