The Acoustic Tracking Array Platform

  • Other species
  • Rays & Skates
  • Sharks
Years funded
  • 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024
  • Active
Project type
  • Research

The ATAP covers thousands of kilometres of the Southern African coast. Scientists are able to use this collaborative array to paint a picture of how fish and shark species behave along the coastline to better manage and protect them in the future.

The Acoustic Tracking Array Platform

Taryn Murray

Project leader
About the project leader

As a child, I never knew what I wanted to do when I grew up, but a researcher in the academic world most certainly wasn’t it, let alone a researcher studying fish. However, in 2007 a friend suggested I take ichthyology as my third subject in my second year of university. I knew nothing about fish other than that they lived underwater, but I decided I had nothing to lose and started something that turned out to be my absolute passion. Throughout my university years, I jumped between subjects that ranged from working out how much illegal fishing...

PROJECT LOCATION : South African coastline
Related News
By Lauren De Vos, 29th June 2022
Celebrating an ocean stewardship success
The insights gained from a coast-wide network of researchers working collaboratively to tag and track marine animals have been celebrated in a new paper: ‘A Decade of South Africa’s Acoustic Tracking Array Platform: An Example of a Successful Ocean Stewardship Programme.’ The paper, published in…
Related Blogs
By Taryn Murray, 25th January 2024
More than neighbours
Most people are aware of the important role that sharks, as top predators, play in the ecosystem, but they are also amongst the most threatened, with fishing being the greatest man-made threat. As such, improved management of this group as a whole is of utmost…
By Taryn Murray, 25th January 2024
Time to grow up – a story of a baby bull shark
We often present stories of how resident fish are to estuaries – species such as dusky kob and spotted grunter can spend years in these systems. But have you ever given any thought into how much time sharks might also spend in these systems? Bull…
By Taryn Murray, 25th January 2024
The tip of the movement iceberg
Man has always been inspired by the sea, driven to learn more about it and the creatures living beneath its surface, with particular interests in how and where they move. But historically, this has always been difficult to do, because following an animal 24/7 is…
By Taryn Murray and Laura du Toit, 23rd August 2023
Turtle-y awesome tracking with ATAP!
People have always marvelled at creatures swimming beneath the water’s surface, which must have inspired and driven the first marine biologists to learn more about undersea animals. Initially, studies might have involved looking at the diet and life-history characteristics of animals: how fast they grow,…
By Dr Ed Butler, 10th July 2023
Where do our eagles fly?
Understanding the movement behaviour of South Africa’s Critically Endangered common eagle rays   The common eagle ray is one of the latest to join the growing list of Critically Endangered shark and ray species globally, as classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature…
By Dr Bruce Mann, 31st January 2022
Catface rockcod – are they stayers or movers?
This question has puzzled marine scientists at ORI for some time. If a container falls off a ship and comes to rest on a sandy bottom in a depth of 10-30 m anywhere off the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) coast and you go and dive on it…
By Ralph Watson and Taryn Murray, 11th January 2022
The little leopard catshark that could
Good things come to those who wait. If you venture underwater and swim around a reef, you’re undoubtedly bound to see some incredible things, including animals of a shyer nature – the catsharks. Not much is known about these small shark species, and the majority…
By Mike Skeeles, 31st December 2020
‘Fitbits’ for fish
A look into the effects of temperature and exploitation on fish activity  A recent technical leap in the watch industry has led to the popularity of “Fitbits” allowing us humans to constantly track our day-to-day activities through metrics such as steps. It may come as…
By Taryn Murray, Paul Cowley & Matt Parkinson, 29th December 2020
The bronze (whaler) age
If you happen to venture out on a shark cage diving boat in Gansbaai, instead of the once common glimpses of grey and white, you might find your eyes drawn to flashes of bronze. Given the recent, presumedly temporary, movement of white sharks out of…
By Dr John Filmalter and Dr Paul Cowley, 22nd December 2020
Mysteries of the iconic dusky kob in the Southern Cape. 
Back in 2016, we set out to tag adult dusky kob (Argyrosomus japonicus) in the Breede Estuary with the aim of understanding their movements and distribution within the known range for this species, which is from False Bay to northern Kwa-Zulu Natal. Current management of…
By Taryn Murray, 7th December 2020
Shifting paradigms
Quantifying changes in predator distribution in Southern Africa. South Africa was the first country to protect the iconic great white shark, almost thirty years ago, in 1991. However, unlike some other countries with large white shark populations, such as the United States, there has been…
By Ralph Watson, 10th November 2020
Trials and Tribulations of Endemic Catsharks.
People’s eyes are often drawn to the big and eye-catching. From scaling the largest mountains to building the largest skyscrapers. So much so with wildlife, where people often go on safari to see the giant elephant, a pride of lions, or a band of gorillas…
By Tamlyn Engelbrecht, 25th June 2019
ATAP Anecdotes: never underestimate a cowshark
The broadnose sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus), more commonly known as a sevengill or cowshark, is a large (up to 3 m) and fairly common coastal predator in temperate seas worldwide. In Southern Africa, the known range of these sharks stretches from Namibia to the Transkei…
By Bruce Mann and Stuart Dunlop, 12th June 2019
Fine-tuning the movement patterns of the giant guitarfish
Due to the charismatic nature of many large shark species such as great whites, tigers, bulls and whale sharks, they have received much attention over the years, and for this reason are relatively well studied. Unfortunately, this trend has left many lower priority species of…
By Paul Cowley, Taryn Murray & Matt Parkinson, 8th November 2018
The tale of a ‘home-loving’ spotted grunter
Researchers from the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) have been studying the movement behaviour of spotted grunter since 2004, with more than 120 individuals having been tagged with acoustic transmitters to date. The research initially focussed on juveniles in a single estuary and…
By Taryn Murray, Matt Parkinson & Paul Cowley, 16th October 2018
The stingray tales
Chondrichthyans, including rays, evolved at least 420 million years ago. Despite them being one of the most speciose lineages of predators on the planet, overfishing and habitat degradation have profoundly altered populations of many species. The relative extinction risk of this group was assessed using…
By Taryn Murray, Matt Parkinson & Paul Cowley, 14th September 2018
Hovering hammerheads
Hammerhead sharks are undoubtedly amongst the most recognisable species of shark on the planet. This group consists of nine species which are widespread in temperate and tropical seas, and includes the great hammerhead (EN)*, scalloped hammerhead (EN), smooth hammerhead (VU), smalleye hammerhead (VU), Carolina hammerhead…
By Taryn Murray, Matt Parkinson & Paul Cowley, 2nd August 2018
Keeping track of marine life: the Acoustic Tracking Array Platform
South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity Over a decade ago, a small project studying the habitat use and movements of spotted grunter Pomadasys commersonnii in the Great Fish Estuary using acoustic telemetry was initiated. Little were we to know that this project would later develop…
By Taryn Murray, 10th April 2015
ATAP in southern Africa – the first three years
I tagged my first fish with an acoustic transmitter more than 10 years ago and since then have become addicted to the prospect of learning more not only about where and when fish move, but also about the drivers that make them move and adopt…
Project details

