Yes, I am back. After a looooong hiatus, I am finally back to blogging! (no, seriously, hold your applause). I had been pretty busy the last few months with writing, defending and editing my dissertation (John M Carroll Dissertation). But that is all over now! Defense was successful, edits completed, graduate school accepted, and as of August 16th, I am officially a doctor! So I am hoping that now, I can now get back to writing posts more regularly. I am starting a new position, a post-doc with Dr. Chris Finelli at UNC-Wilmington in the MarBEL (Marine Biofluiddynamics and Ecological Lab) lab. This will be a relatively new field for me, so I am looking forward to learning new methods and working with new people. In fact, I am in Wilmington right now and will be officially starting my position next week – so more to come on that.
But I wanted to make a post today talking about something from my recent past – the Shinnecock Restoration Project (ShiRP). I was involved in preliminary research and monitoring for this project the past two summers, so I am very excited about the big news – $3million dollar donation to restore Western Shinnecock Bay – an area degraded by eutrophication and overfishing and hampered with recurrent harmful algal blooms. This confluence of factors, and likely including other factors such as distance from larval source, has led to shellfish populations in the western portion of Shinnecock Bay extremely low. This is problematic, since the lost shellfish – mainly clams and oysters – are filter feeding organisms and thus act as natural filters for the water column. As their numbers dwindled, water condition worsened, eelgrass cover decreased, harmful algal blooms increased, which affected recruitment of new bivalves to the western bay – a term called a feedback loop. However, restoration has worked to successfully bring back scallop populations to the Peconics – another New York estuary – so there is a lot of confidence that restoration will work in Shinnecock Bay as well.
I am very excited for my colleagues back at SoMAS for this project. The general plan is to combat the decreasing water quality by significantly boosting shellfish populations – on the order of millions – in spawner sanctuaries within the western bay. The idea is that these bivalves will serve two purposes. First, they will increase the filtration capacity of the western bay, removing plankton and thus nitrogen, from the water column. Second, these high density aggregations will have enhanced fertilization success and act as new larval sources, pumping millions more baby shellfish into the bay. Last fall, I was able to be on a trip that planted ~500,000 seed clams into the bay. I was also involved in investigating the growth of seagrass transplants from sites with varying water quality at different sites along the water quality gradient in Shinnecock Bay to identify the most hardy population that could withstand poor water quality in the western bay. This information will be used for the second phase of the project, which is eelgrass restoration.
This past summer, in addition to continuing the spat monitoring which I started in 2011, I also did a hard clam suction survey to give us a baseline idea of clam densities in the western portion of the bay. This was fun – suction sampling for hard clams also turned up all manner of organisms – mussels, razor clams, soft-shell clams, lots of crabs and even some moon snails. But most importantly, we were counting and measuring hard clams, a target fishery species and also a target species for this restoration project. Plus, I also got to learn a little bit of GIS to make maps of distributions, like this one: (I had to remove the map for fear clammers might go to the sites)
The ultimate goal is to restore the water quality, enhance bivalve and eelgrass populations, and enhance local fisheries. I am very excited for this project, and I hope that when I return to Long Island in the future, this academic-public-private partnership will be a highly successful restoration effort. Most importantly, Shinnecock Bay might be perfectly suited for restoring water quality via shellfish enhancement – it is a relatively shallow estuary system (<2m deep except for in the navigation channel which itself is only ~3m deep). Thus, this shallow water body could effectively be filtered by high densities of the shellfish which this project aims to restore. Unlike other much deeper estuaries where the shellfish might not be capable of such an impact, Shinnecock Bay is best suited for this endeavor. Good luck to my friends and colleagues involved with ShiRP!
Lets see, Thursday we went to the Dunn’s River Falls as a break from the daily grind here at the marine lab. That was a lot of fun.
Bottom of the falls
Look at me!
Then in the last 2 days I have put in 7 dives, 4 outside the reef and 2 in the lagoon and one on the other side of Discovery Bay. I have seen many cool things, collected cool shells, so its been pretty fun. I had some issues with my camera at the Rio Bueno dive yesterday, so my pictures didn’t come out so well, although I was lucky to get a few shots.
Today we did 2 dives on the fore-reed and 2 within Discovery Bay. Outside the reef I logged over 2 hours of bottom time, and took many, many pictures. More anemone shrimp, lionfish, gastropods, and lots more. Enjoy!
So yesterday was a little rough… I mean the weather wasn’t terrible, but there was still some swell from the days of wind previous. So during our safety stop, I was feeling it a little bit, so I only did the one dive and took an early boat ride back.
Today, sea was almost like glass, did 2 dives outside on the fore-reef, and then one inside the lagoon. Saw some cool things – invasive lionfish, big schools of creole wrasses, bluehead wrasses, giant queen cocnh, and lots of other fish. However, this site was fairly impacted, so not so much live coral as the reef I saw yesterday. Oh well. Was still fun to get 2 dives in outside and not feel like total crap. And diving in the lagoon was cool, despite it being so shallow, it was nice to be able to lay down and just look. In the lagoon, we saw inking sea hares, a peacock flounder, yellow ring sting ray, little crabs, another sharptail eel, spiny lobster, and lots more fish. So cool.
I haven’t loaded my pictures from today yet, but I’ll leave you with a few more photos from earlier in the week/weekend.
So we have been extremely busy since we arrived. We have essentially crammed a coral reef ecology class into 4 days, which was overwhelming for the students. Their practical exam is this afternoon, so they are all cramming and freaking out a little bit. I have tried to quell some of their anxiety, but at least by this evening, the lecture and exam portion of their class will be over. In between lectures, we have been snorkeling, and today I did my first dives since arriving. So that’s good. The students will start their projects tomorrow, and have ~1.5 weeks to conduct a research project. The weather (wind) hasn’t been very good, so hopefully we get more dive opportunities, but the lagoon has been pretty cool.
Some things I’ve seen:
More photos to come, but internet here is incredibly slow so I am having a hard time uploading. But, you should check out the student run blog to see what they have been seeing/doing as well.
So, I have been very, very bad at keeping this blog updated in the past few months, so to any of you who might still be following me, I apologize. One of the major reasons is that I intend on graduating this spring. Intend being the operative word, haha. So the end of the summer was spent setting up and breaking down mesocosm experiments daily, while continuing work on 2 spatfall monitoring projects, daily crap megalopae collector sampling, and writing. And writing. And writing. And also trying to learn the all important, super useful tool known as GIS. And writing.
Once the experimental season “ended” after Halloween (note I use quotations because my last dives were only a few weeks ago and we just pulled the boat from the water last week), I had to really hunker down and get some writing done, prepare my CERF presentation, and start applying for jobs. That’s right, jobs! At this point, I am essentially ABD, and that is what some of the writing has been. But I also realize that I need to significantly up my publication record in order to get ANY job (currently sit with only 3 published manuscripts – only 2 as primary author), so I have been working hard on many, many manuscripts. I currently have 3 more in review (including another primary authorship), 1 essentially ready for submission and 1 in preparation (currently sitting on my advisor’s desk. So there’s been all that.
And also, applying for jobs requires a lot of writing. Cover letters. Teaching Philosophies. Research Statements. Application materials. Ugh. And each one has to be different to fit the specific job description, which means I essentially re-write all 3 things for each application (which I have applied to 5 jobs thus far, and have 5 more applications due by the middle of January). All this writing, and re-writing. I often find myself wondering why anyone ever graduates! It’s stressful now, but ultimately, I do intend to leave Long Island and start a hopefully long, prosperous research career. Somewhere. ANYWHERE.
So that’s been it. No pretty pictures of that. Although I have been doing a considerable amount of reading as well, so I suppose I have no excuse for not doing a Research Blogging post in a while. And I have no excuse for not writing up on my CERF experience (although I will say that my presentation went well, and I saw numerous well-presented research projects). But sometimes, when I have been writing all day, it is hard to motivate myself to do it when I get home. I tip my hat to the guys over at Deep Sea News, Southern Fried Scientist,Ya Like Dags, In the Grass, On the Reef, and anyone else I forgot, who seem to be able to post on a very regular basis. Hopefully I can get back to that soon. Hopefully.
