Rumbles in the Deep

Have you ever been in a subway station, conversing with somebody, when a train goes by and you can no longer hear your friend? What do you usually do in that situation? How would you react if your conversations were constantly being interrupted by noise?

Chronic noise can be stressful for humans, but many people don’t consider how animals are affected by noise. Because sound travels so quickly underwater, and much of the ocean is dark, almost all ocean animals are acoustically sensitive and are likely to be affected by unwanted noise.

In a 2010 study, RSMAS student Erica Staaterman and her co-authors discovered that one species of burrow-dwelling shrimp, the California Mantis Shrimp, produces low-frequency “rumbles” to communicate. Just like birds or insects, these animals rumble en masse during dawn and dusk choruses. Their rumbles are distinctive – each shrimp has its own “pitch” and “rhythm” – and the sounds are likely used to attract mates or defend territories.


However, because these shrimp live along the California coastline, there is a tremendous amount of boat activity in their habitat, and thus, a tremendous amount of anthropogenic noise. Because the sounds of the boats directly overlap with the sounds of the shrimp, there is potential for “acoustic masking” – the same phenomenon that occurs when you lose the ability to converse with your friend in the subway station.

While the direct impacts of the noise on the mantis shrimp are unknown, in other animals acoustic masking interferes with basic everyday functions such as finding food, finding mates, or defending territory. In her talk at TEDxCoconutGrove, Erica shared with the audience these “rumbles from the deep” and demonstrated the interference that is caused by boat noise. She asked the audience to consider the impacts of such intangible, yet extremely important, threats to marine ecosystems.

Rumbles in the Deep is a TEDx talk by Erica Staaterman.  Currently in her fourth year at UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Erica is studying tropical marine soundscapes. Under the mentorship of UM Rosenstiel professor Dr. Claire Paris, she is working to understand the role of coral reef soundscapes in the recruitment of larval fish. After she finishes her PhD she hopes to apply her knowledge of acoustics to help mitigate ocean noise.

 Link to the video: 

Larval Behavior Film Reaches the Final Round of NSF’s “Creating the Future” Video Contest

When the National Science Foundation announced their “Creating the Future” contest, I was excited to have the opportunity to present my PhD research in the form of a short video. It turned out to be quite challenging to explain my work on underwater soundscapes and larval navigation in just 90 seconds. The film combines unique footage of pelagic fish larvae, recorded by my advisor Claire Paris, as well as audio recordings made on reefs right here in Florida. The final product, called “Sonic Reef,” made it to the final judging round. This means that the film is eligible to win the people’s choice award if it gets enough votes. The $1000 prize money that I could win would be used for field research next summer.

Please vote for “Sonic Reef” by visiting this National Science Foundation website: Click here to vote!

You have to enter your email address – and only once you receive the confirmation email can you cast your official vote.

Thanks for your support!

Erica Staaterman
PhD Student, Applied Marine Physics & Marine Biology and Fisheries
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Understanding Navigational Cues in the Marine Environment

I spent a hot afternoon in late July with the two Principal Investigators (PIs) on a new National Science Foundation (NSF) Ocean Technology and Interdisciplinary Coordination grant entitled “T-LEOST: realTime Larval Environmental and Ocean Signal Tracking: an integrated system for the study of navigational cues in the marine environment.” Instead of meeting in an office, we met by the pool at University of Miami’s main campus.

The goal was to test several new instruments that are part of this project. A drifting behavioral chamber developed by Dr. Claire Paris, one of the PIs, observes the behavior of fish larvae at sea using a camera and a compass system. The orientation the larvae take while tested inside the chamber reveals whether or not they are guided by certain navigational cues, such as a sun compass, odor, or sound.

With the new grant, we are making modifications to the existing chamber, allowing us to observe the behavior of fish in deeper waters, and in response to acoustic cues measured from reefs here in Florida.

To put the chamber into deeper waters and to de-couple it from the water surface, a motorized buoyancy device called the Medusa is being developed by Dr. David Mann of Loggerhead Instruments, the other PI on the grant. An essential step in the development process is to determine the natural rising and sinking

We also tested the capabilities of a pair of underwater speakers that will be mounted to the chamber to play back sounds of coral reefs to the fish. Recordings made in Florida with a hydrophone (developed by Loggerhead Instruments) will be played to fish in order to see whether they demonstrate orientation behavior towards these sounds. Reef soundscapes have been proposed as a cue that fish larvae may use during their journey from the pelagic environment to the reefs.

