Monthly Archives: October 2012

Fast time at Gwaii Haanas High

This past summer my field work took me into the watery backyard of the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site (GHNMCA). Gwaii Haanas, a new Canadian NMCA founded in 2010, is located in the southern portion of Haida Gwaii, an archipelago 130 km off the northwest coast of British Columbia.  Its vast area encompasses some 5000 square kilometres including 1700 km of coastline.  At the forefront of research requirements for the Park’s management plan is establishing an inventory of nearshore habitat in the shallow subtidal zone (0-20 m depth).   However, the difficulties associated with mapping underwater habitat and the vast coastlines of the park pose a significant challenge for accomplishing this task.

Enter the intrepid Masters student.  Working with Parks Canada, my MSc. involves using remote sensing technologies to map nearshore marine habitat, with a focus to map vegetated habitats, specifically eelgrass (Zostera marina).  Briefly, remote sensing involves obtaining data about an object or feature indirectly. Two commons remote sensing technologies involve high resolution satellite imagery and single-beam acoustic mapping.  Very simply, both technologies rely on discerning a spectral or acoustic signature, respectively, that can be related to a specific habitat. However, there are many factors that affect the quality of the signal to habitat relationship therefore georeferenced ground truth data are crucial to training and verifying remote sensing products (aka habitat maps).

For my research ground truth data involved towed underwater video for each of my study sites.  Video was recorded concurrently with coordinates from a dGPS (which has low positional error, <1m).  All my field work was conducted on a 22’ aluminum vessel, with two Parks Canada boat operators to help me conduct my research and for safety purposes.  While in the field, we stayed at Huxley Hut, based on Huxley Island, with a not too shabby view.  During a return visit I also stayed at the Bischoff float camp, a unique and marvelous experience.

While field work always presents the most exciting part of research, the hours spent preparing and organizing a single trip are enormous. However, this preparation ensures that the data collected are of high quality and caliber suitable for research and scientific publication.  I cannot deny that there were trying moments where cables snapped, cannonball weights were lost, or inclement weather trapped me inside the cabin. There may have also been an incident involving being stuck knee deep in a muddy eelgrass meadow with a black bear having been sited not 5 minutes beforehand.  It is through all of these experiences that I have learned that (1) is that it is crucial to be responsible for all aspects of your field work including being able to fix anything you have that may break (and also being able to fix your supervisor’s gear helps too) and (2) accept the inevitability that things will break and your plans will need to be changed. Be flexible!

Finally, in between my field trips, I had the opportunity to go on a one week self-guided seakayak trip throughout the park and explore mist-covered land of mountains, ancient rainforests and wild coasts that give Gwaii Haanas its otherworldly atmosphere.  Highlights involved visiting the Haida Watchmen sites to see the ancient totem poles that are slowly decomposing and relaxing in the thermal hotpools on Hot Springs Island.  I feel privileged to have been able to visit a National Park in Canada that only receives 2000 visitors a year and I hope to be able to return in the near future.

-Luba Reshitnyk, OSS Member

(Note: this blog entry can also be found in the Marine Protected Areas Research Group website).

Basking in the Splendor of some Gentle Giants

Did you know that Basking Sharks are the second largest fish in the sea, reaching lengths of 10 meters? Yet despite their large size, these lovely creatures feed only on plankton. Romney McPhie, a biologist specializing in Basking Sharks, shared this and other neat facts with OSSers last Tuesday.

Basking Sharks can sometimes be seen skimming B.C.’s coastal waters, filtering plankton with structures called gill rakes. Once plentiful, catching a glimpse of one today is rare. Populations off the west coast are estimated at no more than 500, and The Species at Risk Act (SARA) lists the shark as endangered.

Considered a nuisance to the fishing industry, these gentle giants were subject to a massive eradication program in the 1950’s. Fishing boats were equipped with a sharp blade that impaled and killed the shark as it fed near the surface. Although, thankfully, no longer in use, the method was highly effective at slaughtering these misunderstood animals. “One boat managed to kill 34 Basking Sharks in a single day,” said McPhie, noting at that time it was considered an accomplishment. The species has yet to recover.

