Author Archives: osstyler

Auxiliary

Colombia was an amazing experience, but after 6 months of 35-40 degree weather every day (and night) I was very happy to be home. I got home just a few days before Christmas, which made homecoming all the sweeter. But after the holidays it was back to real life… Couch surfing in Victoria while looking for both a place to live and a job at least somewhat related to my degree. Job prospects were rather slim from what I could find; however there were a few volunteer opportunities. Roberta Hamme, who had been a prof as well as a workstudy supervisor for me had put me in touch withthe Capital Regional District who were looking to set up a Winkler Titration. (Winkler Titrations are the most accurate way to find the oxygen content in a water sample. I had learned how to do them in one of Roberta’s classes and had practiced them and learned how to make up all the required chemical reagents as part of my workstudy). Myself along with a fellow Ocean Science Minor alum met with the CRD contact in mid-January to begin to form plans for setting up the Winkler. We went over the equipment that they already had, and made a list of what was still required along with a timeline for making the chemicals before the first sampling date a couple weeks later.

Two days after our meeting I received an email from the CRD asking if I would like to interview for a 3 month position to help pick up some slack as there had been some short notice shuffling of employees in the Environmental Protection department. This sounded like exactly the type of work I had been looking for and jumped at the chance. And 10 days after our first meeting, I was hired as an environmental technician. Setting up the Winkler titration went from being a volunteer activity and networking opportunity to being one of my duties in my new position.

My time is more or less split between the Marine and the GeoEnvironmental programs of the Environmental Protection division. My regular tasks are sample collecting at the sewer outfalls on the John Strickland once a week for 5 weeks, every three months (so pretty much boat time was the first thing I did, and will also be the last thing I do with the CRD). I also got to go out on the boat to deploy some moorings with oxygen sensors – this was the initial reason for wanting to set up the Winkler Titrations because the sensors will be left in place for 6 months before being collected, using Winkler Titrations it would be possible to verify, and if necessary, correct for any drift in the sensors.

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Any day on the Strickland is a good day.

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Launching the float and sensors for the mooring. These were trailed behind the boat while the train wheel weight was picked up by the crane to be dropped when we were over the station.

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Dropping the train wheel.

A couple weeks after the round of boat sampling I put more time in with the GeoEnvironmental program and was out at Hartland Landfill 3 days a week collecting groundwater samples. It doesn’t sound that exciting, going to the ‘dump’ but almost all of the well sites are on the outskirts in the forest and are not contaminated. And there are tons of eagles and ravens to watch while waiting for the well to finish pumping! Following the groundwater sampling I helped with a 2 day gas survey at the landfill – this time we were right in the thick of things, walking a 50 metre by 50 metre grid with a Flame Ionization Detector for methane and another instrument nick-named Jerome for hydrogen sulphide. The equipment looks just like the Ghostbusters’ proton packs except with an over the shoulder strap instead of a backpack. The point of the gas survey was to find methane ‘hot spots’ since methane is collected at Hartland and burned at a small on site power plant.

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Eagles at Hartland, kind of wishing I had a telephoto lens…

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Ghostbusters!! .. or the ‘Jerome’ and FID

 

Weekly I set up and collect samples from the Macaulay and Clover Point sewage pump stations. Not glamorous, but it doesn’t really smell too bad – this is at the point right before it goes out into the ocean and as such has had all (…most) of the solids filtered out. And plus it gets me out of the office for a couple hours!

A week or two ago we started another 5 week round of boat sampling (1 day a week). I spent April 4 on the R/V John Strickland. Our morning started out a little grey and looking like maybe rain, but things started looking up, when at our second station we were passed by a pod of 5 or 6 orca! Then off in the distance the deckhand spotted a submarine cruising out to sea from the base. And to top it all off by the time we were at our 3rd station the clouds had parted and the sun came out! The following week my supervisor had a meeting to attend on the sampling day, so I was out with her supervisor who had not done boat sampling for a while so it was up to me to lead the sampling events and remember how everything worked – aside form mis-labeling a few bottles it went off without a hitch!

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A float we drop to monitor surface currents while doing surface samples at set stations around the outfalls. (we deploy the float right above the outfall and collect a surface sample, and then hit our 12 surrounding stations before re-collecting the float and a final sample)

Even as my time here winds down, I am learning new things! I am currently helping with a surface water survey in of the water bodies around Hartland. The job involves walking to little streams, creeks and lakes to collect water samples in order to ensure that no contaminated water is leaving the landfill via surface flow. Apparently the last surface water survey was a little chilly because it was in early January, but walking through the forest in the middle of April is very enjoyable… even if it rains a little.

My time with the CRD is wrapping up now; my contract is up at the end of the month just before the last day of boat work! There was another work opportunity in the same department, but the job had to be offered to regular employees before I could apply and they got a fair bit of interest in the position so it looks like starting next month I will be back in the hunt for another new experience.

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.

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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.

Welcome to Colombia

Hi OSSers!

I was part of the OSS last year, and just graduated in April. I got a lucky placement almost right away on a CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) funded internship through Dalhousie University. The placement is for 6 months and based in Cartagena De Indiaas in Colombia. I have been here since the start of July, but work has been quite slow until just recently.

Casa del Marques de Valdehoyos, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

My new office

I wanted to stay in touch and contribute to the club somehow, so I am helping Ellyn get the blog going. I will also try to post regularly for the remainder of my time here.

So I suppose no time like the present!

The first couple weeks of my placement my boss was on holidays and then at a conference. Furthermore he isn’t actually based in the same city as me. So getting direction and things to do from him were a little tricky to start. However he has just brought in a new contact for me who will be more hands on and give me things to do. My new task is going to be finding data sources for meteorology and temperature stations from locations all around the Caribbean sea.

(Note, the Global Ocean Observing System – it is more about providing data and large scale organisation of data and data collection than actually going out into the field and collecting it ourselves – I personally, would like to be out in the field but you have to start somewhere…)

This past week was the most exciting, and busy work week I’ve had yet. Another group in the office I’m in is working the Caribbean Large Marine Ecosystem (CLME)’s, Information and Management System (IMS) and Regional Ecosystem Monitoring Program (REMP). Their project closes at the end of the year, and this week they held a small brainstorming workshop to come up with measurable ecosystem indicators. My boss also plays a large role in that project, and I was invited to participate/observe.

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A sloth hanging out in a tree outside the conference centre. (It’s kind of hard to see, but it is the greyish blob right in the middle of the frame)

The workshop was 3 days, and included about 20 participants from around the Caribbean. There was live translation as about half the participants spoke either only Spanish or only English (myself included – though I am learning Spanish while I’m here). A large part was breaking into smaller groups to discuss specific points – such as ecosystem valuation, benefits of data integration, and small scale fisheries.

It was very interesting to be a part of, but no immediate results were obtained. The project organisers are currently putting together a draft report which will be sent to all the participants for review.

If you would like further information on anything I have mentioned don’t hesitate to contact me and ask (I may be a little delayed in replying, but usually have time for this kind of thing on weekends). Or try these links:
The Caribbean Large Marine Ecosystem website – http://clmeproject.org/portal/default.aspx
The event page for the conference (hosted on the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission’s website) – http://ioc-unesco.org/index.php?option=com_oe&task=viewEventRecord&eventID=1173

I hope this has been an at least somewhat interesting start to the OSS’s new blog. I will try to post regularly, however it is hard to know if I will actually have much of interest to add most weeks.