The good news is that the more I get into my data analysis, the happier I become. Not because all the results are what I was expecting (rather, some quite the contrary), but because they are very interesting, and you don’t see the patterns in the daily grind of doing the experiments. It is only now that I am starting to see some cool things emerge. And isn’t that what doing science is all about?
One more thing. I leave next Wednesday for a working vacation of sorts. I call it a “vacation” if only in the sense that I will be traveling elsewhere to do work, and to me, any time I get to leave Long Island, that’s a vacation. This January, I am lucky enough to travel to Jamaica as part of the Tropical Marine Ecology course offered by the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. You should be sure to track the trip at this blog, as the students make daily updates and you can go back through the archives for all the previous trips. I am going to co-teach the course with another graduate student to increase my teaching experience. But I am also going to help my labmate Amber out on some of her research down there as well. I hope that between the teaching and research, I will have plenty of time to get up to date on posts here, after I get all my applications out by January 15th!
Anyway, for those who have kept checking in, I offer my apologies for not posting more often. Expect that to change soon!
On a final note, I will leave you with this FoxNews video highlighting some of the success in the scallop restoration effort here on Long Island that I have been working on and blogging about for years.
Ah those magical song lyrics by my favorite crab, Sebastian.
As my friend Josh says, Kirby of the sea!
Recently, I ate blowfish for the first time ever, more specifically, the northern puffer, Spheroides maculatus. I cleaned up the fish, dipped them in beated eggs, coated with Italian breadcrumbs, and fried in olive oil for a few minutes (similar to this recipe). Some of the best fish I have ever eaten.
However, that’s not the point of this post. I went out fishing with a bayman in Great South Bay, and what I witnessed was incredible. Hundreds and hundreds of these guys. Pots were getting loaded after only a few hours in the water. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, it was an incredible amount of fish. My thoughts were that the bottom must be paved with puffers for us to catch that many with so few pots in such a short amount of time.
The amazing thing is that it hasn’t been like this in a long time. According to my fisherman friend, Frank, he hasn’t seen puffers like this in at least 15 years. He explained to me that over the last few years he has caught enough for him to eat, but not to sell. This year that all changed. I got to checking over the DEC catch data and his memory served him correctly (maybe a few years off), but the last big years were the early to mid 1990s.
NY State Puffer Landings, data from NY DEC
The assumption has been that populations disappeared due to overharvest, yet why have they showed up in such numbers now? Now I don’t want to speculate too much about why the puffers have returned in such abundances this year. Maybe the water was warmer? Maybe high abundances of potential food sources (increasing blue crab and bay scallop populations)? Maybe just some cycle? Whatever the case, fishermen aren’t the only ones who have noticed an abundance of puffers this year. My colleagues up at Cornell Cooperative Extension have noticed aggregations of puffers diving. It is interesting occurrence to say the least. In all my dives around Long Island in the last 6 years, I had only seen 1 (ONE) puffer in the wild, EVER!
This particular species of puffer has a relatively large range, being found from Florida and the Gulf of Mexico all the way up to Canada. The belong to a family of fishes known as Tetradontidae, named for the four plate-like teeth found in their mouths that fuse together to form powerful beaks. These beaks are used to crush the shells of mollusks and crustaceans. This group is known collectively as blowfish because they have the ability to “puff up” by gulping up water into a special chamber near its stomach. Puffers will do this as a last resort defense mechanism, when it is caught by a predator. Once released, the puffer will quickly shoot the water back out of its mouth and swim away. That’s pretty cool in my book.
Yes, members of the family Tetradontidae poses toxins in their skin and organs known as tetradotoxin. It is a powerful neurotoxin. Luckily, our local species has a much weaker toxin, and as a result there have been no reported fatalities from anyone eating Spheroides maculatus. Yes!
