Diving the MLML Seawater Intakes

By Diane Wyse, Physical Oceanography Lab

Earlier this week I volunteered to dive on the MLML seawater intakes, located about 200 m due west of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and 17 m below the surface.  The intakes supply seawater to multiple sites around Moss Landing, including the aquarium room at MLML, the Test Tank at MBARI, and the live tanks at Phil’s Fish Market.

Location of the intake pipes offshore. Image: MLML/Google Earth (2013)
Location of the intake pipes offshore. Image: MLML/Google Earth (2013)

The purpose of the dive was to attach a surface float to a subsurface float located at a depth of about 15 feet.  A secondary objective was to visually inspect the intakes, which can be viewed in the video below.

The view from approximately above the intakes. Photo: Diane Wyse (2013)
The view of Moss Landing from approximately above the intakes. Photo: Diane Wyse (2013)

So how do you find an intake system 50 ft below the water?

To execute the operation, Assistant Dive Safety Officer Scott Gabara and I took a whaler from the MLML Small Boats with the assistance of boat driver Catherine Drake.  We used the best GPS coordinates previously called upon to locate the intakes, then threw a spotter surface float attached to a line and weight that unraveled to the seafloor.  We followed that line to the bottom and practiced our circle search skills until we found the first of the two intakes.  While anchoring the search line I saw a pipefish, a couple flatfish, and not much else.  During our descent and ascent we spotted half a dozen sea nettles, but on the sandy bottom it appeared pretty desolate.  The intakes, on the other hand, provide a hard substrate for sessile invertebrates and their predators to form a lively little oasis in the sand.  The first thing you notice when you come upon the intakes are the large white Metridium anemones.  If you take a closer look at the video, around 15 seconds in, you can spot a little octopus scurrying for cover.  After inspecting the first intake we moved to the second, that’s right, completely submerged by sand, with the line extending up to the subsurface float.  Though the video is short you can see some of the organisms residing on the line include seastars, Metridium, caprellids or “skeleton shrimp”, and my favorite marine invertebrate: nudibranchs.  Hermissenda (opalescent) nudibranchs, to be exact.  I wish I had a chance to take still photos while I was out there, but we had a job to do.  We successfully tied the surface float to the line and removed old line, thus making it much easier for future divers to study sediment movement and perform maintenance on the intake pipes.

I'll admit had another motivation for volunteering for the dive.   Beyond helping out and increasing my scientific diving experience, I was curious about the system.  In 2011 and 2012 I worked as a research assistant for CeNCOOS, and helped maintain the oceanographic instruments at the MLML shore lab and ensure that the public data portal was operational.  That system is dependent upon water flowing in from the intakes.  I learned even more about the seawater system in my chemical oceanography class, so it was really cool to see the pipes from under the sea.  The visibility for most of the dive was much better than it seems in this video, as we spent most of the time working further up in the water column away from the fluffy layer composed of detritus and fine-grain sand.

When my dive buddy and I returned to the surface we met back up with our boat, reeled in the line for the first float, and cruised back to the harbor.  Another day, another successful dive!

Diane Wyse and Scott Gabara with the new surface float for the seawater system. Photo: Catherine Drake (2013)
Divers Diane Wyse and Scott Gabara with the new surface float for the seawater system. Photo: Catherine Drake (2013)

Another One Dives the Deep: Fall Science Diving

By Scott Gabara

You dive into the cool blue-green seawater.  You inflate your buoyancy compensator as you near the bottom.  You check your air on your Submersible Pressure Gauge (SPG) and sign an "Ok" to your buddy.  After tying off the transect tape you place your slate out in front of you, align the lubber line of your compass, and begin swimming at 300 degrees.  You are identifying fish to species, placing them into one of three size bins, and recording that onto your data sheet.  If this sounds like a lot to do you are right!  The fall marine science diving course at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories recently celebrated the hard work they have done during the semester with a boat trip to a unique dive location.  We were able to utilize MLML's R/V John H. Martin to transport us to the Carmel Pinnacles State Marine Reserve off Pescadero and anchor on a GPS point where the granite pinnacles come close to the surface.

