The Biodiversity Observatory of the Marine Protected Area Capo Caccia - Isola Piana

The Biodiversity Observatory of the Marine Protected Area Capo Caccia-Isola Piana is a research and scientific dissemination project born thanks to the collaboration between the MPA, the Porto Conte Regional Park and MareTerra Onlus. The Observatory was set up at the Tower of San Giacomo in Alghero, a place where tourists and citizens can know the MPA biodiversity and the conservation and research activities carried out by the MPA and its partners.

  
The project aims at the characterization of the soundscapes of the MPA, using video and audio remote acquisition systems. The data collected allow the monitoring of both marine mammals, fish species and noise levels of the MPA. Furthermore, the images, videos and sounds are used for educational purposes and shown in the exhibition space set up at the Tower of San Giacomo.
 
STUDY OF THE MPA SOUNDSCAPE BY MEANS OF BRUVs (Baited Remote Underwater Video) and PAMs (PASSIVE ACOUSTIC MONITORING)

In the marine environment, soundscape provides a series of information that influence many aspects of marine organisms behavior (from invertebrates to mammals), including mating, feeding, distribution, detection of predators or prey, orientation, defense of the territory. Although the coastal waters are the areas most subject to human activities and the noise they produce, there are relatively few studies that have characterized the Mediterranean coastal soundscapes. Understanding how soundscapes vary on small spatial scales and in different habitats can provide important information on the distribution of marine organisms.
The first objective of the project is to describe the soundscapes of different areas of the marine protected area, highlighting the contribution of the main noise sources (abiotic, biotic and anthropogenic). Thus, customized BRUV systems were built and equipped with cameras, hydrophones and digital recorders. The data collected are also used for the creation of a library of images and sounds of the MPA. Such library is available at the Biodiversity Observatory and aim to raise public awareness on the issues of eco-acoustics, bio-acoustics and noise pollution.
 
 
MONITORING THE PRESENCE OF CETACEANS IN THE NORTH WESTERN SARDINIA BY MEANS OF PAMs

PAM (Passive Acoustic Monitoring) devices allow the autonomous recording of marine sounds. As bottlenose dolphins and other Cetacean produce a great variety and quantity of sounds, these systems are useful tools for their long-term monitoring, without the presence of researchers.

Most research on Cetaceans in the north-west of Sardinia concerns the bottlenose dolphin, a coastal species, more easily accessible. However, very few information are available on more pelagic species. The PAM devices allow to investigate the presence of the bottlenose dolphin inside and around the MPA, but also the presence of other cetaceans offshore. The data collected are useful to enrich the knowledge on the presence of whales, sperm whales and other species of delphinids in this part of the island.

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Automated video and sound acquisition systems also allow to study the behavior of fish and their response to noise and boat presence. If you want to know more, continue reading our past studies.

DOES BOAT NOISE ELICIT A BEHAVIOURAL RESPONSE IN FISH?

Loud and/or continuous sounds (e.g., shipping and boat traffic) can have a dramatic effect on the nearby fish. Increased noise might result in the masking of biologically relevant signals (e.g. communication calls), considerably reducing the range over which individuals are able to exchange information. Furthermore, noise can cause avoidance from favourable habitats, stress and physiological changes; destruction of the auditory sensory cells and temporary or permanent loss of hearing capability. Finally, exposition to high sound levels could affect animal behaviour in various ways by: i) causing a reduction of activity and locomotion; ii) acting as a distracting stimulus; iii) masking crucial acoustic cues; iv) influencing settlement, foraging, social interactions and anti-predator behaviour. In our study area we have the great opportunity to study - in the wild - the behaviour of one of the few Mediterranean fish able to produce sound, the brown meagre (Sciaena umbra). Since 2014 we have been conducting a collection of behavioural data, using fixed underwater cameras, and noise levels, by means of Passive Acoustic Monitoring devices (PAMs) in the Marine Protected Area Capo Caccia - Isola Piana (North-Sardinia, Italy).

One of the main sources of underwater noise in coastal area is recreational boat traffic, which has undergone a considerable increase over the past years. Recreational boats generally produce noise in the frequencies below 1000 Hz; this frequency range falls within the hearing of many fish species. Not considering the last few years, the impact of boat noise on fish behaviour has been neglected in the past, with only a few exceptions, likely because of the difficulty to link human activities to specific changes in animal behaviour. The majority of studies in this topic have been carried out under controlled laboratory conditions, which allow more detailed and accurate data collection than field-based studies. However, care must be taken when extrapolating findings to real-world situations, because captive conditions may represent a highly simplified and artificial environment. To our knowledge, this represents one among the few studies for the determination of the behavioral response of fish to boat noise, conducted in a wild context where the animals were free of any movement constraint. 

Click here to read: La Manna et al. (2016). Behavioural response of brown meagre (Sciaena umbra) to boat noise. Marine Pollution Bulletin (2016) 

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