Drawn to the Sea

When Patrick Rynne contacted me on December 11th of last year, he explained that one of Waterlust’s initiatives was to showcase ocean scientists’ fundamental research interest and juxtapose the topic with their personal passions. He said “Obviously your name jumped up immediately. We’d love to produce a piece on you that contrasts your love of freediving with your research”. I was stoked about the idea of a snapshot documentary. I thought it could be a very artistic and powerful way to communicate science to the general public. Drawn to the Sea, the Waterlust 4-minute long video was launched 6 months later, coincidently during the International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) which takes place only every four years, and I could not be happier with the outcome. It’s making was a very educational and amazing journey that I’d love to share.

The short video is composed of three major parts: the narration, the footage, and the soundtrack.

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The Narration

Being familiar with my research on fish larvae, Patrick had a story board already in mind, but he asked me of I would prefer to do the narration myself. As far as I remember, water has been my sanctuary and since I am very passionate about my work and about freediving, I found it easy and fun to write the narration below. The hardest part was to make the story short enough to be told in 3-4 minutes. It took however coaching from Patrick to speak into a microphone and many repetitions alone in my office late at night, with complete silence to get it right!

I have always been drawn to the sea. As a kid, I imagined the magic of the aquatic realm and found comfort underwater, mesmerized by the sounds of waves on the shoals and of my heart beat slowing down.

I am a biological oceanographer and a free diver. The ocean is where I push my mind and my body. I study the earliest days of a fishs life, what we call its larval stage. All fish, even those that grow to become very large, begin their lives very small. They may be tiny, but weve learned they are far from defenseless. They are strong and self sufficient having evolved to survive the pelagic life. Like the mantra ek ong kar, they and the ocean are one.

Despite this, they must still find their way through the oceans currents to a safe home like a coral reef where they can live and grow. At first we thought some would find a suitable habitat by chance, while others would be lost in the vast ocean. But today we are discovering a different story. Fish larvae are skilled swimmers and work together by using the light from the sun, and the smells and sounds in the ocean to find their way home. Even when young, they are connected to the sea in ways we dont entirely understand. When I observe them, I cannot help but think they know something about this blue world that I don’t.

Unlike a fish, I cannot extract oxygen from the water. But with long, deep inhales, I have learned to fill my lungs with air and slow the beat of my heart. Underwater, I find peace listening to my pulse slowing down and the sound of water over my body. I sink as pressure increases and I feel the water running faster over my face. I imagine that I am just like the tiny fish I study.

I explore the ocean with others like me, learning how to hold my breath and extend each visit below, just a little bit longer. But no matter how hard I train.my body will eventually force me to leave and return home to the air. Sometimes.in my dreams, I imagine I could hold my breath forever. I feel free. I wonder if I could, would I ever come back?

The Soundtrack

The music actually came after the narration. Despite personal preference for cello or violin, I had to agree that the piano soundtrack chosen by the Waterlust team was perfectly in tune with the narration. They have a lot of experience putting together amazing videos with beautiful soundtracks so it did not take long for them to find the perfect fit.

The Footage

Most of the footage was the result of a weekend session done with the Waterlust team in the Florida Springs. We had a great time freediving with them and their creative angles. Before that, I started organizing all my footage together and Patrick reviewed it and figured out what more was needed. The video needed field and lab footage of larval fish. I had some unique video of groups of damselfish larvae navigating taken by my husband Ricardo (RSMAS Alumni) and I on the Great Barrier Reef a few years ago. This study was recently published in PLoS ONE in December 2015. However, the field of larval fish behavior is relatively undocumented. So Patrick came to my lab and took some radical video of mahi-mahi larvae (generously donated by my UM Rosenstiel School colleagues, Daniel Bennetti and Martin Grosell) with a macro lens shooting at 240 frames per second!

The video also needed freediving clips from travel or from competitions. My first competition was at Deja Blue in October 2013 and my latest trip was at the Dean’s Blue Hole this April 2016, where I regularly service an acoustic pressure instrument that records sounds in a marine sinkhole. However, we still needed some footage of the meditation practice that is part of my freediving training, and of course of the fun part of the freediving with “others like me”. We asked Waterlust Ambassador, Ashley Baird, to join us on that endeavor. Ashley is from central Florida and also a competitive free diver and a great friend, so she was perfect for the role and she kindly accepted!

The best part of making the video was hanging out with the amazing Waterlust team,at Ginnie Springs around a fire camp and freediving under the moonlight. It was my first time visiting the Florida springs. I could not believe that after so many years in Miami, I had missed such natural beauty in Central Florida. The freshwater is so clear that you can see the refraction of the hammocks on the Snell’s window from the bottom of the sink holes.

