Diving for Data in Nearshore Habitats

by Jodie Toft, Senior marine ecologist

To see beneath.  The mystery of the marine environment awaits below the thin plane that holds air from water.  For marine scientists, the first challenge is to see below.  For marine managers and conservation organizations, it is this stream of information and science it supports that we use to make informed decisions about our actions. 

With an eye towards streamlining data collection from the marine environment, The Nature Conservancy is excited to embark on collaborative research with NOAA, Washington Sea Grant, and shellfish growers throughout the region. Together we aim to understand the ecological function of shellfish-growing areas relative to other habitats.  

Click on the infographic above to view at full size.

Our approach hinges on the push of a button: In this case, that of a GoPro camera. Simple video technology allows us to take ourselves out of the picture, collecting data in a way that snorkeling, netting and other ways of seeing and being underwater do not.  So with the footage we ask, what can we see?  How do we quantify what we see?  And how valuable are the findings? 

This work builds on GoPro research led by NOAA and others in the region in the last few years. Check out clips from last summer to see how busy shellfish beds and eelgrass meadows can be!

We're building our network! If you would like more information on shellfish growers as research partners, please reach out to our team: Jodie Toft (jtoft@tnc.org) or Molly Bogeberg (molly.bogeberg@tnc.org).  

At the Conservancy, we consider it essential to understand more about how different types of aquaculture function and may even help accelerate coastal ecosystem recovery in water bodies of Washington and around the world. As we begin efforts in restorative aquaculture and smart siting, science and technology are our springboards.  Our work in Washington is a key first step.

The Conservancy’s approach to aquaculture weaves through a diverse set of projects around the globe. In Indonesia, where the seaweed farming sector has grown 10 times in 10 years, we're supporting rural and women seaweed farmers to improve local incomes alongside environmental outcomes. In Belize, we're partnering with fishermen to pioneer seaweed farms, not only as alternative livelihoods for food and jobs, but also to provide habitat for lobster and conch, key local marine species. We’re working with oyster growers to evaluate the benefits of floating and on-bottom oyster aquaculture on water quality in Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, and using drones to monitor the effects of aquaculture on eelgrass habitat in Tomales Bay, California