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The power of national acoustic tracking networks to assess the impacts of human activity on marine organisms during the COVID-19 pandemic

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 11:25 authored by Huveneers, C, Jaine, FRA, Barnett, A, Butcher, PA, Clarke, TM, Currey-Randall, LM, Dwyer, RG, Ferreira, LC, Gleiss, AC, Hoenner, X, Ierodiaconou, D, Ledee, EJI, Meekan, MG, Pederson, H, Rizzari, JR, van Ruth, PD, Jayson SemmensJayson Semmens, Taylor, MD, Udyawer, V, Peter WalshPeter Walsh, Heupel, MR, Harcourt, R

COVID-19 restrictions have led to an unprecedented global hiatus in anthropogenic activities, providing a unique opportunity to assess human impact on biological systems. Here, we describe how a national network of acoustic tracking receivers can be leveraged to assess the effects of human activity on animal movement and space use during such global disruptions. We outline variation in restrictions on human activity across Australian states and describe four mechanisms affecting human interactions with the marine environment: 1) reduction in economy and trade changing shipping traffic; 2) changes in export markets affecting commercial fisheries; 3) alterations in recreational activities; and 4) decline in tourism. We develop a roadmap for the analysis of acoustic tracking data across various scales using Australia's national Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) Animal Tracking Facility as a case study. We illustrate the benefit of sustained observing systems and monitoring programs by assessing how a 51-day break in white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) cage-diving tourism due to COVID-19 restrictions affected the behaviour and space use of two resident species. This cessation of tourism activities represents the longest break since cage-diving vessels started day trips in this area in 2007. Long-term monitoring of the local environment reveals that the activity space of yellowtail kingfish (Seriola lalandi) was reduced when cage-diving boats were absent compared to periods following standard tourism operations. However, white shark residency and movements were not affected. Our roadmap is globally applicable and will assist researchers in designing studies to assess how anthropogenic activities can impact animal movement and distributions during regional, short-term through to major, unexpected disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic.


Publication title

Biological Conservation



Article number









Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Elsevier Sci Ltd

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