The XXV International Bioacoustics Congress was held in Murnau, Germany from 7th-12th September 2015, with a packed programme of papers, keynotes, posters and events. The River Listening team presented two posters on the project, which are also featuring during the River Listening Lab at the 2016 World Science Festival in Brisbane, Australia.
In February 2015 a new UNESCO masterclass was delivered as a dynamic blended learning experience for the Asia-Pacific region. Titled “UNESCO Biosphere Reserves as Learning Laboratories for Sustainability”, the program involved immersive masterclasses occurring in Australian Biosphere Reserves accompanied by lectures streamed live online. The program was developed by Leah Barclay in collaboration with UNESCO and provided an opportunity to develop educational tools to bring River Listening into biosphere reserves internationally.
The network of UNESCO biosphere reserves across the Asia-Pacific region offers a unique opportunity for synthesizing experiences and sharing knowledge in response to the ramifications of climate change. This UNESCO masterclass showcased the local and global value of biosphere reserves as learning laboratories for sustainability. It highlighted a series of projects and innovative ideas uniting the conservation of biological and cultural diversity. The initial modules focused on local issues exploring community engagement, partnerships and projects, while the concluding modules focused on global issues across the Asia-Pacific and introduced the opportunities for knowledge sharing, virtual collaborations and the future possibilities of creative technology in responding to climate change.
This masterclass identified a clear need to develop accessible tools that enable biosphere reserves to share their experiences. The Asia-Pacific region could act as a catalyst in inspiring international biosphere reserves to take climate action and one of the most critical tools will be the ability to creatively and collaboratively share advice, ideas and actions from other communities who have had similar experiences. Through this masterclass, the value and future possibilities of UNESCO biosphere reserves was deeply explored to showcase how these sites could have a significant impact in shaping local, national and international climate adaptation responses by engaging communities in interdisciplinary projects.
Underpinning this project is the opportunity to harness the possibilities of mobile technology and community engagement to strengthen the network of UNESCO biosphere reserves. The blended learning experience of this masterclass was developed through a process of research and experimentation to form the most effective tool kit to facilitate accessible education programs. The masterclass proved that embracing the possibilities of this emerging technology will improve cooperation and awareness of the Asia Pacific Biosphere Reserve Network.
The immersive masterclasses in Australia were hosted in Great Sandy Biosphere Reserve in Queensland and Mornington Peninsula and Western Port Biosphere Reserve in Victoria. These sessions included interactive demonstrations on bioacoustics and creative approaches to ecosystem monitoring. The immersive programs were supported by weekly live streams throughout February and March hosted on www.biosherelab.org through Google+ and YouTube’s live streaming platform. The live stream included a realtime Q&A session that leveraged social media platforms such as twitter and encouraged participants to connect online. Biosphere Lab (www.biospherelab.org) was launched as the online platform to host this masterclass and was developed in collaboration with Dr Leah Barclay, UNESCO and CONNECT Asia. The masterclass content was created by Leah Barclay.
Projects featured throughout this masterclass included Floating Land, an interdisciplinary art event in the Noosa Biosphere Reserve, the international Balance-Unbalance initiative exploring the role of creativity in climate change and a wide spectrum of projects taking an innovative and accessible approach to environmental monitoring. These include Rainforest Connections (www.rfcx.org) a project that protects rainforests by transforming recycled cell-phones into autonomous, solar-powered listening devices that can monitor and pinpoint chainsaw activity at great distance, and Biosphere Soundscapes (www.biospheresoundscapes.org), a bioacoustics project exploring the changing soundscapes of UNESCO biosphere reserves through creativity and digital technology. The masterclass also introduced emerging projects such as Racing Extinction (www.racingextinction.com) a global movement involving a team of artists and activists exposing the hidden world of endangered species and the value of connecting people to the sights and sounds of the natural world in order to inspire climate action.
As technology continues to become more accessible there are exceptional opportunities to explore the possibilities and continue connecting communities. This masterclass was an example of exploring what is possible, and it has been successful in engaging people across the Asia-Pacific region and across the world. The participation was focused mainly through Australia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia, but the live streams also engaged participants from Mexico to New York and New Zealand to Spain. This masterclass was not about traditional education, but exploring new dynamic models that combine global engagement with immersive experiences and leverage new technologies that are rapidly becoming accessible.
This masterclass highlighted the benefits of technology, creativity, culture and community engagement. It proved that communities must feel inspired, connected and supported when responding to natural disasters and environmental changes. The network of Asia-Pacific biosphere reserves opens up the possibilities for connected communities who value culture and think creatively in response to climate change. Biosphere reserves are highly critical sites as we move towards a future of environmental uncertainty. As learning laboratories for sustainability, biosphere reserves present an incredible opportunity to connect communities across the world in responding to the greatest environmental challenges of our time. Communities of biosphere reserves must be aware of their local and global value, engaged in participatory projects and inspired to take action. This masterclass demonstrated that technology, creativity, culture and participatory engagement has the capacity to inspire resilient communities and shape a sustainable future.