The Acoustic Tracking Array Platform (ATAP): a nationwide marine science platform

Key objective

To assist researchers who are investigating the movements and migrations of marine and estuarine fish, mammals and birds using acoustic telemetry. The platform comprises a network of strategically placed acoustic receivers (listening stations) to detect acoustically tagged animals and enable researchers to monitor their movements and migrations.

Why is this important

South Africa is a biodiversity hotspot boasting a high degree of endemic marine species that are biogeographically restricted by the presence of two contrasting boundary currents. The Acoustic Tracking Array Platform (ATAP) provides a fantastic opportunity to study multiple-year migration patterns and shed light of the possible effects of climate change.


The ATAP will significantly enhance the collection of data – both presence and absence data – from all acoustically tagged animals. Several significant projects are currently underway and include a suite of species, ranging from small estuarine resident fish (e.g., Cape stumpnose) to important migratory fish species (e.g., leervis) and large apex predators (e.g., white sharks). Most of these studies have been spatially restricted due to poor acoustic coverage at a regional and national level.
The main habitats that will be covered by the ATAP receiver network include estuaries (20 permanently open systems) spanning approximately 2,000 kilometres of coastline, major embayments (False Bay, Mossel Bay and Algoa Bay) and other key monitoring sites within the inshore coastal environment along the eastern seaboard of South Africa (e.g., Port Alfred, Port St Johns, Umkomaas and Kosi Bay). The research questions being addressed are diverse and include studies of fish migration, movement behaviour, spatial use patterns, physiology, fisheries management and conservation.

Aims & objectives

The aims and objectives of this project are to:

  • Deploy and maintain a comprehensive network of Vemco VR2W acoustic receivers in inshore coastal waters around South Africa.
  • Maintain a national registry of acoustic transmitter codes, and foster greater collaboration and data sharing among local biotelemetry researchers.
  • Provide a data management service and develop a national database of all acoustic telemetry data uploaded on the ATAP.
  • Promote biotelemetry research to maximise the benefits derived from the receiver network.