Florida Keys Telemetry

Project Overview

Effective fisheries management incorporates knowledge across many topics: connectivity between habitats, trophic interactions, the importance of spawning aggregations, and movement of marine species. The complexity of the Florida Key’s Reef Tract, with a vast array of habitats (coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves), are used by many marine animals. One tool that The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) uses to help manage marine resources in the Florida Keys is acoustic telemetry.

Acoustic telemetry can provide a unique opportunity to study animal movement and behavior. Both the Finfish and Lobster Research Teams in the South Florida Regional Lab of FWC have been maintaining acoustic arrays throughout the Florida Keys Reef Tract for over a decade. By using acoustic transmitters to monitor reef fish species, FWC has evaluated the movement ecology of various reef fish inhabitants including snappers, groupers, lionfish, and hogfish. FWC has also examined the movements of some non-fish species such as spiny lobster and queen conch. By working in collaboration with other organizations, the FWC’s long-term monitoring arrays have shared data on many other species including permit, tarpon, cobia, parrotfish, sawfish, sharks, rays and sea turtles, just to name a few.  

This project aims to understand:

  • How movement patterns vary between reef species, such as the size of a home range, habitat use preferences, and possible migration patterns
  • What are the timing, distance, and duration of movements related to spawning behavior
  • Do patterns of connectivity exist between protected and non-protected marine areas
  • What factors influence movement patterns, such as seasonality, lunar cycle or other environment conditions

Animal tracking consists of two parts. The first part of animal tracking is tagging the animal.  For reef fish species, FWC scientist have refined a method that involves tagging the fish underwater. Scientists use fish traps to capture the targeted species and then dive underwater to implant an acoustic tag in the abdominal cavity of the fish. This animal is released immediately into the surrounding sheltering habitat. For animals such as the spiny lobster, tags are externally attached to the carapace using a special marine epoxy.

The second part of tracking an acoustically tagged animal is maintaining underwater acoustic receiver stations that will collect information from a tagged animal when it swims by. The acoustic array maintained by FWC and partners in the Florida Keys is comprised of over 170 receivers and stretches from Key Largo to Dry Tortugas National Park.

Why this Matters

Data gained from this project provides better knowledge on reef species habitat use, spawning behavior, and different factors influencing the movement behavior of these species in the Florida Keys. With this information managers can make better decisions for the future management of these species within the Florida Keys.

Lead Organizations


  • The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
  • Bonefish and Tarpon Trust
  • The FACT Network
  • iTAG
  • University of Massachusetts
  • Clemson University
  • Florida Atlantic University
  • Florida International University
  • University of Puerto Rico

Supported by

Funding for the FWC Florida Keys acoustic telemetry projects have been provided by the following:

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
  • The National Park Service
  • The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida, Inc.

Project Status

  • Ongoing; with the acoustic arrays changing over time as new research questions are addressed
    • FACT Project Codes:
      • FLKEYST (tags)
      • FLKEYS (array)


Resources & Publications

Citations from the South Florida Regional Lab:

Citations from Telemetry Partnerships: