- Elucidate whether the LNG infrastructures are altering the distribution of local fish species; specifically, deciphering whether the structures are acting as “Fish Aggregation Devices” (FADs)
- Assess, through the analyses of the abundance and distribution of other fauna, whether the port operations/exclusion zones are serving as sources of refuge, or eliciting a disturbance on the less mobile fauna
- To evaluate whether underwater “noise” from the structure and operations are impacting the physiology and/or behavior of sessile invertebrate fauna and the more residential fish species
As part of the Compensatory [environmental] Mitigation Plans for both the Northeast Gateway Energy Bridge Deepwater Port/Northeast Gateway Pipeline Lateral and Neptune LNG Deepwater Port, we in the Research Department have been contracted “to direct and manage a [5-year studies] of the biological impacts of the [liquefied natural gas (LNG)] exclusion zone[s] around the deepwater port[s]." The establishment of exclusion (“no-take”) zones encircling the LNG port areas will prohibit fishing activities that alter habitat, while the massive permanent introduced structures could attract life and serve as a refuge for organisms. Consequently, these small de facto marine protected areas (MPAs) may stimulate various biological changes in and around the vicinities of the ports. With full access to the exclusion zones granted as part of the mitigation plans, we have the opportunity to conduct an array of passive and active investigations involving both sessile and motile macro fauna within and outside the deepwater port areas in Massachusetts Bay.
To gauge whether the LNG terminals are attracting certain fish species, it is first necessary to conduct a broad-scale fish biomass survey. With the use of a sophisticated echosounder, we are currently assessing the fish biomass in the water column of the LNG exclusion zones vicinities against other (non-LNG) Massachusetts Bay areas parallel in depth and bottom topography. Such surveys will also provide a pre-construction baseline fish biomass index of the not yet assembled Neptune LNG terminals.
To assess attraction or “homing” behavior to man-made structures, copious studies have utilized acoustic telemetry to monitor fish movement over time. To investigate the degree of site fidelity exhibited by selected fish species with respect to the LNG infrastructures and exclusion zones, we are tagging animals caught by hook-and-line in the vicinities of the LNG ports with acoustic transponders. These tags interface precisely with acoustic receivers deployed on the seafloor in the configuration of arrays encircling the exclusion zones. The receivers will log the occurrence of fish within a designated range for months at a time. If active fish species demonstrate high degrees of site fidelity over time, it will support the hypothesis that the LNG structures are attracting life, and will speak to potential refuge-like benefits of the exclusion zones.
Acoustic Noise Investigations
LNG port operations may emit sound that impacts normal behavior and physiology of organisms with extended residence times in the port vicinities. We will first monitor the underwater sound properties associated with both presence and absence of an LNG tanker on the premises, and then conduct controlled laboratory trials assessing the acute and chronic behavioral and physiological effects from replicated port noise in selected species.
Larval Settlement Study
Sessile invertebrates settle on almost any surface in the sea. The LNG port may act as a suitable settlement site for a diversity of larvae, including invasive species, from ships in the vicinity of Massachusetts Bay. We plan to conduct settlement studies that examine the role of the LNG port in serving as a stepping stone for sessile invertebrates to near-shore habitats and a source for the larvae of invasive species.
Microbial Diversity and Distribution
Free-living bacteria have long been known to have ubiquitous dispersal capabilities, an idea that gained wide popularity through the classic statement: “everything is everywhere, and the environment selects.” Recently, however, evidence suggests that microorganisms have vast genetic diversity, and that not all bacteria are everywhere. At the LNG terminals, we will use molecular tools to ask whether unculturable marine microbes are distributed differently in the open ocean as compared to near man-made structures, which will provide insight into how humans can influence microbial population dynamics in ocean ecosystems.