I’d rather be diving. This is my most depressing time of year (although I imagine many people experience ‘seasonal depression’ when the gloomy days of winter roll around. I really think the only reason I dislike it so much is because I hate sitting inside, doing data entry, catching up on samples, waking up in the dark, going home in the dark. The most appealing thing about marine biology for me is getting out in the field. Heck, I’ve even dove as recently as the beginning of December here in NY (the below photos I took from Napeague Harbor, East Hampton, this past December). But now its just too damn cold.
This time last year I was diving with Mantas in Fiji (see my photo below). Now, I’m literally sitting in the department library, analyzing data, assembling presentations, and procrastinating. I read about my professor and labmate down in Jamaica doing research. I am so jealous. Why wasn’t I smart enough to incorporate some field design that would “require” me to winter in Florida? And as I sit and look at another crappy weather forecast this weekend, I realize that I will take a job anywhere in the country, as long as it gets me out of the North East.
So what set me on this tangent? A recent National Geographic article about wrecks as artificial reefs. You should definitely do read it, its excellent. But I read that, and I realize I love diving. I don’t do enough of it recreationally. If I had to guess, over 95% of all my dives have been work related. Don’t get me wrong, I love the diving I do for research too, and often times find cool things or see interesting creatures. But nothing is better than going down with your camera, and just finding a spot, and taking pictures. Or just drifting by with the current. Not worrying about your clipboards and transect reels and zip ties and other equipment. And wreck diving is awesome, some of my favorite dives have been over wrecks. I’ve been able to dive some incredible wrecks in my travels – the USS Calvin Coolidge in Vanuatu, the Mercedes in Ft Lauderdale, the Speigel Grove in Key Largo, and the Hilma Hooker in Bonaire. My one regret is not getting to do the Superior Producer in Curacao, but I hope to make it back there one day.
So yes, after seeing the weather and reading this article, I would much, much, much rather be diving. But the NatGeo article has renewed my interest in wrecks, and Long Island has quite a few I hope to check out this year, so if anyone is interested, by all means.
Each year my adviser Bradley Peterson and fellow professor Joe Warren take a group of undergraduate students to Jamaica to participate in a course called Tropical Marine Ecology. This year is no different, although they ended up there a day late due to the most recent snow storm. That said, they all got there safe and appear to be settled in nicely. The idea behind the course is to get the students to learn about tropical marine environments by actually seeing them first hand – many of the upper level marine classes at Stony Brook are experiential in that students get hands on experiences in the field. Tropical is no different. The first few days will consist of lectures and snorkeling around to learn about the species in Discovery Bay, where the group stays. Once they take their practical, the students need to conduct a research project which they then write up for their grade in the course.
It is a short course (only ~2.5 weeks), so it is hard to accomplish very rigorous scientific experiments (also, any equipment they use needs to be brought with them, which also makes things difficult), however, the students undertake a variety of projects, investigating mangroves and seagrasses, coral cover, sponge communities, fish territories, etc. Some of the research under taken is of high quality and warrants publication. One such publication came from a group of students when the trip still went to the South Pacific where they investigated how Stegastes damselfish controlled algal assemblages, and the interplay between herbivory and nutrient addition. (Gobler, C. J., Thibault, D.B., Davis, T.W., Curran, P.B., Peterson, B.J., Liddle, L.B. 2006. Algal assemblages associated with Stegastes sp. territories on Indo-Pacific coral reefs: Characterization of diversity and controls on growth. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 336: 135–145).
More recently, a colleague of mine investigated the difference in growth rate and grazing of Thalassia between groundwater influenced and non-groundwater sites in Discovery Bay, Jamaica, with some interesting and unexpected results. That manuscript is currently submitted. In addition, thanks to her undergraduate visit to Jamaica, Amber developed her dissertation project investigating sponge community dynamics and recruitment on reefs impacted by sedimentation due to the creation of mega-resorts and those with no impact. She visits Jamaica frequently to collect data (I have tried to get her to blog about this stuff, maybe one day she will).
Anyway, back to the course. For many students, it is their first time in a tropical environment, their first time SCUBA diving, or both. It is also the first time a lot of them are expected to independently do a research project and write up/present the results. It is a great experience, and one the students truly enjoy. You can read about their excitement and adventures on the trip’s blog Tropical Blogs. You should definitely check it out.
So I frequent the UnderwaterTimes site on occasion, trying to see whats new in the world of all things underwater. Yesterday, there was an article about diving in The Independent, something about a “diving suit that turns men into fish.“ Naturally, I was intrigued, as I love diving, and while I can’t afford most advanced SCUBA technologies, I like to read about these advances that will make diving a better experience, last longer, etc.
