MELBOURNE, FLA. — The wave action, which creates turbidity, makes it difficult to get a good look at the marine life on the near-shore reefs off the coast of
Indian River County. The same problem exists on the artificial reefs made of limestone boulders located in shallow coastal waters.
Renourishment activities may impact the near-shore reefs. This makes it important to have a better understanding of the role of these reefs as habitat for
algae, fish, turtles and other animals. This information will help scientists and engineers minimize negative impacts and design better artificial reefs to
compensate for impacts.
About to get a very good look at the edge of the surf zone with some high-tech tools are two Florida Tech faculty members. Associate Professor of Biology
Jonathan Shenker and Associate Professor of Oceanography and Environmental Science Elizabeth Irlandi collaborated to earn a $250,000 contract from the
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to monitor and evaluate the condition of these reefs.
“Clear water along the beach is pretty rare, making it difficult to view the reefs and understand their ecology during most of the year. What happens on
the reefs at night is virtually unknown. We would love to dive on those reefs at night, but the combination of murky water and all the sharks in the area
that feed nocturnally make night dives a rather dumb idea,” said Shenker.
To examine the reefs in turbid or dark waters, the grant will fund student support using advanced sonar technology. Irlandi and her students will use a
RoxAnn™ hydroacoustic system for sonar characterization of the reef structures and organisms attached to the surface.
The funding will also support the rental of a DIDSON™ (Dual Frequency Identification Sonar) device, which provides sonar imaging of bottom structures,
fish, turtles and other marine life for use by Shenker and his students.
The teams will do most of their monitoring from small boats and will conduct some diving surveys when conditions permit. Shenker and Irlandi look forward
to the images of reefs, sharks, turtles, tarpon and pompano that typically inhabit the areas they will monitor.
“This will allow us to get a good look at the sea bottom, count and measure fish and see what parts of the reefs the sea turtles favor,” said Shenker.
“With the DIDSON sonar, we’ll see such clear pictures we’ll be able to watch and count fish as small as one-inch-long anchovies in pitch darkness. We’ll
also learn about where they hunt.”
The research, to start in August and be completed by summer 2008, will be a springboard to learning more about what kinds of reefs are most effective in
attracting quantities of healthy marine life.