I hope you enjoy the video and that it will inspire more documentaries of our scientific research at RSMAS and of our passion for the ocean.

 

Claire Paris, Professor – Department of Ocean Sciences, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

Claire Paris-Limouzy leads the RSMAS Physical-Biological Interactions Lab and is a champion free-diver.

 

 

Fish At Night Symposium – Day 1

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FISH AT NIGHT

The Bulletin of Marine Science hosted an international symposium aimed at shedding light on all things, fish at night. The conference drew scientists, as well as delegates, from around the world to share their findings and discuss what fish do in the dark. The conference was held in Miami from November 17-20, 2015. Talks were, appropriately, given at night!

As a Pisces myself and a student in marine science, how could I not be intrigued by the Fish at Night logo and the conference? This was my first time attending a scientific conference as “Media.” I even got the badge to prove it!

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SOUNDS OF LARVAL FISH

The first session I attended was about larval fish at night. Erica Staaterman, a Rosenstiel School alumna, made an accidental discovery during her Ph.D. research. She was trying to listen to the reef at night, but heard “knocks” and “growls” within her instrument. It turns out that the Gray snapper larva was making sounds. The sounds are similar to what the adults make, but interestingly, are only heard at night. Could it be the group trying to stick together in the dark? It certainly opens up for a lot more research in the future.

A recording of Gray Snapper “knocks” and “growls” looks something like this:

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THE DEEPER WE GO, THE LESS WE KNOW

The other ballroom had talks all focused on Deep and Polar Sea Fish and Fisheries. These regions have “Perpetual Night,” if you will. Tiffany Sih studies fish communities on deep reefs by installing “security cameras” on the reef. These cameras are called Baited Remote Underwater Video Stations (BRUVS). Her feeling is, “If we don’t know how much we have, how do we know how much we have to lose?” That is why she is monitoring these deep reefs on the Great Barrier Reef. Sih watches the videos, creates new records of fish, and sometimes even identifies new species.

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After a short break, it was back to the ballroom to hear about nocturnal fish behavior and ecology.

SMALLEST GOLIATH GROUPER EVER CAUGHT          

Christopher Koenig talked about the spawning behavior of Goliath Grouper. (I think the name “Goliath” is fitting for these massive fish, don’t you?)

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Spawning requires perfect conditions for the Grouper, with the peaks being at new moon in August, September, and October. Koenig collected embryos to examine in the lab, and joked with us that these 1mm embryos are “the smallest Goliath Grouper ever caught!”

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I noticed throughout the talks that some fish prefer new moon phases, while others are most active or spawn during full moon phases. There are lots of interesting components to the night.

TAKE A JOURNEY

Did you know that Nassau Grouper can migrate hundreds of miles to spawn on a specific coral head? The predictability of Nassau Grouper aggregations for spawning makes them very susceptible to fishing. Kristine Stump studies their movement and behavior throughout the Bahamas in order to better understand, where they might go to spawn and how to then protect them.

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A recurrent theme throughout the talks is conservation. Many of the scientists’ goals are to better understand their respective locations and species to better conserve and mitigate the area.

RISKY BUSINESS

Have you ever tried performing surgery underwater? Did I mention that it is surgery on a lionfish? Most would steer clear of such a task, but Michael McCallister is familiar with this kind of surgery.

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Lionfish are collected and tagged with acoustic tags, underwater. This makes it possible to track their movement throughout the Florida Keys. Michael has been interested in what these lionfish are doing at night, since so little is known about the invasive species. This behavior information could be useful for lionfish management.

EYES IN THE WATER

The evening was an exciting first day of the Fish at Night Symposium! I realized the importance of having eyes in the water to understand what happens beneath the surface. Studying fish at night requires special technology and unique field practices. It also requires passion and patience.

The scientists who presented today have made great advances in their field, but there is still a lot more to do. NOAA estimates that as much as 95% of the world’s ocean is unexplored. Time to get wet and get exploring!

BULLETIN OF MARINE SCIENCE

Back in 1951, FG Walton Smith, the founder of RSMAS, founded of the Bulletin of Marine Science, with the goal of furthering scientific knowledge of the world’s oceans. The Bulletin publishes high-quality, peer-reviewed science research from around the world. Next year, the Bulletin will publish a special issue for the “Proceedings of the 2015 International Fish at Night Symposium.”

-Viki Knapp

Viki Knapp is pursuing her Masters of Professional Science at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in Weather, Climate, and Society in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences.

