Marine infrastructure development and expansion
are required to adapt to the growth and diversification of blue economies which
many countries are prioritizing to stimulate national economic growth. We need
to ensure that the environmental footprint of these construction activities does
not impair national efforts to maintain and restore biodiversity.
The deepening of Charleston Harbor (South
Carolina) is a national priority project in the USA to increase the region’s
shipping volume and activities. A population of bottlenose dolphins resides in
this harbor (Bossart et al. 2017, Bouchillon et al. 2020, Weinpress-Galipeau et al.
2021) which have been
exposed to about two years of construction activities (primarily dredging) for
this project. We know that these human activities are stressors for this
species which can affect their distribution and density (Pirotta et al. 2013). However, there is currently no
information about the potential impact of such a large-scale marine
construction effort on bottlenose dolphin abundance and distribution. As the
blue economy will require such large-scale infrastructure development more
regularly over the coming decade, we need to learn from Charleston Harbor’s
experience to better predict and manage the conservation impacts of harbor
expansion on dolphins.
In this project, you will use a unique
pre-existing dataset of photo-identification surveys carried out for two years
prior to the construction starting and two years during construction to assess
whether the distribution and abundance of bottlenose dolphins changed during
construction in Charleston Harbor. You will use spatially-explicit
mark-recapture models (Christiansen et al. 2015, Pirotta et al. 2015a, 2015b) to determine whether the population
distribution changed in the harbor as construction progressed. For those
individual dolphins photographically captured regularly, you will assess
whether their movement and distribution are associated with the dynamics of
construction activities in the harbor.
This information will be used to determine the
impact of the harbor deepening in this ecologically and socially important
species as well as help inform global impact assessments. You will have the
opportunity to interact with our South Carolina Aquarium partners throughout
the project and help in the dissemination of your findings beyond peer-reviewed
Bossart, G. D., P. Fair, A. M. Schaefer, and J. S. Reif. 2017. Health
and Environmental Risk Assessment Project for bottlenose dolphins Tursiops
truncatus from the southeastern USA. I. Infectious diseases. Diseases of
Aquatic Organisms 125:141–153.
Bouchillon, H., N. S. Levine, and P. A. Fair. 2020. GIS Investigation of
the relationship of sex and season on the population distribution of common
bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Charleston, South Carolina.
International Journal of Geographical Information Science 34:1552–1566.
Christiansen, F., C. G. Bertulli, M. H. Rasmussen, and D. Lusseau. 2015.
Estimating cumulative exposure of wildlife to non‐lethal disturbance using
spatially explicit capture–recapture models. The Journal of Wildlife Management
Pirotta, E., J. Harwood, P. M. Thompson, L. New, B. Cheney, M. Arso, P.
S. Hammond, C. Donovan, and D. Lusseau. 2015a. Predicting the effects of human
developments on individual dolphins to understand potential long-term
population consequences. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological
Pirotta, E., B. E. Laesser, A. Hardaker, N. Riddoch, M. Marcoux, and D.
Lusseau. 2013. Dredging displaces bottlenose dolphins from an urbanised foraging
patch. Marine Pollution Bulletin 74:396–402.
Pirotta, E., P. M. Thompson, B. Cheney, C. R. Donovan, and D. Lusseau.
2015b. Estimating spatial, temporal and individual variability in dolphin
cumulative exposure to boat traffic using spatially explicit capture–recapture
methods. Animal Conservation 18:20–31.
Weinpress-Galipeau, M., H. Baker, B. Wolf, B. Roumillat, and P. A. Fair.
2021. An adaptive bottlenose dolphin foraging tactic, “shipside feeding,” using
container ships in an urban estuarine environment. Marine Mammal Science 37:1159–1165.
In collaboration withPatricia Fair (South Carolina Aquarium & MUSC)
We are looking for motivated students interested in developing their statistical modelling skills