MLML's R/V John H. Martin.
MLML Science Diving students Catarina Pien (left) and Melinda Wheelock (right) pose for a picture at Carmel Pinnacles.
Impressive granite walls create swim-throughs for divers.

We experienced large granitic walls and a ballet of sea lions.  It was a great way to finish up the semester of diving and now mentally prepare for the final exam filled with gas laws and dive table problems.  I always find myself thinking where will these divers go and what exciting dives await them after the completion of the class.

John Douglas and Liza Schmidt operate the R/V John Martin and help us aboard using the swim step ladder.

Water, water everywhere but not a drop in my suit!

By Michelle Marraffini, Invertebrate Zoology and Molecular Ecology Lab

Breakwater Cove dive spot in Monterey where DUI had set up their Demo Day. Photo by: Pamela Neeb Wade
Breakwater Cove dive spot in Monterey where DUI had set up their Demo Day. Photo by: Pamela Neeb Wade

Scuba diving on the central coast means you get to see amazing kelp forests and underwater geological formations but it also often means you are getting in the sometimes frigid waters of Monterey Bay.  At depth, the water can get very cold, I experienced a dive at Big Creek, Big Sur where the temperate was only 8 Celsius (~46 degrees Fahrenheit)!  At that temperature my wimpy 7 millimeters feels like wearing shorts in a blizzard and gets even thinner as the pressure compresses all the neoprene bubbles in my suit.   Over the years I have seen many other divers in thicker wetsuits (up to 20 millimeters on their core) and dry suits.  That is right scuba diving without getting wet.  When a company that makes dry suits (DUI) offered a demo day at a local dive spot my labmate Pamela and I leaped at a chance to jump in the water without getting wet.

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Life After MLML: News from the tropics

By Michelle Marraffini. Invertebrate Zoology and Molecular Ecology Lab

After graduating from MLML, former students go on to do great research at their new jobs or in PhD programs.   One of these former students is Paul Tompkins of the Phycology Lab, who took a phd position at Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology (ZMT) in Bremen, Germany.  Paul is conducting research the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos.  Beyond the famous finches and the oldest tortoises, the Galapagos also boasts an impressive marine system protected by their national park.   As part of a larger, ongoing project Paul is studying the role of algae in the food web and the response to climate change including El Nino events.

Spotted rose snapper (Lutjanus guttatus) and other Galapagos reef fish during a dive at Punta Nunez
Photo by: David Acuna

While collecting preliminary data of the system, using underwater transects and estimates of percent cover, a diver (David Acuna) helping Paul monitor Punta Nunez came across a fish species he did not recognize.  The possible identity of this fish is the species Lutjanus guttatus, Spotted rose snapper, which was cited for the first time in the Galapagos from catch data in Puerto Villamil in pervious years.  If the identity of this mystery fish is confirmed it would be a new record of the species and help scientists monitor populations of fish in the area.  It just goes to show that you always have to keep your eyes open for new discoveries.

A close up shot of the spotted rose snapper. Photo by: David Acuna (Charles Darwin Foundation)

Diving Adventures in Big Creek

By Catherine Drake, Invertebrate Zoology Lab

For many graduate students at MLML, diving is an essential component to their thesis work, whether it involves collecting samples, obtaining data, or making observations about subtidal ecosystems.  Students must be research dive certified in order to perform these science-related activities.  Here at the lab, we have an excellent research diving program run by our research faculty member and Diving Safety Officer (DSO) Diana Steller. Through this program, students have the option of taking the course either during the fall semester or during a two-week intensive course in the summer.

DSO Diana Steller gives the ok after a tough beach entry at Big Creek. Photo by Maria Kyong.

Having gotten my open water certification earlier this spring, I was excited to take the summer research diving class.  For the first week, we practiced a series of underwater skills and swim tests to ensure that we felt comfortable in the water.  There are certain basic scientific skills that must be practiced and perfected to become certified in research diving. These skills include laying out a transect tape and taking observations along the tape.  To master this, we all studied the local fish, invertebrates, and seaweeds to take surveys within the kelp bed for an organization called Reef Check.

