HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

Second Degree Name

M.S. Coastal Zone Management

First Advisor

Richard Spieler

Second Advisor

Manhar Dhanak

Third Advisor

Tracey Sutton

Fourth Advisor

Kirk Kilfoyle


The objective of this project was to determine if the electromagnetic field (EMF) emissions from undersea power cables impacted the local and transient marine life, with an emphasis on reef fishes. The work was done at South Florida Ocean Measurement Facility of Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, Broward County, Florida. This facility functions as the hub for a range of active undersea detection and data transmission cables. It has multiple active submarine power cables that extend several miles offshore and which can deliver power and enable data transmission to and from a range of acoustic and EMF sensors. The cables lie directly on the seabed, are buried in the sand, or are suspended in the water column. EMF emissions from a selected cable were created during SCUBA fish surveys. During the surveys the transmission of either alternating current (AC) or Direct Current (DC) was randomly intiated by the facility with no transmitted current (OFF) provided a control. The surveys were conducted using standardized transect and stationary point count methods to acquire reef fish abundances prior to and immediately after a change in transmission frequency (the divers were aware of the time of frequency change but not the specific frequencies). The divers were also tasked to note the reaction of the reef fishes to the immediate change in the EMFs emitting from the cable during a power switch. The surveys were conducted on a quarterly basis at three sampling sites offshore on the same cable. These sites were in water depths of approximately 5, 10, and 15 m, respectively and were selected based on their robust reef fish community and are representative of each of the three primary hardbottom coral reef habitats in the local offshore environment: the Inner (Shallow), Middle, and Outer (Deep) reef tracts. A total of 263 surveys were conducted: 132 transect-counts and 131 point-counts over 15 months. There were 24,473 fishes counted during transect-count surveys and with point-counts, 36,115 fishes were counted. With count types and sites combine a total of 151 species representing 35 families were recorded. An analysis of the data primarily did not find statistical differences among power states and any variables. However, this may be a Type II error as there are strong indications of a potential difference of a higher abundance of reef fishes at the sites when the power was off. There are a number of caveats to consider with this finding: the data set needs to be larger in terms of numbers of: counts, sites and eletro-sensitive species to allow for rigorous statistical analysis; also a longer time between frequency changes to allow for slower, but nonetheless important, reactions to differing EMFs might lead to differing conclusions. Obviously, more research is required to confirm the results of this study.

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