McPhie’s research aims to collect more information about these remarkable animals. Much of her data comes from the use of tags and reported sightings, but she said more information is needed to establish critical habitat and distribution. Details on how to identify and report the Basking Shark is available at http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca .

As a closing there was discussion about career advice. In addition to sending resumes and cover letters to prospective employers, often McPhie would stop by to follow-up, or even to just ask some questions about the work being done. When the discussion ended students traded business cards with McPhie so everyone who attended the talk felt connected with her.

McPhie’s career is a reminder to OSSers that if you are passionate about something — pursue it. Your persistence will pay off.

-Meaghan Leah Duke, OSS Member

October Meeting Update – More training and more fun!

The OSS October installment of the monthly meetings was held this past Monday October 22nd. This meeting sparked a lot of discussion about making the group and the experiences that the group offers to its members more meaningful and valuable. We also talked about having more fun (and more club bonding) time. We then talked about the club collecting and archiving its own data, either from beach clean ups, from organized mass egg counts (possibly organized with the SCUBA) or from other field opportunities that may arise for the club. I think it would be great that as a result of being a member the OSS, you could say that you had the opportunity to gain field and data experience, hopefully making you more prepared for the world outside academia. Don’t you?

As a result of our discussion a couple of training opportunities have been set for the near future. There will be an all day field training session on November 24th with Ramona De Graaf from the Forage Fish Matter Initiative (stay tuned for details). There was also a suggestion to run another “Communicating Ocean Science” workshop, so we will work on that for you.

There has also been a proposed change to the monthly meeting schedule. We are thinking of having two meetings per month now; with one of the meetings being fun/club bonding/social time and the other one being more about business. Thoughts? I hope to schedule both of these November meetings soon, so again stay tuned.

If you have any suggestions or feedback about this meeting, please shoot me an email at ossoc@uvic.ca  Also, please send me an email if you are interested in helping the club with the data collection and archiving initiative.

Looking forward to the November meeting(s)!

-Ellyn

ps. Many Thanks to Kim for having us all over at her house! You make a mean salad. And to Katie for making a mean nacho dip.

New Contributor! Meet Paige, our Bamfield Correspondent

Hello OSS’ers,

I am a fourth year biology student at the University of Victoria. Like many of you, I have a passion for adventure, the outdoors, and getting to know every wild creature. Having completed three years of University at the Victoria campus, I felt ready for a change. This fall semester I am studying at the Bamfield Marine Science centre as a participant in the Fall Program. This program set on the beautiful west coast is a mix of lab, field, and lecture based learning. I have now completed about half of the program but would like to share some of my experiences with you. I have started a blog – Life is much better where it is wetter. Here I have been posting progress/information about my Directed Studies project and will be posting more about Bamfield life. If you think this is something you’d be interested in give it a read!

And if you have any other questions about life as a student at Bamfield or would like advice on applying for courses here feel free to contact me (pborrett@uvic.ca), I am happy to be the OSS’s Bamfield correspondent!

Mapper

This is just a brief update as work has been a little tedious lately, it has mostly involved sifting through websites looking for meteorology stations around the Caribbean. But last week I finally had enough stations identified to make posting a map of them worthwhile – that and my boss wanted something posted online to show that IOCARIBE-GOOS is active and working towards something. So I used Google’s Spreadsheet Mapper to map out all the stations I’ve located so far, and attached the types of data collected at each.

A focus with GOOS regional alliances right now is to have coastal sea surface temperature data available. Unfortunately there are not too many stations in the Caribbean that are currently collecting this data – though part of the work I am doing is identifying this gap.

The map can be seen here on IOCARIBE’s website if you are interested. It is still a work in progress, ultimately it will have current readings for all the variables at each station. For the time being, it merely notes which variables are being recorded and where the stations are.

Mostly I have been building on the list of stations, so not a whole lot else to report from here for now… There is word of another conference that I may get to attend, but that won’t be until December, which is about all I know about it right now.