World Rivers Day is a celebration of the world’s waterways. It highlights the many values of our rivers, strives to increase public awareness, and encourages the improved stewardship of all rivers around the world. Rivers in virtually every country face an array of threats, and only through our active involvement can we ensure their health in the years ahead.
In 2005, the United Nations launched the Water for Life Decade to help create a greater awareness of the need to better care for our water resources. Following this, the establishment of World Rivers Day was in response to a proposal initiated by internationally renowned river advocate, Mark Angelo.
The proposal for a global event to celebrate rivers was based on the success of BC Rivers Day, which Mark Angelo had founded and led in western Canada since 1980. A World Rivers Day event was seen by agencies of the UN as a good fit for the aims of the Water for Life Decade and the proposal was approved. River enthusiasts from around the world came together to organize the inaugural WRD event. That first event in 2005 was a great success and Rivers Day was celebrated across dozens of countries. Since then, the event has continued to grow. It is annually celebrated on the last Sunday of every September. In 2014, several million people across more than 60 countries will be celebrating the many values of our waterways.
To celebrate World Rivers Day 2014 we are running River Listening workshops along the Mary River in Queensland in collaboration with the Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee (MRCCC) and the Greater Mary Association Inc. The first will be on Saturday, September 27 at Moy Pocket near Kenilworth and the second on Sunday the 28th, near Tiaro, much closer to the river’s mouth. The Mary River is just over three hundred kilometres long with several thousand kilometres of tributaries included in its catchment. For over two decades the MRCCC has worked to foster better stewardship of not just the river and its riparian vegetation but of the whole of the catchment.
The Moy Pocket Rivercare Day will be held just to the north of Pickering bridge and will include a riparian walk led by Marc Russell as well as tree-planting, natural regeneration and some freeing of young trees engulfed by Cat’s Claw Creeper. The property is part of the Connection Road Corridor which links the biodiverse Conservation Park on top of the Kenilworth Bluff with the Mary River. The day starts at 10 am and goes till mid-afternoon. The River Listening workshop will happen from 12pm-1pm with an introduction to the project and demonstration of the River Listening hydrophone recording kits. Participants will have the opportunity to listen to the sounds of the Mary River and make their own hydrophone recording that will be published on this website in November.
The Tiaro event on Sunday the 28th of September, will be held in the Mary River Koala corridor at Petrie Park on the Mary River just north of Tiaro town. Starting at 10:00 am, the event includes koala food tree planting, and the launch of a new publication by the Greater Mary Association about the creation of the corridor. There will also be opportunities to tour the biological control facility established to fight Cats Claw creeper around the Fraser Coast region. The River Listening workshop will run from 1:30-2:30pm with an introduction to aquatic bioacoustics, hydrophone demonstrations and recording in two locations along the river. Participation in the River Listening workshops is free of charge and the resulting recordings will contribute towards a community sound installation at the 2014 Mary River Festival.
Thanks to Tanzi Smith for inviting River Listening to participate in these events.
The database of hydrophone recordings from the initial Listening Labs on Noosa River, Brisbane River and Mary River feature extensive recordings of snapping shrimp, one of the most common aquatic sounds captured by hydrophones. While I have been recording snapping shrimp for a number of years, I’m always intrigued to see the reactions when people hear the sounds of shrimp for the first time. Many of the workshop participants find it hard to believe a tiny creature can create such an intense sound.
Snapping Shrimp, also know as Pistol shrimp or Alpheidae, are found worldwide with over 600 species living in oceans, rivers and freshwater catchments. The sound they emit could be likened to a crackling fire, but has the capacity to stun crabs and fish and reach an impressive 218 decibels.
The snapping shrimp has two claws, one which appears to be disproportionately large with two unique joints that create the distinctive sound. The speed in which the joint snaps shut creates a powerful wave that results in the loud popping sound. The sound is generated by the collapse of a cavitation bubble formed in an extremely rapid closure of their claw.
A temporal analysis of the sound recordings and the high-speed images below show that no sound is associated with the claw closure, it is all created in the collapse of the bubble.
Although they are usually only 3–5 cm long, this family of shrimp is considered the loudest animal in the sea, which is an impressive feat considering the size of a sperm whale. When found in large numbers, the shrimp have the capacity to interfere with sonar and underwater communication equipment and also other aquatic species.