So I started reading the article. Its introduction talks about all of humans accomplishments, ie, flying, tunneling, space travel, and yes diving – things that we have learned how to do successfully. Well except for diving. Very few people have descended to experience depths using scuba over 200 feet (the closest I ever came was 140, and typically, I stay above 70 feet). And, according to the article, more people have walked on the moon than descended to over 700 feet. Now you might be thinking why would you want to dive that deep? While one could make the same argument about why would you want to climb Mt Everest or travel to the Moon. Its all about discovery. Big things live down there. Odd things live down there. It is a unique world, one few have ever seen. That’s what makes it so appealing. It’s also kind of frightening.
But for me, its not so much about the discovery of the depths. It is dark and scary down there. I am intrigued by a no decompression, no danger of “the bends” diving opportunity. I can imagine being able to spend hours at 60 feet in Fiji, looking for shells, photographing nudibranchs, without worrying about saturation. That is appealing to me.
So I read on. Apparently, retired lung specialist Arnold Lande has patented a scuba suit that would allow humans to breath “liquified” oxygen. Sound interested? I’m on the fence now. Breathing fluid? Wouldn’t that feel like drowning?
“The first trick you would have to learn is overcoming the gag reflex,” explains Lande, a 79-year-old inventor from St Louis, Missouri. “But once that oxygenated liquid is inside your lungs it would feel just like breathing air.”
Wow. I am sure that’s a pretty hard trick to learn. But I guess I would be interested in finding out more. The suit would use a specialized liquid known as highly oxygenated perfluorocarbons, a liquid which is capable of dissolving large quantities of gas. The liquid is then contained in a helmet and replaces all the air in your lungs, nose and ears. Again, sounds frightening. However, hospitals use similar fluids for premature births which struggle to breath air. Mice have been dropped in this liquid and survived after the initial “drowning” reaction. And US Navy Seals experimented with liquid breathing in he 1980s. So it is possible.
This would allow us to explore the depths. Send workers down to exploded deep sea oil rigs. Collect sediment and animal samples on scientific expeditions. Photograph angler fish. All cool and useful things. According to the article, using oxygen suspended in liquid would not have to worry about decompression sickness, since theoretically, there would be no bubbles in the blood stream. This is appealing because it allows the divers to dive deeper and stay down longer.
But then I read this part: the CO2 would be scrubbed from the blood stream by attaching a “gill” to the femoral vein in the leg. And that’s all the article says about this. Granted, its a news article about the possibility. But, wait, what? Not only do I have to breath in liquid, I need to have some mechanical gill attached into my leg? Clearly, this is not for people like me. It is interesting to think about, though, that’s for sure.
Lionfish from my Fiji dive trip. It was upside down under a coral ledge
In Florida, divers collected over 650 invasive lionfish off the reefs during a series of lionfish derbies in the Keys. Lionfish hail from the South Pacific and have no known predators in the Atlantic. Additionally, since they are novel, many reef fish might not recognize them as the voracious predators that they are. This is especially problematic and has been cause for concern for quite some time. According to a NOAA website, lionfish were first observed in the Atlantic in 2002 and have been sighted all along the Atlantic seaboard and as far north as Long Island, NY. I am very aware of this population. It has made the press several times over the past 5 years, and while I have not observed one directly, I know of divers who collect them around Shinnecock Inlet, not far from some of my dive locations. (Maybe one day I’ll actually do a recreational dive around there and spot one for myslef!)
Back to the story at hand. Lionfish are invasive and threatening to local populations. So, in the US state and federal governments encourage the capture of these tropical invaders. But other countries in the Caribbean have also joined suit. Jamaica actually promotes the consumption of lionfish to encourage fishermen to harvest them. This acts as a double whammy – it protects some species from exploitation while also preventing lionfish from eating juveniles. While I don’t know of a fishing method that specifically targets lionfish, and I don’t want it to seem as though I promote overfishing, wouldn’t it be nice if fishermen could over-harvest to the point of local extinctions a pesky invader? According to the Jamaica article linked above, lionfish reportedly sells for ~$12 a pound in the Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos government has offered a $3000 award to the first fisherman to catch 3000 lionfish. Similar lionfish derbies in Jamaica have already netted over 1400 of these fish. With all the effort, one would hope that lionfish could be controlled to the point where they are ecologically insignificant in the Caribbean and Atlantic.
By the way, according to the Florida article, when cleaned properly, lionfish is a nice white meat which is considered a delicacy in many places.
Is Open!!!!! Went out diving with lab mate Brad Furman this morning for some scallops. Found a good spot where nobody was fishing, heavy macroalgae (Codium fragile). Dove for 52 minutes, collected about 250 scallops myself, Brad grabbed another 125. Pretty good morning. Here’s hoping for a great
Well, maybe not the most wonderful. But it’s close. I’ve been diving a couple times now, and it is so much better than sitting in the lab. Plus an added benefit is that the water is still pretty clear this time of year. So we have been diving to monitor the spawner sanctuary sites – the 2 bottom planting sites and the long lines. Basically we do quadrat counts of the scallops on the bottom to get an idea of the mortality from time point to time point, and we sample a set of scallops to look at growth, gonad index and condition index. For the long lines we sample scallops from the end lines and the center line to look at growth, GI and CI.
Well, I just talked about Monday’s work diving – searching and collecting the recruitment squares, and then replacing them. But we ended up finishing that fairly quickly this time (only a couple of hours) and we had a prospective student for next fall (09) with us – a former Master of Science student from Dauphin Island Sea Lab who currently works for a consulting firm in Florida and deals with habitat restoration and monitoring, and inparticular, seagrass restoration and monitoring. The day ended earlier than usual at my field site, so we stopped at a couple of other spots on the way home to do some fun dives, and so I could show my friend around.
First, we stopped at the long lines in Orient Harbor (which I talk about here in my first ever post.) Now the long lines essentially are just that, rows of lines with anywhere from 100-200 or more lantern nets hanging so that the scallops are suspended mid water column – out of the reach of predators on the bottom and not exposed to air from above. (On a side note, lantern nets make great closet additions – hanging a five tiered net or two in your closet eliminates the need for a dresser, for example, and they are good to store food in as well). Now I mention the long line site, bc I have dove on it quite a few times this summer and it always creeps me out – the water is murky (it is Long Island, afterall) and you just see these large dark objects come into view just hanging there, motionless,fouled with all sorts of algae, squirts, tunicates and sponges. When I am working with the nets, opening them under water, reaching in to sample scallops , sometimes I get spun around and another net hits me in the back, or a line from the bottom of the net hits my fin – this always freaks me out just a bit.
Either way, they are cool to see so we went there, looked at the nets, where I tried to get a picture of some of the fouling organisms.
We also went to the bottom near the nets to see any scallops released near the nets
and to just look around and see what we could find – and we had quite the find – a mantis shrimp, just walking around, and at one point looking right at me! Pretty awesome.
Next we stopped over at a healthy Zostera bed at Hay Beach on the northeast side of Shelter Island, especially since our visitor is particularly interested in seagrass. We saw some pretty cool stuff there as well, including juvenile flounder
just swimming around. There were also cunner, tautog, and pipefish.
We also found a few whelks and a scallop spat!
And of course, lots of silversides following us around, as we were stirring things up. Now silversides are nearly impossible to catch with the camera, at least for me, since they are almost transparent and blend in with the water, plus they swim around so fast, but I was able to capture a few of them here (oh and that out of focus blog at the center in the upper half of the photo is a comb jelly, or ctenophore).
All in all a fairly good day!
As part of our free plant scallop monitoring, I went diving in Flanders Bay, the westernmost of the Peconic Estuary system, to do quadrat counts and collect scallops for gonad index analysis – we can use this to see if and when the scallops have spawned. The counts revealed ~2 scallops per square meter – much lower than the original planting densities, but still fairly decent numbers considering the un-ideal bottom. That said, I saw a northern puffer (YAY!) in my first quadrat. This is exciting because their numbers have been severely reduced in recent years. However, puffers are potential scallop predators, so I don’t know how excited I should be. However, they may also inhibit mud crab predation on scallops. Either way, it was exciting. I saw sea nettles, tons of comb jellies (ctenophores), that puffer, tons of silversides, blackfish and cunners, whelks, mud crabs, and of course scallops – oh and some red beard sponges. It was actually a pretty decent dive. Take a look at the pictures.
