Principal Investigator: Leila Hatch (Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary)
Co-Principal Investigators: Sofie Van Parijs and Jenni Stanley (Northeast Fisheries Science Center)
External Collaborator:

Project title

Developing NOAA’s capacity to characterize marine soundscapes for resource protection: securing and augmenting a pilot project in four National Marine Sanctuaries


Groupers (family: Epinephelidae) are an economically important species, and Goliath Grouper ( Epinephelus itajara) have historically been overexploited and their harvest in the Gulf of Mexico is prohibited. There is currently little information about grouper spawning aggregations, which is important for better understanding the sustainability of grouper stocks. Groupers produce sounds to attract mates and coordinate spawning, allowing the use of long-term passive acoustic recorders to research grouper spawning. Existing platforms from oil and gas activities in the Gulf of Mexico actually mimic spawning and feeding habitats of groupers, and use of passive acoustics can provide information about the importance of these platforms for grouper spawning.

Research Objectives

  1. Collect acoustic data over an entire moon cycle in each location across four time periods during one year.
  2. Identify and describe the broad acoustic signature of each sanctuary site. Analyze and evaluate the contributions of biological, anthropogenic sounds and ambient noise within and between each sanctuary.
  3. Evaluate the information that can be gained from a four channel acoustic recorder in, initially one of the sanctuaries, with the aim of expanding to other sites.

With the finalization of NOAA’s Ocean Noise Strategy Roadmap in 2016, the agency has clearly articulated a vision for broadening its science capacity to better address the ecosystem-scale impacts of noise, among other goals. Central to this transition for NOAA’s applied science work is enhanced focus on places where NOAA has enhanced and often overlapping management interests, including the protection of specific, acoustically-active or sensitive marine species, and the holistic protection of ecological processes within the boundaries of places designated as National Marine Sanctuaries. The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, both through headquarters Conservation Science Division and the Superintendants and staffs of the four sites involved in the project have recognized the importance of engaging in this pilot research in collaboration with NOAA Fisheries. It has become a key project within ONMS, and has spurred several outreach and education initiatives (another goal of sanctuary engagement in the Strategy). However, it is leveraging tight budgets. Funding of this proposal would significantly bolster its chances for producing output that would continue to secure commitments to this type of intra-agency partnership, as well and continue to use the capacity at Stellwagen Bank NMS to evaluate and develop the next stages of monitoring development.