The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) has conducted the first real-world seismic experiment to determine the effects of marine noise on fish and pearl oysters.
The experiment, which took 12 months to design and co-ordinate and the collaborative efforts of more than 100 people, has the potential to clarify some of the issues around marine noise (namely seismic surveys and vessel operations).
Using a seismic vessel, the BGP Explorer, the researchers surveyed two sites northwest of Western Australia over the course of 10 days.
AIMS Project Science Leader Dr Mark Meekan said the experiment was unique.
“It is the first time anyone has had a dedicated seismic vessel to look at the effects of seismic energy on pearl oysters and on fish,” Dr Meekan said.
“This is an enormous piece of research, the answers are not going to apply just to Australia, they’ll be important internationally.”
Seismic surveys are a key activity used during maritime oil exploration. During the surveys sound is repeatedly produced underwater to create a detailed picture of below the sea floor, allowing explorers to accurately identify oil and gas beneath the surface.
In this instance, rather than looking for oil and gas, the study is looking specifically at pearl oysters (Pinctada maxima) and red emperor, which are commercially important indicator species for other demersal fish.
The researchers tagged 390 red emperors and are tracking the fish through an array of 96 acoustic receivers as well as using remotely-controlled underwater video systems to document their movements before, during and after exposure to the seismic sound.
Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development Acting Regional Manager, Ellen Smith, said looking into the effect of seismic activities on demersal fish was important because their abundance and biodiversity is an indicator of the health of an ecosystem.
“We want to find out if fish change their behaviour and leave the area, stop spawning, hide or return to normal,” Ms Smith said.
“If we know how demersal fish react we can manage our fisheries appropriately to ensure long-term sustainability.”
More information on the North West Shoals to Shore Research Program can be found here.