 

 

 

 

Connecting Fish and Corals

A new study by UM Rosenstiel School researchers tracked the dispersal of coral and fish larvae on Caribbean reefs and found that fish populations are generally a more interconnected, cohesive unit on reefs than coral populations, with a few exceptions. The UM Rosenstiel School-led study is the first-of-its-kind to use a numerical modeling approach to address connectivity – the exchange of offspring and larvae between geographically disconnected populations – for multiple species with very different life histories.

Trunkfish in the Dry Tortugas. Photo Credit: Jiangang Luo/ UM RSMAS

Trunkfish in the Dry Tortugas. Photo Credit: Jiangang Luo/ UM RSMAS

Understanding connectivity is important for the management of species and networks of marine protected areas. Connectivity enhances resilience of the ecosystem to harmful events, such as bleaching, overfishing and hurricanes, by providing new recruits from distant locations to the damaged reefs.

“The study was motivated by the complexity of conservation efficacy for coral reef ecosystems that are composed of so many different species,” said Rosenstiel School Professor Claire Paris, corresponding author of the paper. “Larval connectivity models contribute valuable information for the protection of marine habitats, especially as the potential for further reef fragmentation and other physical changes to the environment alter both the habitat and the biology of coral reef organisms and their larvae.”

Using the Connectivity Modeling System (CMS), a Rosenstiel School open source numerical model developed in Paris lab, the study tracked larval exchange between more than 3,200 reef areas in the Caribbean for five different species of fish and coral over a five-year period. The researchers found that fish populations are generally more connected than coral populations, with the exception of reef-building corals, which share similar connectivity dynamics for some specific Caribbean regions. For these regions that were identified thanks to high-computing techniques, management can be similar for all species and reef conservation may rely on regional connectivity networks.  This is not the case for other regions that require more species-specific management practices, typically at more local levels as well.

Elkhorn Coral  Photo Credit: NOAA

Elkhorn Coral
Photo Credit: NOAA

The study was published as a Special Feature article in the March 3, 2014 issue of the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series. The paper’s authors include: UM alumni Daniel Holstein, currently a post-doctoral research associate at the University of the Virgin Islands’ Center for Marine and Environmental Studies, and well-known reef ecologist Peter Mumby.

Getting Back into The Swim of Things at the ‘U’

R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program multimedia specialist and University of Miami School of Communication alumus Christine Shepard shows her school spirit during a shark tagging trip.  The team is getting ready to welcome a new group of interns and dive into the new school year! Check out RJD’s site for the lastest news and info, including an appearance on NatGeo TV’s “Monster Fish.”

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Vote by July 26th for UM scientist Neil Hammerschlag to win this year’s Oceana ‘Ocean Hero’ Award!

2013OHA_DrNeilIf you’ve been on a shark tagging trip with the University of Miami, then you probably know him.  He is the intense and charismatic scientist at the helm of UM’s RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program (RJD Program), Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, who gives high school and college students, as well as others interested in marine conservation the opportunity to gain hands-on experience through “full immersion” shark research. He has taken more than 2,000 students from 40 countries – including many from underserved populations –on shark tagging and diving trips. He also created online classes and expeditions for those who can’t make it to Florida, so they can learn about the importance of our oceans.

Hammerschlag’s work takes him all over the world – from Florida to South Africa, and California to The Bahamas.  He was instrumental in protecting sharks in Florida waters when he testified for new regulations that would prohibit the recreational and commercial harvest of tiger sharks and three types of hammerhead shark. The protections went into effect on January 1, 2012.

Don’t delay!  Please vote for ‘Dr. Neil’ at oceana.org/heroes, deadline is July 26th.

 


David Die co-authors fisheries portion of new NRC report on Deep Water Horizon

David DieA new report entitled: ‘An Ecosystem Services Approach to Assessing the Impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico’ was released by the National Research Council. The 350-page document, supported by NOAA focuses not only on the natural resources, but also on the intangible goods and services these resources supply to people.   The report includes a case study on fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico written by University of Miami Research Associate Professor and Associate Director of CIMAS David Die. He was selected because of his expertise in global fisheries assessment, ecosystem modeling and the Gulf of Mexico fisheries.  Additionally, he served as co-author of the marine mammal case study in the report, and contributed to other sections of the report.

“The critical finding of the report is that the impacts of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill, and other potential ecological hazards, need to be evaluated in a broader context to the one mandated by the NRDA,” says Die. “We need to take an ecosystem services approach, which albeit challenging, provides a more accurate framework in which to perform such critical evaluations.”

Die has strong links to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and was the founding director of the Center of Independent Experts, a central part of the peer review process for the National Marine Fisheries Service. He is the current Rapporteur for bigeye tuna within the Tropical Tuna Working Group of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna and has recently been asked to serve on the international panel synthesizing the conservation status of tuna and billfish for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.