Teacher Under the Sea

Teacher Under the Sea & Behavior and Movement of Coral Reef Fishes in a No-Take Marine Reserve

Principal Investigator: Dr. James Lindholm, California State University Monterey Bay

Training: November 3 — 7
Mission: November 11 — 20

The November Aquarius mission has two main areas of focus: embedding a teacher in a science mission for the first time and following his experience through online broadcasts, blogs, and interaction and to investigate the detailed movement and behavior of fish on Conch Reef, a no-take zone within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Marine protected areas (MPAs), and their more restrictive subset called no-take marine reserves, are areas in the ocean in which some or all human activities are excluded. To be successful, marine reserves must contain within their boundaries the animals and associated habitats that are targeted for protection and needed for a healthy ecosystem. This is fairly straightforward to understand for creatures and habitats that move very little, but it is much more challenging for animals such as coral reef fishes, many of which move throughout the day.

A team of scientists led by Dr. James Lindholm will use Aquarius to evaluate where fishes go and the how they interact with the seafloor. Their results will help to determine the effectiveness of the no-take reserve at Conch Reef and to help design other marine protected areas were similar fish species are targeting for protection. Working side-by-side with the science team and interacting with students, educators and the public during the mission will be two high school teachers chosen from a nation-wide pool of applicants. Mark Tohulka from MAST Academy in Miami will be part of the underwater aquanaut team, and Steven Houwen from Alameda High School in Colorado will participate as an aquanaut alternate in training and part of the science crew at the surface. While assisting with research, both Mark and Steve will be participating in live broadcasts from underwater, blogging, video conferencing with classrooms, and interacting online with the public.

November’s research will build on the results from Dr. Lindholm’s previous missions to Aquarius during which he surgically implanted acoustic transmitters in fish on Conch Reef and monitored their movements using an array of acoustic receivers deployed on the seafloor. Saturation diving made possible underwater surgical techniques that put minimal stress on the fish. Findings revealed broad patterns of fish movement on Conch Reef, principally within the boundaries of the established no-take reserve surrounding Aquarius. Fish that did swim outside of the boundaries of the reserve generally made only brief excursions. Data suggested that for the fish studied, including parrotfish, black grouper, yellowtail snapper, and hogfish, they tend to stay within the area of Conch Reef most of the year.

The November mission will focus on obtaining more detailed data to better determine how fish behavior and movement relate to the structure of the seafloor at Conch Reef and how this behavior varies throughout the day. The behavior of black grouper, blue parrotfish, and hogfish will be observed directly by divers and videotaped. Use of Aquarius and saturation diving will allow the team extended dive times, up to 9 hours per day, to observe, track and videotape fish on Conch Reef.

As part of the mission, an animated 3-dimensional video depicting the habitat around Aquarius will be created and incorporate fish movements previously documented. This will be an exciting new tool to visualize the Conch Reef site, the behavior of fish in a coral reef, and scientific data.