It is rare to capture a singular shrimp in a recording, the soundscapes generally consist of a constant crackling and popping that will continue for hours. I have been observing the sonic changes in the shrimp sounds at different times of day, and also analysing how they react to other sounds in the river.
Considering there are 600 species of this shrimp worldwide, it is certainly a large area of aquatic bioacoustics that warrants further investigation. My initial questions revolve around the specific sonic characteristics of the species present in South East Queensland rivers. As the shrimp can interfere with sonar and underwater communication equipment, it would be interesting to explore how they affect communication and interaction amongst other aquatic species in Queensland rivers. It is also likely the intensity of the sounds they emit has an impact of other aspects of the river ecosystem. To explore this further I am planning to monitor other aspects of the river ecosystems at four contrasting sites. From a creative perspective, we are currently exploring concepts for a range of installations that will draw on the source material and allow listeners to experience the soundscapes in immersive contexts using transducers to produce the effect of listening underwater.
“ Our mission is to do world-class science that improves our understanding of catchment, river, estuarine and coastal ecosystems; to provide a creative and collaborative environment that fosters the next generation of ecosystem scientists; and to provide the knowledge to support the sustainable use and conservation of the world’s natural resources.”
One of the most exciting aspects of River Listening is the opportunity to collaborate with The Australian Rivers Institute (ARI) in Brisbane. While River Listening revolves around field work with ARI scientists across South East Queensland, we are also exploring ways to integrate our outcome into existing ARI research projects.
The Australian Rivers Institute is Australia’s largest university aquatic ecosystem research group with globally recognised expertise in river, catchment and coastal ecosystems and the interaction of these systems with society. The institute brings together 130 staff and researchers at the Nathan and Gold Coast campuses of Griffith University. Their international reputation is evident in being a founding member of the International Water Centre and holding seats on a number of international water management committees, such as the Global Water System Project, and Diversitas. The research conducted at the ARI provides the knowledge to underpin the sustainable management of aquatic ecosystems and ARI researchers have initiated a series of interdisciplinary research projects, including creative collaborations, that have been recognised internationally.
Their research focuses on a “source to sea” philosophy, delivering through six themes:
Catchment and river ecosystem processes
Coastal and estuarine ecosystem processes
Restoration science and environmental flows
Aquatic ecosystem monitoring and assessment
Aquatic biodiversity and conservation
Integration and adoption
Through its leaders and researchers, the Institute is proactive in national and international water science planning and research bodies. Freshwater conservation planning is an area of emerging strength at ARI. Dr Simon Linke, Dr Virgilio Hermoso and Dr Mark Kennard are at the forefront of pioneering research to identify conservation and management priorities to sustain freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity. Adapting and applying systematic planning principles to the unique challenges posed by freshwater environments, they have developed novel techniques for integrating spatial and temporal hydrologic connectivity and other important ecological processes into the spatial prioritization process.
The scientific grounding of the River Listening collaboration is led by ARI Senior Research Fellow Dr Simon Linke, one of Australia’s leading freshwater conservation scientists, whose pioneering work in biomonitoring and river conservation planning has been used by agencies and NGOs from South East Queensland to the Congo. Dr Linke’s current research interests include environmental planning and real-time ecology using movement tracking, bioacoustics and environmental DNA.
An iconic building and the headquaters of the Australian Rivers Institute, the Sir Samuel Griffith Centre is Australia’s first teaching and research building powered by a combination of photovoltaics and hydrogen. The centre has been awarded a 6-star green rating by the Green Building Council of Australia.
The building exemplifies Griffith University’s mission to provide world leading technology, facilities and resources enabling the finest minds to strive for great outcomes in education and research – all founded on a non-negotiable commitment to environmental sustainability.
Griffith long-standing international reputation for excellence in environmental research helps it play a leading role in managing water resources with a focus on freshwater, estuarine and urban water. Australian Rivers Institute researchers have developed a set of ecosystem health assessment tools for measuring conservation efforts in producing South-East Queensland’s annual Healthy Waterways Report Card. They have also revolutionised work in wastewater testing and identified new methods for river monitoring. The River Listening team is looking forward to expanding this project in collaboration with ARI in the future.
In our current state of environmental crisis, biodiversity assessment is critical to understanding the rapid ecological changes taking place across the globe. In the last ten years, there has been a strong emergence of non-invasive monitoring involving auditory recordings of the environment. This emerging field is commonly referred to as soundscape ecology and shares many parallels with other fields, including bioacoustics. Soundscape ecology has an array of creative possibilities that have been deeply explored by practitioners including Bernie Krause. The literature suggests it will continue expanding within scientific fields, with a particular focus on the importance of soundscape conservation, the impact of noise pollution, and the value of soundscapes to assist with biodiversityanalysis. There are now a growing number of international projects and scientific institutions embracing methods of bioacoustics in biodiversity analysis of aquatic environments.
