Listen In: Acoustic Monitoring of Estuarine Communities Facing Ecosystem Change

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

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

  • Acoustic monitoring can be conducted in a range of habitat types, below and above water. (Photo credit: Dennis Allen)

    Acoustic monitoring can be conducted in a range of habitat types, below and above water. (Photo credit: Dennis Allen)

  • This shows passive acoustic monitoring using a very sensitive listening device to capture sounds underwater. (Design by Tim Devine, USCB Graphics Manager, reprinted from Monczak et al. 2017: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12322)

    This shows passive acoustic monitoring using a very sensitive listening device to capture sounds underwater. (Design by Tim Devine, USCB Graphics Manager, reprinted from Monczak et al. 2017: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12322)

  • A hydrophone is a commonly used tool for passive acoustic monitoring. (Photo credit: Tyler Loughran)

    A hydrophone is a commonly used tool for passive acoustic monitoring. (Photo credit: Tyler Loughran)

  • This shows active acoustic monitoring using sonar equipment from a boat. (Credit: Madeline Wukusick)

    This shows active acoustic monitoring using sonar equipment from a boat. (Credit: Madeline Wukusick)

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 marine mammal communication.  Active acoustic monitoring, such as sonar, offers a non-invasive way to quantitatively examine habitats and animal distribution and abundance. Despite growing enthusiasm, there are many challenges and questions related to the new technology, including how best to collect, process, and interpret acoustic data for management applications. This one-year project aims to catalyze a multi-sector regional collaboration that can leverage expertise and resources to advance acoustic monitoring for use in stewardship, research and education.

This project will bring academic leaders in bioacoustics, estuarine ecology, and fisheries ecology together with managers and staff from three National Estuarine Research Reserves through a series of planning meetings, workshops, and team-building activities. The group will collaboratively develop a framework for a new acoustic research and monitoring program that can be integrated with current programs in the reserves.  Smaller workgroups will outline protocols, data streams, and potential applications and products, which will help project partners integrate and expand their existing acoustic monitoring capacity. In addition to developing a funding strategy and implementation framework, the project team will create an infographic-based booklet about acoustics that can be shared with the broader community to stimulate interest and support for proposed acoustic monitoring ideas.