Globalizing collaboration in aquatic animal electronic telemetry: OTN and Europe

The Ocean Tracking Network (OTN) is a global aquatic research and partnership platform headquartered at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. OTN is somewhat unusual in the Canadian science context in that it has a specific mandate to operate internationally.

OTN’s goal is to foster the conservation and sustainable use of freshwaters and oceans by generating knowledge on the movements, distributions, survival, and habitats of aquatic animals. To accomplish this, OTN is partnered with over 100 research institutions and platforms worldwide to deploy acoustic receivers and oceanographic monitoring equipment in key ocean locations. Receivers and monitoring equipment are documenting aquatic animals carrying electronic tags, and linking their movements and survival to environmental conditions. Results from these studies assist government with management of ecosystems and fisheries, in assessing environmental issues and mitigation strategies for offshore industrial projects, and in conservation planning for marine and freshwater protected areas.

In Europe, OTN has deployments in Portugal (Azores), the UK and Norway, and is tied into the Horizon 2020 AtlantOS project. Several projects under the AtlantOS framework (Work Package 3) are collaborating with OTN, or fit within OTN’s mandates, including Gliders (Task 3.4), Prediction and Research Mooring Array in the Tropical Atlantic (PIRATA, Task 3.5), and European Animal Telemetry Network (EATN, Task 3.7).

The OTN AtlantOS lead is longtime collaborator and Principal Investigator on the OTN Azores acoustic telemetry line, Dr. Pedro Alfonso of the University of the Azores. As a European Principal Investigator in AtlantOS, he is working with OTN to establish the EATN—bringing together and uniting a formal network of European researchers conducting aquatic biotelemetry.

Regional aquatic telemetry networks have been established or launched in parts of the world where strong telemetry communities exist. These include Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) Animal Tracking, the US’ East Coast Atlantic Cooperative Telemetry Network (ACT), the Florida Atlantic Coast Telemetry Project (FACT), the developing US Integrated Ocean Observing System’s Animal Telemetry Network (ATN), and OTN’s Canadian infrastructure.

The benefits of international networks

These networks provide forums within which people tracking aquatic animals can share problems, results, analytical tools, and detections that they have had on their equipment of animals tagged by others in other places. Many benefits arise for investigators from networking, including increased scientific power and productivity, the ability to coordinate ongoing work with other scientists and incorporate additional facets into planned studies, the expansion of the geographic scope of an individual investigator’s study to cover much larger area than the investigator’s assets alone would permit, the ability to plan and coordinate much larger studies than would otherwise be possible, and the leveraging that can be done of partner network resources for new funding opportunities.

The challenge

OTN’s biggest challenge is knitting these regional networks, and a currently vast number of independent telemetrists who are not affiliated with regional networks, into a new biological global observing system.

This is being done by the creation of internationally compatible data systems for the rapid and efficient exchange of information, and the sharing of detections among users of compatible telemetry equipment. This is greatly increasing the geographic reach of the studies most researchers can dream of conducting.  For example, European acoustic receivers are picking up the long-distance migrations of highly valued Bluefin tuna acoustically tagged in North America. As a system of the UN’s Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), OTN via AtlantOS will incorporate Europe into this developing global telemetry network.

Next steps

The immediate next steps are adding acoustic receivers to infrastructures deployed within other tasks of AtlantOS (e.g. gliders, buoys). A key objective is to leverage resources to European researchers to acoustically tag valued species, enabling them to provide knowledge to managers and policy makers that will guide sustainable use of species and ecosystem management approaches.

PIRATA is multi-national (France, Brazil, and the US) program designed to study ocean-atmosphere interactions in the tropical Atlantic that affect regional climate variability in support of several international platforms including the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) of which OTN is a partner. In 2013, OTN began providing VR2W receivers for deployment on PIRATA moorings to capture opportunistic acoustic detections. This component of OTN’s “Buoys of Opportunity” platform now includes 26 active receivers.

The vision of AtlantOS is to improve and innovate Atlantic observing by using the GOOS’s Framework of Ocean Observing to obtain an international, more sustainable, more efficient, more integrated, and fit-for-purpose system. Hence, the AtlantOS initiative will have a long-lasting and sustainable contribution to the societal, economic and scientific benefit arising from this integrated approach. This will be delivered by improving the value for money, extent, completeness, quality and ease of access to Atlantic Ocean data required by industries, product supplying agencies, scientists and citizens.

OTN is supported by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), with additional support from the Nova Scotia Research Innovation Trust (NSRIT), and OTN’s many international partners. Visit oceantrackingnetwork.org for more information.

Collaboration