But my interest doesn’t stop there. Now that they are back (well, maybe I should say for now), I am curious as to how they are interacting with scallops and crabs in a sort of tri-trophic relationship. This was investigated in the early 1990s (not surprisingly, when puffers were last abundant) by a graduate student of Dr. Monica Bricelj, then at Stony Brook. They were able to demonstrate that puffers were capable of consuming scallops at a high rate and suppress mud crab predation on scallops. Since that time, scallop populations essentially became locally extinct, until the current restoration efforts (videos), so I am curious to see if these relationships still hold true today, and to investigate how this relationship is related to habitat complexity. I have run some preliminary trials thus far, so hopefully, the puffers will be around next summer when I am ready to run a full suite of experiments.
But to understand why this interaction is so ‘surprising,’ we need to first understand a little bit about these graceful creatures. Whale sharks, Rhincodon typus, are the largest fish in the sea, named in part due to the enormity of their size – they can grow up t0 14 meters, 46 feet and weigh 15 tons – and by how they eat. The whale shark is unique among most other sharks (with the basking shark a notable exception) in that, similar to many whales, these charismatic creatures use their large mouths to filter feed, filtering plankton, krill, tiny fish and squid as it strains water through its gills.
Image from WhaleSharkProjecy.org
Despite being the largest fish, whale sharks are hard to find, and so relatively little is known about them. Luckily, new research tools such as tagging, DNA studies and photo identification, have started to paint a better picture of whale shark behavior. These sharks can be found in all the tropical oceans (except the Mediterranean Sea), and are usually found offshore although at times they can be found inshore. They can undertake large migrations – hundreds and hundreds of miles long, and can dive to a mile deep in the oceans. Whale sharks are slow moving, solitary creatures, rarely found in groups, and there are only a few places in the world – Belize, parts of Australia, and Cozumel, where these sharks can be consistently found.
That is, until recently. The new National Geographic article, entitled ‘Sharing with the Sharks,’ describes encounters by fishermen near New Guinea. This loner species is typically non-aggressive and indifferent toward humans. However, the sharks photographed in New Guinea exhibit a more typical shark-like behavior – they congregate around fishermen and nets full of shrimp, nosing at the nets and coming to near the boats looking for handouts. Check out the amazing photos of the encounters. While this behavior would be common for many sharks, it is atypical for whale sharks. However, groups of whale sharks can at times be found seasonally during plankton blooms or mass coral spawns, so it is likely that this is a behavioral response to an abundance of food. It just so happens that in New Guinea, this food abundance is enhanced due to the activities of fishermen, turning these normally docile fish into, well, sharks.
So I am sure that everyone has been posting ad naseum about Hurricane Irene. I don’t want this to be another such post. However, I did want to share some video and photos from the east end of Long Island, particularly Hampton Bays (where I live) and the Stony Brook-Southampton Marine Station.
Despite all the warnings and conjuring up memories of the 1938 “Long Island Express”, Irene came through Long Island early Sunday morning as a high tropical storm, bringing 60-70 mph winds and lots of rain to the Island. However, it also crossed at high tide on the same day as a moon tide (so already higher than normal). So there was some damaging storm surge, although less than originally forecast. We got off relatively lucky out on the east end, with what appeared (at least to me) as limited damage (although we are due for a big one).
The following is a video and some photos from the marine station which I took Sunday morning around 11 am (~3-4 hours after the hurricane crossed Long Island and ~3 hours after high tide):
There was considerable damage to Montauk Highway where it runs next to Shinnecock Bay at Swan Beach:
The town dock on Little Neck Road, down Old Fort Pond from the Marine Station was lost:
Jackson’s Marina was devastated:
Even the canal flooded and had large waves running down it:
All in all, it was not as bad as it could have been, at least out by me, and it did bring with it one surprise – a pelican!
This post is not intended to say that we got it bad out here – quite the contrary. The real damage seems to be where the torrential rains turned into massive floods in NY, NJ and Vermont. Thoughts and prayers to all those who are affected in those areas.
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!