Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Under The Pier - Diving for Citizen Science

Diving for Citizen Science: Howard Teas 
This blog was written by PTMSC volunteer Howard Teas

Citizen science is alive and well at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Less well known is the role for divers in these activities. We collect data for the Sea Star Wasting Program as well as providing support for the Marine Exhibit, and from time to time we get extras, such as the regular monitoring of the grey whale as it was turned from a 15,000 pound carcass into a skeleton.

The sea star wasting monitoring program includes weekly counts of all stars at the Marine Exhibit and quarterly counts of stars in two long-term plots on the east jetty at the Indian Island county park which were established with Dr. Melissa Miner, UC Santa Cruise and the MARINe program. We added two subtidal sites to that on the east footing for the Indian Island bridge and along the main bulkhead under the Marine Exhibit. The Indian Island site was chosen for three reasons. First, it is close to the intertidal site. Conditions are very similar at the two sites. Second, the boundaries of area counted are easy to identify; the vertical surface of the footing down to the substrate. Third, there are no deep holes beneath rocks for stars to hide in. Counts are done during the same month as the intertidal counts, providing consistency in our data. There is only a short time during slack water between tidal changes, so the subtidal Indian Island counts are done snorkeling, rather than with scuba. We can move faster without the scuba gear and we can continue to work in somewhat higher currents. Counts are made in vertical strips about a meter wide, with markers on the bottom to help us maintain orientation within each strip. We swim to the bottom, then count stars while swimming toward the surface. Each star seen in the study area is identified to species and size is measured in 5cm increments (0-5, 5-10, 10-15, and >15) from the middle of the body to the end of one arm. The counts include ochre and mottled stars, with occasional blood stars included.

Crab on whale carcass still
from video taken by Howard Teas

The second subtidal site is along the bulkhead beneath the Marine Exhibit. We count all stars on the open water side of the old wood bulkhead, using the same protocol as at Indian Island. Typically we see more species here, and lower total counts. Ochre stars are seldom seen, while mottled stars are common. Blood stars and a few sunflower stars are also identified along the wall. The site allows the use of scuba, due to lower current speeds, but access is limited by wave action. The typical southeast wind for much of the year builds waves high enough to block counting. We are adverse to the extreme vertical motion when the wind is up and floating objects, like divers, are banged up against the piling while counting near or at the surface.

Other common activities include collecting fish, invertebrates, and kelp for the Marine Exhibit and maintenance projects, such as clearing the outside of the water intake pipes of barnacles and mussels. While not typical, we also snorkeled around the grey whale regularly last summer, checking on the progress the whale was making in losing weight. We videoed the status of the whale to show those above water the progress that was being made, and allowed the group to pull the whale out of the water before significant damage was done by the hungry marine cleaners.

Like these videos? Find a full playlist on YouTube.

For more information about citizen science projects, 
please contact Betsy Carlson

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