Tracking animals -- animal telemetry -- is the science of using tags to learn about species movement and behavior and gather habitat information, including things like ocean salinity, dissolved oxygen, temperature, currents and more. Research scientists and resource managers have been tagging animal species throughout the Gulf of Mexico for years, using acoustic tags to unlock key information about the habitats where species spend their lives and about the threats animals face on the water.
But often, researchers have receivers in discreet areas and host data individually.
Now, a half-dozen groups are coming together to try to expand the number of underwater receivers that are in the Gulf and develop arrays in key areas to provide a better regional view of animals and their habitat use, to more widely share tracking data and to work on habitat and species restoration, especially following environmental disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The effort is called the Integrated Tracking of Aquatic Organisms in the Gulf of Mexico -- or iTAG.
Gathering this information and being able to share it more easily will play a critical role in protecting threatened and endangered species, protecting commercial fisheries, filling gaps in oceanographic knowledge and improving ocean modeling and forecasting, according to Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, GCOOS-RA Executive Director. GCOOS-RA will offer a data portal where the tracking information will soon be gathered and shared.
The partnership includes the GCOOS-RA, Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association (SECOORA), the University of South Alabama, Texas A&M University and the Ocean Tracking Network (OTN). Canadian-based OTN helps develop acoustic telemetry projects around the world by providing acoustic receivers and expertise. They are loaning underwater receivers worth $500,000 to FWC - which is leading the iTAG effort. Dr. Jay Rooker (Texas A&M), Dr. Will Patterson (USA) and Dr. Susan Lowerre-Barbieri (FWC) will oversee the receiver arrays deployed throughout the Gulf of Mexico and in the Florida Keys and are in the process of seeking additional funding to support this research.