Last year, Atka was the third of the six islands we sampled. By the time we had gotten there we had “cut our teeth” on Tanaga and Adak. Even still, Atka had given us a solid run for our money. So this year, when we heard that we were going back to Atka, we all exchanged a glance. But, on the morning of the 20th when we awoke at the same anchorage as last year, we were greeted by the same towering waterfall, the same rolling hills and steep cliffs, the same imposing rocky coastline. We were back, and more than ready to jump in the water.
Well, I should say, everyone else was more than ready. After my little incident on Kiska I won’t be diving for the rest of the trip. However, in the water or not, there’s always something to do in the lab, or with the data we’ve already gathered. You can take the diver out of the kelp forest, but in this case you can’t take the kelp forest out of the diver. Between helping sort samples, writing reports and analyzing the light and oxygen data I managed to keep busy.
At the end of the day, we’re doing a year’s worth of field work in just about three weeks. We can all feel the strain this puts on us, but we’re unified in our collective goal; to “get the data!” Everyone on this trip has invested considerable energy and time to get here. We’ve all made sacrifices, in some for another, and nothing can slow us down at this point. So, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I picked up a pen and jumped into the fray.
As I’ve mentioned before, sea urchins are a huge part of the story up here. Part of what we’re doing is gaining an understanding of the population dynamics of the urchins in the urchin barren grounds. On every island we easily collect over 1000 urchins from the barren grounds and measure them in the lab. We can correlate the length of the urchin’s test (the diameter of the urchin’s exoskeleton between the spines) to its weight. Urchins are little grazing machines who efficiently turn algae into caloric energy that they use for reproduction. A fat urchin is a healthy urchin, and a healthy urchin tends to be very reproductive. How does this impact the longevity and persistence of the barren grounds? What role does disease play in population regulation? These are just some of the questions we’re investigating.
And yet, after two short days, the Edwards Lab, with help from the Konar Lab, pulled the chambers out of the water and we began to prepare for our steam to our next and final island: Yunaska. I’d like to give a special shout-out to the Oceanus’s 2nd mate, Jeremy Fox, for putting up with my dad jokes as he diligently changed my bandages once a day.
Stay tuned, we’ve only got one more island to go!
-Baron von Urchin
Pike Spector is currently a Research Operations Specialist with Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary