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The sound of restoration: do artificial reefs enhance marine sound:

By Ben Williams and Isla Hely - Masters by Research in Biological Sciencesscapes?r title

We were excited to be awarded an Exeter Marine Student Project Grant early in 2020 to conduct work studying marine soundscapes in Mauritius. Marine soundscapes are becoming a valuable method of rapid biodiversity and habitat assessment, with novel habitats constantly being explored to advance this field. We had identified a significant knowledge gap that focuses on shipwrecks as artificial reefs, whereby ships are scuttled to provide new habitat to help restore local ecosystems. The discovery of a unique opportunity in Mauritius provided us the opportunity to explore this.

Unfortunately, our planned visit to Mauritius in 2020 had to be postponed due to the pandemic and also due to an oil spill in Wakashio. We were disappointed we weren’t able to conduct our original proposal but are confident we are able to deliver an equally exciting and impactful project with a new focus that has benefited from the increased experience we have both obtained over the last nine months.

We have been able to identify related questions we can address at a new study site that offers us the opportunity to conduct similar work to that originally proposed, but also benefitting from the past 9-months of desk-based research, at the Centre de Recherches Insulaires et Observatoire de l’Environnement (CRIOBE) in French Polynesia. Here we have developed an opportunity to deliver three projects:

  • Ben Williams will continue to advance soundscape ecology following breakthrough work conducted during lockdown using machine learning to classify reef health. This will use low cost AudioMoth recorders in a coral reef setting for the first time. This offers the chance to conduct the largest reef soundscape survey to date.
  • Isla Hely will work closely with collaborators at CRIOBE who are conducting a large artificial light at night (ALAN) experiment. This will progress work conducted during lockdown using hours of video of fish behaviour, where Isla has successfully deciphered many of the varied vocalisations of the Orange Fin Clownfish. Isla will explore daytime impacts of ALAN on the behavioural ecology of this model organism and its communication.
  • Both researchers will test for differences in the soundscape around ALAN-exposed sites using acoustic recorders. This will reveal for the first time whether shifts in the soundscape of ALAN exposed sites creates a multi-sensory change for organisms present on reef habitats.

I’m pleased to say we completed all the Restart, Health & Safety, Insurance, Diving, Covid and CRIOBE paperwork needed for our trip, and we safely travelled to French Polynesia to commence our fieldwork in early January.

We would like to thank you for your support which has made this opportunity possible. Support from the Exeter Marine Fund has allowed us to travel to Moorea, contribute towards bench fees to work at the CRIOBE, and will also cover some of the costs of the diving and boating activities needed to conduct the research.

Over the course of our 12 weeks in French Polynesia, we are planning to vlog our experience and document our work on social media. You can keep track of our fieldwork by visiting the Exeter Marine Blog.