Acoustic Telemetry Tracks Florida Keys Reef Fish

While tracking movement patterns of several reef fish species, the Keys Finfish Research team is evaluating the function of marine reserves throughout the Dry Tortugas National Park and surrounding waters.

Ft. Jefferson

Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park


Movement patterns and spatial range of several grouper and snapper species are the subjects of a study begun in May 2008 in the Dry Tortugas region. The Keys Finfish Research team is using the data to evaluate the effectiveness and connectivity of marine reserves throughout the Dry Tortugas National Park and surrounding waters.


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A grouper's abdomen is stitched closed
after insertion of the tag.

Acoustic tags are inserted into select species of fishes trapped and hooked throughout the park. Individuals caught in shallow waters are brought to the boat, and an acoustic tag is surgically inserted into each fish's abdominal cavity. The fish is then monitored and, when considered strong enough, released back onto the reef. For fish caught in deeper waters, divers perform the surgery to reduce the possibility of pressure-related injuries to the fish.

An array of 64 acoustic receivers has been distributed throughout the Dry Tortugas region to document the movements of these tagged fish. When a fish swims close by, a receiver records the tag's unique identification number. The receivers cover approximately 800 square kilometers, or about 309 square miles, and are placed to measure both small-scale movement and long-range migrations of tagged fish through a variety of depths and types of habitat.

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FWC researcher exchanges an
acoustic receiver in the Dry Tortugas.
Mutton snapper is one of the
species tagged for this study.

As of spring of 2011, 118 fish had been tagged. Some species, such as mutton snapper (Lutjanus analis), demonstrate strong seasonal connectivity to certain areas of the park. The tags can last several years, allowing scientists to continue to track the movement of these fish and gain a more complete understanding of how these animals use their surroundings.


To learn more about our telemetry studies, visit the Acoustic Telemetry Research section.

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