I give the ok signal as I practice a Reef Check survey at Breakwater in Cannery Row. Photo by Scott Gabara.

The following week, we caravanned south to Big Creek State Marine Reserve; while there, we camped in the redwoods and dove consecutively for four days.  We would wake up each morning bright and early, eat breakfast to fuel us for the first dive of the day, and then head to the beach.  Diana and Assistant DSO Scott Gabara would brief us on the dives, we’d suit up and enter the water ready to take data.  After our first dive, we’d sit on the beach with our lunches and warm up in the sun before heading out for our second dive.  Once we completed our second dive, we would wade into the large creek (hence the campsite's namesake), wash off our gear and relax.

Diana Steller gives a brief on the dive site. Information in this meeting includes beach entry strategies, transect locations, and allowed depths and dive times. Photo by Maria Kyong.

The kelp canopy and sub-canopy are magnificent habitats at Big Creek.  As I swam out to the location of each transect, I’d get entangled in giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) and feather boa kelp (Egregia menziesii), and would use bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) as an anchor when being pushed around by the swell.  Once we descended, the seafloor was inundated with Pterogophora californica and Laminaria setchelii, so much so that I could not see the bedrock below.  To obtain data for Reef Check, we placed the transect under the sub-canopy and crawled our way through the kelp to count stipes, look for inverts, and point our flashlights at unsuspecting rockfish.

Light can barely penetrate the dense canopy of Macrocystis pyrifera and Nereocystis luetkeana. Photo by Marina Kyong.

I noticed that during any dive, something can and will go wrong, especially when you have transect tapes, slates, compasses, dive computers connected to you as you maneuver underwater.  The most important lesson I learned from Diana on this trip was that it’s how you react to these situations that determines your competence and confidence as a research diver.  If you stay calm and remember to always breathe while your mask fills with water, you get caught in kelp, your datasheet falls off your slate, and the surge inverts you, then you are definitely ready for research diving!

Dive buddies pair up for one last picture after our last, and deepest, dive of the week. Photo by Maria Kyong.
Our awesome summer research diving class! Photo by Maria Kyong.

Fish Feeding Frenzy

By Scott Gabara

In the southern California bight, the Channel Islands archipelago sits in warm subtropical waters brought north along the coast from Mexico to the islands.  Toward the east, Santa Catalina Island supports many different fishes living in these warm waters.  On a recent thesis sampling trip, frenzied fish behavior was observed.  Similar to people gathering at a popular eatery, small orange cigar shaped fish called Senorita, and speckled kelp bass, schooled near disturbances created by divers.  You may see the small grayish crab in the photo just underneath the fish's mouth (see below).  These fish would say that algae mats provide a home for many tasty invertebrates!

Diving into the Deep

By Catherine Drake, Invertebrate Zoology Lab

My family and I have been going to the beach since before I could even walk. I’ve been snorkeling, boogie boarding, and building sandcastles for most of my life. But there is one method of enjoying the ocean that, until a couple of weeks ago, I had not yet tried: scuba diving. When I moved up to the central coast to attend MLML almost nine months ago, I knew that I wanted to get my open water diving certification. That way, eventually I could take the research diving course taught by Dr. Diana Steller. Also, I would ideally like to incorporate diving into my thesis, so I wanted to ensure that I could feel comfortable in such a novel environment.

To get your open water certification through PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), you need to go on four dives. So, on Saturday April 14th, we set out for Stillwater Cove in Pebble Beach with all our dive gear and kayaks. I filled up my kayak with my tank, BC, weight belt, and snorkeling gear, clipped it all in and set off into the cove. On Sunday, we got on a boat in Monterey Harbor and set out into the bay. Our first site was at Red House, with a couple curious otters watching us as we jumped off the boat into the water. Then we moved over to Octopus Reef, for our final dive of the certification process.

My kayak getting filled with all of my dive gear to go diving in Stillwater Cove.

