Additional Participants

Senior Personnel

Alejandro Perez Matus

Graduate Student

Charlene Bergeron
Mahima Jaini
Luis Henriquez

Undergraduate Student

Sebastian Velez
Ignacio Borgeaud
Alberto Enrique Ledezma Perez
Richard Bennett
Ignacio Javier Petit Vega

Other Participant

Alvaro Palma
Carlos Gaymer

Research Experience for Undergraduates

Ileana Freytes

Organizational Partners

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

Project Period

August 15, 2010-December 31, 2011

Level of Access

Open-Access Report

Grant Number


Submission Date



This RAPID project will assess the subtidal ecological impacts of the tsunami that struck Robinson Crusoe Island on 27 February 2010 with support from the Biological Oceanography Program and the Office of International Science and Engineering/Americas. It will take 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 nearshore 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 post-larval 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.

This RAPID project 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 post-larval 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; (5) resume tissue sampling of planktonic larvae and benthic adults for molecular genetic analysis.

This project is relevant to an understanding of the resilience of marine ecosystems, biodiversity and fisheries to agents of natural disturbance of different scales and magnitudes. Current understanding of rare, short-lived, but potentially extreme natural disturbances are inherently poor. To date, documentation of the ecological impact of tsunamis on marine benthic environments is mostly restricted to the relatively recent "Christmas tsunami" of 2004 that largely affected tropical benthic communities with considerable reductions in coral reefs and associated biota in the coastal Indo-west Pacific. There are no published studies of the impact of a tsunami on the benthic assemblages of temperate oceanic islands. The small size and isolation of the Juan Fernandez archipelago dramatically increases the extinction risk for shallow marine populations and communities. Large numbers of demersal fishes and invertebrates were stranded during the tsunami. Some components of the benthic community are likely to be more vulnerable than others to this kind of disturbance.

Broader Impacts: This research will leverage public interest in the dramatic terrestrial impacts of tsunamis, drawing them into the marine realm through geo-tagged, metadata-rich photos and video. Geo-tagging is the process of adding geographical identification to media, metadata that will be particularly helpful to learners who are not accustomed to thinking about submarine locations. This component of the project will add scientific information to the media, allowing users to get instantaneous information about the scenes they are observing by placing their cursors on the images or video. To ensure that the data and information are audience-appropriate, the investigators will work with the Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) - Ocean Systems (OS) program at University of Maine. COSEE-OS has vast experience in working with scientists to frame their research through interactive media that is highly effective with educators. The media will be directly tied to the National Geographic Society's "Ocean Literacy" campaign, specifically addressing the concept "Coastal regions are susceptible to natural hazards". This will provide broad audiences an opportunity to understand the role of ecological disturbance as a force structuring populations and communities, both above and below sea level.