Scientists studying where fish in V.I. reefs go

Font size: [A] [A] [A]

ST. CROIX - The National Park Service is collaborating in a study that uses technology to track the whereabouts of local fish and other creatures living on the reefs.

"It will allow us to measure and locate how fish are moving around and across our reefs, at a very localized scale so that we can begin to think about how we will manage those fisheries in the long-term," said David Goldstein, chief of interpretation and education for the National Park Service sites on St. Croix.

He noted that this study provides a practical application for "cutting edge science."

"And the data from this study will be a turning point for how we understand our fisheries," Goldstein said.

The National Park Service, in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey; National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration; University of the Virgin Islands; The Nature Conservancy; Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries; and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is conducting a seven-year acoustic telemetry research project that tracks multiple fish species and spiny lobster at multiple sites around the island, according to a prepared release from the Park Service.

The fish to be studied include sharks, barracuda, and reef fish, including low carnivores and herbivorous species.

The areas where they will be studied include Buck Island Reef National Monument, East End Marine Park and Lang Bank.

The type of technology is called underwater acoustic telemetry, "which is a fancy way of saying it's underwater GPS," said Ian Lundgren, a National Park Service biologist.

Instead of transmitting to a satellite, though, positioning for underwater acoustic telemetry is done through stationary underwater listening devices, or receivers, that are now being deployed, and transmitters that are implanted in the fish that send out pings to be detected by the listening devices.

"This is being done widely now," Lundgren said.

The resulting data will help scientists better understand the movements of a species, "and then apply that to discussing the needs of an animal or group of animals," he said.

Scientists hope to learn the home range of these species and information about the habitats they use, how much they move to and from protected areas, and determine the locations where reef fish aggregate to spawn.

According to the release, underwater acoustic telemetry is accomplished by surgically implanting battery-powered transmitters into fish or epoxying tags externally to lobster carapaces.

The signals that are emitted by the tags are recorded by the acoustic receivers.

The scientists are deploying a number of stationery acoustic receivers to detect the pings - the acoustic signals - from the transmitters as the fish and lobsters move around the study area, the release said.

At this point, the scientists have deployed more than 50 receivers and expect to deploy approximately 50 more by 2015, according to the release.

Some are set up on existing mooring pins tethered to a floating leash, but most will be deployed on sand-bottom habitats. Small sandscrews will be deployed in deep sand while flat cement anchors are used where sand is shallow, the release said.

Researchers expect to deploy all of the receivers and continue capturing fish for acoustic tagging into early 2015, the release said.

Several times a year, data will be downloaded from the receivers and batteries changed.

Lundgren said scientists expect the implanted devices will emit signals for several years.

- Contact reporter Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email

We welcome user discussion on our site, under the following guidelines:

To comment you must first create a profile and sign-in with a verified DISQUS account or social network ID. Sign up here.

Comments in violation of the rules will be denied, and repeat violators will be banned. Please help police the community by flagging offensive comments for our moderators to review. By posting a comment, you agree to our full terms and conditions. Click here to read terms and conditions.

Best of the VI

Best of the VI: After more than 100,000 text and Facebook votes were cast, it is time to unveil the winners.

Daily News E-Edition

Try our e-newspaper delivered to you every day

Island Trader

Good stuff, best buys, great fun

Crucian Trader

Celebrating St. Croix History, Culture and People

Island Action

Your complete guide to where to go and what to do this week in the Virgin Islands.