River Listening is a practice-led interdisciplinary collaboration of freshwater biodiversity, virtual technologies, soundscape ecology and environmental sound art to explore methods of hydrophonic recording, soundscape analysis and virtual dissemination. Despite the rapidly growing interest in emerging auditory fields such as bioacoustics, there is yet to be standardised approaches to field recording and interpreting the data. While scientists have developed advanced software tools for species recognition, there is a growing need to consolidate the available tools and explore the value of listening to the data in new ways. There are also exciting possibilities to make this data available for a wider audience through digital technology and creative collaborations.
The River Listening Synapse residency specifically involves field labs on the identified rivers experimenting with various hydrophonic recording techniques and sound processing. The labs each involve a three-week immersive engagement process, which is based on a methodology developed during my doctoral research. The labs involve three daily recording sessions; sunrise, midday and dusk. Each recording session is approximately two hours, with a custom-made quadrophonic hydrophone rig attached to a moving kayak. These recordings are databased onsite, and made available online for analysis at the Australian Rivers Institute.
In addition to the kayak recordings, other field kits are distributed on location to capture sounds without human intervention. These include a stationary hydrophone that records from the same location during the entire field lab and a series of smaller field kits to capture the soundscapes above the water. The additional field kits are useful to analyse particular sound sources in the hydrophone recordings that might be difficult to identify. The recording sessions are accompanied by community workshops and creative development experiments involving streaming and processing the hydrophone recordings. The team will facilitate a range of community events and will also collaborate with existing programs in each river community.
The field labs are designed in an open format and encourage collaborations with the local community. The future outcomes will be made available through a virtual sound map and public listening sessions in Queensland, Australia. The database of recordings will form the foundation for a series of experiments at the Australian Rivers Institute to explore new methods in understanding and analysing the data from a scientific and creative perspective.
I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with The Australian Rivers Institute (ARI) on River Listening. The Australian Rivers Institute is Australia’s largest university aquatic ecosystem research group with globally recognised expertise in river, catchment and coastal ecosystems. ARI is currently leading a range of innovative projects revolving around catchment and river ecosystem processes, aquatic biodiversity and conservation, and aquatic ecosystem monitoring and assessment.
While I’m working with several researchers at ARI, the scientific grounding of the River Listening collaboration is directed by ARI Senior Research Fellow Dr Simon Linke, one of Australia’s leading freshwater conservation scientists, whose pioneering work in biomonitoring and river conservation planning has been used by agencies and NGOs from South East Queensland to the Congo. Simon has a strong interest in bioacoustics and was introduced to me Dr Toby Gifford, a music technologist from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. Dr Gifford is a world-leader in real-time audio processing, machine listening and automated musical scene description who has worked with the ARI to explore future frameworks for a real-time bioacoustic wildlife population monitoring network for Australian waterways. We hope some of the results from River Listening can be incorporated into the broader aquatic bioacoustics visions of ARI in the future.
As the international interest in the emerging auditory fields of bioacoustics and acoustic ecology continues to expand, there are clear opportunities to harness virtual technologies to develop accessible community engagement around the creative and scientific possibilities of listening to the environment. River Listening provides a model to develop a truly interdisciplinary approach at the critical stage of creative development and it is anticipated the future results will be beneficial to national ecosystem monitoring programs. I also hope that River Listening could become a catalyst for community engagement and interdisciplinary thinking at a time when the conservation and management of aquatic ecosystems is a critical priority. At the conclusion of the River Listening labs in Queensland, the research team hope to expand this project across Australia and beyond.
River Listening is a research collaboration between independent artist Dr. Leah Barclay and the Australian Rivers Institute to explore new methods for acoustically monitoring four Queensland river systems: the Brisbane River, the Mary River, the Noosa River and the Logan River. The project involves the establishment of site-specific listening labs to experiment with hydrophonic recording and sound diffusion to measure aquatic biodiversity including fresh-water fish populations – a key indicator of river health. River Listening fundamentally explores the creative possibilities of aquatic bioacoustics and the potential for new approaches in the management and conservation of global river systems.
In 2014, The Australian Rivers Institute (ARI) and
Dr. Leah Barclay were awarded a prestigious Synapse grant to support the development of River Listening. Synapse is an initiative of the Australia Council for the Arts and the Australia Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) that supports collaborations between artists and scientists in Australia. This project extends Barclay’s long-term engagement in acoustic ecology to explore the creative possibilities of aquatic bioacoustics in collaboration with an interdisciplinary research team.