Well, I checked on my mats last week… everything looked good. I had to go back today to pick up my first set of recruitment squares. But more on that later. This week was the first “spat week” of the summer, well the first official spat week anyway. 6 weeks ago we placed out the first set of spat collectors at 24 different sites throughout the Peconics. Three weeks after that, we deployed the second set. Tuesday and Wednesday, we retrieved the first set we deployed (having soaked for 6 weeks) and dropped in set #3. The idea behind the collectors is that we place mesh bags in the water with a plastic mesh insert that larval scallops and other organisms will settle on when they are ready to come out of the water column. Of course, we are most interested in scallops, but we also monitor other things that we catch in these nets, including jingle shells, blue mussels, mortons egg cockles, and arc shells among the bivalves, and slipper shells, lacuna snails, and lunar dove snails among the gastropods. We also often get numerous mud crabs, although sometimes they get in through holes in the collector. Anyway, on Tuesday we collected over 1,000 scallop spat, which is the most we have ever collected this early in the season (this is now the 4th year of the monitoring). That means that we had an earlier spawn than normal this year, at least an earlier first spawn for scallops. Additionally, we observed a large mussel set, which is unusual, since we hadn’t seen one this large either, especially considering there are no substantial mussel populations near our collectors. Either way, it was very exciting! On Wednesday, we didn’t collect nearly as many, but it was still encouraging, because the collectors we checked were not near any known scallop populations or spawning sanctuaries, so the fact that we found as many as we did was very good!
So taking this good news, I went to my site today to retrieve my recruitment squares. I was not sure what to expect. My grass mats are in Hallock Bay, were we did free plant scallops last winter, but also where our spat collectors recovered very few scallop spat throughout the whole little bay (<10). sticklebacks , killifish, silversides, cunner, tautog, and sea bass, and lots of mud crabs, climbing my seagrass!!!! Very exciting day indeed, even though I didn’t get any spat and lost all my pictures!
Oh, and as an aside, during a lunch break on the boat on Tuesday, we hauled up on a beach in Little Bay in Orient Beack State Park. There is a tidal pond there and I observed sheepshead minnows mating! Pretty awesome week…
So, I got back in the water this week for the first time since December… And to be quite honest, it wasn’t that bad… I mean I did have my new Diving Conceptsdrysuit, which works so well, I felt almost too hot… But it was pretty cool…
Tuesday we were in the water in Hallock Bay, a shallow body of water with a narrow inlet into Orient Harbor. This bay is the site of my grass mat deployments, but it is also the site of a free plant spawner sanctuary. Free plant means that scallops are just released to the bottom – no nets or cages here. Last November we planted about 70,000 seed scallops to the bottom in a bouyed off area, and dove on the site on Tuesday to look at overwinter mortality. The first site we looked at was almost heartbreaking – while we were still getting around 5 live scallops per square meter, we had extremely high mortality. We think this is partly attributed to the 100% macroalgae cover and the anoxic layer underneath the algae that results from such a dense assemblage. Many of the scallops were “trapped” in this layer, probably due to the late planting date, with the water too cold for the scallops to be very active and try to move up onto the canopy. However, not far away, where the cover was not as dense and had more Codium, we were finding upwards of 20 per square meter still surviving, which was very good to see. In other portions of this bay we didn’t find too many seed scallops, although we found a few large, possibly year 2 adults. Hopefully we see better numbers in Hallock Bay this year with the decent overwinter survival of the free planted scallops.
Wednesday we dove mostly in Orient Harbor, first near the long lines where we have probably near 500,000 scallops hanging in lantern nets. We had decent seed recruitment there in the fall, and at various places within Orient, so we wanted to look at overwinter mortality. Some places we dove had fewer scallops than in the fall, and some places had far more scallops. All in all, we are seeing some decent returns from last fall. We have about 14 more sites to visit next week, so we will see whats going on then, but right now, things look like they are going to be ok.
On a lighter note, there was alot more activity going on in the bays then I expected. Spider crabs were out in the dozens, and it appeared to me as if many of them were mating, although I am not 100% about the mating rituals of spider crabs. Lots of whelks moving around the bottom too, as well as some drills. I also saw a very large (at least it looked large underwater) winter flounder, which was very docile. I was petting it and it barely moved. It finally swam away when I grabbed its tail. If only I had one of the larger dive bags I am confident I would have had dinner! I also saw a couple of skates, although which species I am not sure. They don’t like to be touched at all, and when I tried to rub their backs they darted off. Anyway, some pretty exciting stuff, diving with my new drysuit, seeing some scallops, and seeing pretty interesting things as well. I can’t wait until next week.
I am a marine biologist that is currently attending graduate school at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Marine Sciences Research Center, of Stony Brook University, New York. I am very interested in marine ecology and have been focusing my studies on bay scallop interactions with their habitats. I plan to investigate various anthropogenic impacts on bay scallop populations for my PhD dissertation. This blog will highlight the details of my graduate research, from bay scallop-eelgrass interactions as previously mentioned, to alternative habitats for scallops, such as Codium, to trophic cascades, and more. Enjoy!
Is a useful experimental tool to mimic natural seagrass while controlling many factors, such as density, canopy height, leaf number, which are usually confounding in natural eelgrass meadows.
Scallops seem to love this stuff!