Coral Sex

Work has been rather slow lately, a lot of sifting through websites looking for meteorology stations, and where the data actually comes from. Hopefully in the next couple weeks something tangible will come of it, but for now it’s not all that exciting to talk about.

So, this week I  have a post from outside of work that happens to be ocean related. A few weeks ago I got the chance to go scuba diving with the coral spawn! For anyone who has not heard of this already here is a quick overview of how coral reproduce.

Coral is made of colonies of individual polyps. Individual polyps can reproduce asexually- splitting into two, which is how a colony grows. And a whole colony is essentially made of clones of one original polyp. Because they cannot move to reproduce sexually, corals release their gametes into the water column where hopefully they mix together with another genotype and produce genetically distinct offspring which will settle and begin to divide and ultimately form a new colony. (This is an oversimplification of the lifecycle if you want to know more take Invertebrates or look it up). The ocean is a big place, and the chances of fertilization occurring if corals were releasing gametes at random would be incredibly low, so many species have evolved to precisely time the release of their gametes to within a couple of hours on one night a year, so that the maximum number of gametes from the most different colonies are in the water at the same time. It is still unclear exactly how they time this, but it is related to the phases of the moon. It is also different for different species and different locations around the world. But here in northern Colombia the species we went to observe (sorry never learned what species it was) spawns one week after the first full moon of September (this year it was 31 of August) about 4 hours after sunset. This species is hermaphroditic, and releases gamete packets that contain both sperm and eggs.

Please note: All underwater photos in this post were taken by Jorge Granados, a divemaster with Diving Planet dive shop. I have ‘borrowed’ them from his Facebook profile. Any other photos were taken by me.

I left work early on a Thursday to go to the dive shop, and we took a boat out to their second location the Rosario Islands (about an hour South-East-ish of Cartagena). The plan was to do 3 dives, spend the night on the island and be back to Cartagena by 9 the next morning.

Isla Grande, Rosario Islands. Looking back towards Cartagena.

Dive flag

Dive dive dive!

Dive gear on the jetty

Ready to go!

We did an evening dive first, about an hour before sunset. We didn’t see too much exciting, though we killed 8 Lionfish (Lionfish are invading the Caribbean and are destroyed on sight). We later ate them for dinner…

And then we did a night dive just after sunset. Way more invertebrates were out after dark, tons of shrimp and prawns with reflective red eyes. Several Spiny Lobsters and some big crabs. Brittle Stars were also all over the place too, some hiding in the corals with only their arms sticking out, and some bright red ones out in the open.

Spiny Lobster

Brittle star and also some polychaete worms (the little squiggly things in the foreground)

The third dive of the day was the one we had come out for… The timing for the start of the spawn is pretty accurate down to about an hour, but to avoid wasting air waiting for it to start one or two divers who know what to look for go down first and wait for it to start before signalling to the surface that it is time to get in.

It was slow to start, a lot of the colonies had the egg packets ready to, but they weren’t releasing them yet. Each polyp had a small pale pink ball about the size of a pin head in its centre. It took about 10 minutes before the first colonies started to release their packets, but then over the next 15 or 20 minutes colonies everywhere where doing it!

Coral before releasing gametes

Getting ready! Some packets are just starting to come free.

Starting to release gametes

Spawning!

More spawning!

As things were winding down with the coral, myself and a few of the other divers (including cameraman Jorge) got a bonus show! A couple of octopuses! The first one hid quite quickly, however the second one crawled along the coral and did some colour changing and even tried to catch a small crab while we were watching!

Little octopus!

Not too much later the spawning was pretty much done, and it was time to surface and head back for land and dinner (previously mentioned Lionfish!).

Spent the night in a hammock. And the next morning we were on the boat back to the city by about 8. I made it in to work by 9:30 (start time for us is supposed to be by 9, so considering I was coming in from an island half an hour late isn’t too bad…).

I will hopefully have some work related news this time next week… Or else I may have schedule another dive trip.