This is truly an interdisciplinary project, involving physics, biology, and engineering. Spending an afternoon with the experts was a great learning experience for me and we learned about the performance of our instruments in a controlled environment. Next step: the ocean!

Erica Staaterman
PhD Student, Applied Marine Physics & Marine Biology and Fisheries
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Miami Lighthouse for the Blind visits RSMAS

RSMAS Professor, Dr. Will Drennan, talks hurricanes with the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind.

On Friday, July 13th, the Rosenstiel School was lucky enough to be visited by 25 students from the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind transition program and 5 of their mentors. The group was eager to learn about marine and atmospheric science research through sound and touch.

PhD student Erica Staaterman kicked off the day with an amazing presentation about ocean sounds. She played sound clips while explaining how animals communicate underwater and how we might be able to calculate the health of coral reefs by assessing the ambient clatter. Do you know what animal is making this noise? Click here to listen

Professor Will Drennan and his assistant, undergraduate student Katie Dziedzic, explained how hurricanes are studied on land, in the air, and by sea. The students listened to the sound of Category 4 forced winds tearing off the roof of a gas station, touched some of the equipment used on the EASI and ASIS buoys for collecting in situ hurricane data, and listened intently as Dr. Drennan told stories of flying in the hurricane hunter aircrafts.

Visiting the Aplysia facility.

The last stop on the tour was the Aplysia hatchery where the students got up close and personal with some fascinating marine animals. They touched coral skeletons and sea urchins tests, as well as live sea cucumbers, sea stars, conch, and of course aplysia!

“It was definitely a memorable experience for our students. Thank you for being so accommodating!” said Emily Nostro, Transition Program Coordinator at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, at the end of this amazing day.

-Laura Bracken
Outreach Manager
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Beneath the Waves Film Festival Hits the Road for a U.S. Summer Tour

Have you ever wondered how many people will read your scientific papers? Do you want a broader audience to hear about your research?

The Beneath the Waves Film Festival aims to create such a science communication platform by educating the public about marine science and conservation issues through a series of short films made by researchers, amateurs and professionals from around the world. While the Festival’s flagship event occurs each March in conjunction with the Benthic Ecology Meeting, this summer the Festival is going on tour across the US West Coast for a series of unique public film screenings. We’ve teamed up with PangeaSeed, a marine conservation group, to co-host a traveling art exhibit/film festival called the “Great West Coast Migration.” The tour starts in Seattle in July, and migrates south through Portland, San Francisco, LA, Costa Mesa, and San Diego. All events will be free to the public and will showcase great marine-themed artwork and conservation films. See below for a list of tour stops and links for times and more information.

The dates/locations of the events are:
Seattle, WA – July 14 – Roq la Rue
• Portland, OR – July 21 – Grass Hut Co
• San Francisco, CA – July 28 – Spoke Art
• Los Angeles, CA – August 3 – LeBasse Projects
Costa Mesa, CA – August 11 – The ARTery
• San Diego, CA – August 19 – Space 4 Art

The first video that will be shown on the tour can be viewed here:

If you are interested in becoming a host in your local community, or submitting a film for next year’s event please get in touch!

Erica Staaterman & Austin Gallagher
Beneath the Waves Film Festival

Snap, Crackle, Pop: Listening to Florida’s Reefs

Erica Staaterman deploys underwater recording equipment produced by the Paris Lab. Photo by Evan D’Alessandro

My dissertation research addresses the question: do larval fish use reef soundscapes for navigation? But what is a “reef soundscape”? Well, if you have ever been diving or snorkeling, you have probably noticed an incessant crackling sound. This sound is primarily produced by snapping shrimp, one of the noisiest residents on a coral reef. But the soundscape consists of a wide variety of sounds, such as the growls, grunts, and pops produced by animals such as fish, lobsters, and crabs, as well as abiotic sounds such as the breaking of waves.

The first goal of my dissertation research is to describe the temporal and spatial changes in reef soundscapes. Through the use of long-term passive acoustic recorders, I am currently collecting a one-year time series of acoustic data from two coral reefs in the Florida Keys. This will allow me to determine the patterns that occur on daily, monthly, and seasonal scales. These data will later be used for behavioral experiments on fish larvae.

Listen to one of Erica’s recordings here. The snapping sound is being produced by snapping shrimp, and the low-frequency growl is most likely fish.

Erica Staaterman
PhD Student, Applied Marine Physics & Marine Biology and Fisheries
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