During our dives, I saw multiple species of sea stars, including a Pycnopodia helianthoides that was almost a meter wide. In addition, I found some nudibranchs, a giant decorator crab, and a gumboot chiton. I didn’t see any fish until halfway through my last dive; I was practicing a compass heading and happened to look up, only to find I was in the middle of a school of fish. I just hung out there and watched them as they watched me.

Getting our kayaks ready for launching into Stillwater Cove.
My dive buddies, instructors, and I on the boat just before our final two dives.

Before my diving experiences, I was nervous that I would become too afraid to be able to dive. Surprisingly, the only time I was scared during the whole weekend was when I first slid off my kayak into the water before beginning my first dive. I had not yet put on my BC, so I was just floating in my seven mm wetsuit; I slid down my mask and looked into the water. All I could see were my flippers, and below that was a green abyss. My first thought was, “what if there is a shark below me?” and I became anxious. But then I took a deep breath to calm down, put on my BC, and dove into the depths below into this new, unfamiliar and amazing world. It was an amazing experience, and I can’t wait to go diving again now that I’m certified!


Farming Underwater in Chile, South America

Moss Landing diver holds a kelp crab that is eating the Giant Kelp being grown on the farm.

The Moss Landing Global Kelp Systems class was fortunate enough to dive in a kelp farm designed to grow Giant Kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera on lines.  The kelp farm had large kelp crabs which aggregated because the kelp is their preferred food, similar to insects eating on our crop fields on land.  The cute baby kelp is shown below growing on lines, hopefully they will not be eaten and make it to adulthood.  It was an interesting experience seeing an underwater farm, its easier to farm in the water with kelp as the nitrogen fertilizer is naturally in the water!

Baby kelp, they are cute!

Study at Moss Landing, Dive the World!

by Diane Wyse, Physical Oceanography Lab

In classic big oceans/small world style, we catch up with former MLML student and Dive Safety Officer John Heine for an alumni career interview.  We connected with him from all the way across the country on Florida’s sunny east coast, with a tip from a fellow Masters student in the brand new Master of Marine Science program at Jacksonville University.  Currently a research associate at JU, John has developed an exciting career during and since his time here at Moss Landing Marine Labs.  Read on to explore!

John Heine

A Cold Awakening

photo: E. Donham
Emily Donham
Emily Donham

by Emily Donham, Ichthyology Lab

“What have I done!?”  This is my first thought as I plunge into the frigid waters at Stillwater Cove.  Having just moved to Moss Landing after spending the past eight years in tropical Hawaii, this is my first chance to dive in California’s temperate waters.  My dive computer reads a mere 54° F, but that can’t be right.  This water feels much closer to freezing.  Once I’m able to recover from the initial shock I realize that my arms just don’t bend the way they used to.  This is mostly due to the 10 mm of neoprene wrapped around my body to help keep me warm.  I used to be able to get away with just a 2mm top!  I slowly become acclimated to the temperature and limited mobility and descend to the depths for my first glimpse into the kelp forest ecosystem.

photo: E. Donham

Unfortunately, today isn’t the greatest of visibilities.  The water has a greenish hue and I’m not able to see beyond about 15-20 feet, but even so, there is still a lot to get excited about.  Coming from the tropics where reef-building hard corals are the main attraction, it’s hard to believe that macroalgae could ever be so breathtaking.  Some of the giant kelps at our dive site are over 60 feet tall, which makes it easy to see why people refer to their ecosystems as forests.  I look closer and see small groups of juvenile rockfish intermingled within the kelp, utilizing its blades for shelter.  The closer I look, the more I see, and I start to realize it’s going to take me awhile to learn what everything is, despite the lower species abundance and diversity compared to tropical coral reefs.  It certainly doesn’t help that the muted colors here make differentiating between species tricky.  We ascend to our safety stop and a sea lion swims in to check us out.

At the end of my dive day I look back and am once again reminded of why I decided to study marine science and I can’t wait to jump back in the water as soon as possible.  Luckily for me, as a student of the Ichthyology lab, my advisor has decided to make biweekly dives a part of our education.  Hopefully exploring California’s coastal waters will help in my search for a thesis topic.