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Robinson Crusoe Island, Chile: Impacts of tsunami on the benthos


   R. Wahle (UMaine). P. Petraitis (UPenn), A. Palma (Pontificia Univ. Católica de Chile), C. Gaymer (Univ. Católica del Norte )

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Project Summary:

  This project, supported through NSF’s rapid response mechanism, is assessing the subtidal ecological impacts of the tsunami that struck Robinson Crusoe Island on 27 February 2010.  The research takes advantage of baseline data collected as part of an ongoing Chilean research project. Robinson Crusoe Island belongs to the Juan Fernandez archipelago, some 600 km west of the coast of Chile in the southeast Pacific. The island group is unique for its high level of marine and terrestrial endemism, including a fishery for the prized Robinson Crusoe Island lobster, Jasus frontalis. Since 2008 a Chilean team of investigators has provided some of the first quantitative data linking near-shore oceanographic conditions to the benthic community of this temperate oceanic island.  The Chilean project established study sites around the island at which temperature loggers, current meters, and lobster postlarval collectors have been placed, and which serve as focal points for benthic and planktonic sampling. However, the tsunami devastated the island’s waterfront village and swept away the Chilean research team’s field lab, equipment and housing. With as much as 1.5 years of ecological and oceanographic data collected prior to the tsunami, a rapid response collaboration between US and Chilean investigators will hasten the recovery of the Chilean project and provide an unusual opportunity for a rigorous before-after assessment of the tsunami’s effects on important components of the benthic community, including the island’s key fishery species. It is critical to initiate short-term assessments as soon as possible, and at the same time, reestablish the infrastructure and capacity to continue long-term sampling, which was part of the original Chilean project. The rapid response will focus on objectives for which pre-tsunami data exist: (1) Census lobster dens where social groups of lobsters were previously tagged, (2) Retrieve and redeploy artificial postlarval settlement collectors, (3)  Conduct benthic suction samples of the cobble-dwelling invertebrate assemblage, (4) Conduct video monitored predation experiments to assess changes in the predation pressure by fish and octopus, and (5) Resume tissue sampling of planktonic larvae and benthic adults for molecular genetic analysis.



Fig. 1. View of the Robinson Crusoe Island village waterfront before (left) and after (right) the 27 February 2010 tsunami. Yellow line marks the inshore extent of the wave damage. Arrows indicate the Chilean team’s dive locker/field lab and their residence a few blocks inland (Before-photo from Google Earth; after-photo taken by a member of the scientific team).