It has been an embarrassingly long time since I've updated this site. And that's on me. Apparently I've been too busy even to post little updates. Oh well.
To that end, I've created a brand spanking new website, check it out!
I'll still keep this site running (for as long as weebly will let me), because I'm not one to shy away from internet hoarding. Thanks for following along, don't hesitate to reach out!
Rarely, if ever, are science projects carried out by one individual. This is especially true for subtidal projects; it takes a lot of effort and energy to do work on and under the water. And, most importantly, diving is a buddy activity!
With that said, I'm excited to share progress on a paper I am co-writing with the one and only Tristin McHugh, a formal manuscript from her master's dissertation at San Diego State University! That's right, we're coming back at you with an in depth look at out favorite marine organisms: macroalgae!
Understanding patch dynamics is tricky; both biological and physical factors synergistically affect community composition and structure. For this study we were interested in how available light, and associated algal physiology, might drive algal abundance on rocky reefs.
But rather than make you read pages and pages (yet), feel free to check out this talk I submitted to the Phycological Society of America's annual meeting last summer (July 2021). For reference, our abstract is posted underneath.
Stay tuned for more updates as we continue to write up this paper, and let this PIG fly!
Abstract submitted to PSA:
This study simulated physical disturbances of varying frequency and magnitude in two geographically distinct regions in California (Monterey, San Diego) and assessed the subtidal community’s response via benthic presence and photosynthetic capabilities. We sought to understand how a kelp forest may respond to the physical removal of brown algae canopy and sub-canopy layers, and what patterns of succession may take place. From pre and post-manipulation surveys, we saw a significant increase in red algal biomass within removal plots (i.e. simulated canopy removal), but did not see differences in red algal biomass or community assemblages across treatments. Rather, simple patchiness in red algae communities accounted for most of the variation observed in both locations, suggesting that community organization likely results from individual species’ life history characteristics, their ecologies, and stochastic processes. We then sought to understand the responses of red algae to these disturbances, and to subsequently understand their photosynthetic-capabilities, which can be thought of as a proxy for ecological success, to better understand if their responses were due to light adaptations from competitive release. In comparing photosynthetic properties (alpha and pmax), we found that sites, seasons, and the interaction between treatment and season were major drives of red algal photosynthetic capability. However, our results suggest that light adaptations in red algae do not reinforce patch dynamics in temperate reef communities.
Recently I reached a major milestone, a first author publication. The importance of authorship on any paper is supposed to validate hard work, among other things. I would argue that hard work and authorship are not always correlated. But still, this often kickstarts one's career. What is education or training without experience? I must admit, I was rather cynical about the writing process, but I still count this is a major victory. I'm excited to share something I've been working on for the last several years. I'm also excited to see where this can possible take me, but that's still TBD.
This publication (Species specific biomass drives macroalgal benthic primary production on temperate rocky reefs) was published in the open source journal Algae in September 2020. Which means you can access it for here for free: DOI (Direct Object Identifier). Or simply click on the download button below (hint: open in a new tab).
tl;dr in a kelp forest, big algae are more abundant over all, and produce more oxygen
Synopsis: In short, we wanted to try and understand how much oxygen large algae produce. "Macroalgae" is a broad term, encompassing almost every alga you can see with the naked eye, from the giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) to spindly strands of filaments. A lot of work has been done to understand processes in and related to giant kelp, and other "canopy forming" species (e.g. bull kelp). But few studies have gone deeper into the kelp forest to study the algae that live closer to the benthos (on the bottom).
First, in three kelp forests (Monterey, San Diego, Campo Kennedy) we identified the macroalgae that made up the majority of the biomass (i.e. the total mass) in a given area. We then counted and weighed a subset of these algae, and brought them back to the laboratory to conduct an experiment to test photosynthesis vs. irradiance. In other words, how much oxygen is produced at different light levels. Interesting, we found that certain types of macroalgae are more productive than others (they produce more oxygen overall), and that often these macroalgae make up the majority of the biomass. While we weren't necessarily expecting these results, in hindsight this is actually pretty exciting. Kelp forests are not all that different from forests on land after all; just like shorter trees and shrubs on land, macroalgae are both refuges and hunting grounds for many organisms. Regardless of productivity, macroalgae serve important rolls in kelp forests, and without them our world would look very different. In summary, algae are always interesting.
I have a whole host of people to thank, all of which are acknowledgement section of the paper. Science is meant to be collaborative, and there's no way I could have done it alone. Thank you to everyone who helped me along the way, in and out of the water. This is for you as much as me.
Most of the the code I used for the analysis and figures can be found in this Github repository. Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions, comments, concerns, or access issues!
Baron von Urchin
It's been a long summer and fall for field biologists; COVID has all but shut down NOAA's diving operations, but my office (Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary) was able to get special permission to go to Santa Barbara Island to service some equipment that we have out there.
About two years ago (before I joined the Sanctuary), people in my lab anchored 18 acoustic receivers to moorings on the bottom of seafloor all around Santa Barbara Island. Each receiver "listens" for tags that we can put in all sorts of [large] animals. Every six months we need to go back to the island, and dive down to the moorings so we can bring the receivers back to the boat, download the data, and swap the batteries so we can listen for another six months!
Well, it's been a year since we were able to get back out there. Many of the receivers were harder to find than usual, but we were able to recover almost all of them! As part of this same project, my team and I are investigating the movement and behaviour of the giant black sea bass (Stereolepis gigas). Giant is an understatement! These fish-eating fish can grow up to 7ft long and weigh upwards of 700lbs! They're very curious when divers are in the water, and since we know where they like to be (thanks to the receiver data) finding more fish to tag isn't as hard as it used to be. At least around SBI.
For this trip I was able to SCUBA dive, and "pilot" a small Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to observe the fish's behaviour around the "bait trap" (a small amount of cut up fish in thick plastic mesh attached to the anchor line). The smell of the fish attracts the bass, who generally let us get close enough to place the acoustic tags. The fish are essentially armor-plated due to their thick skin, so placing the sensor is easier said than done! Since we don't always know what the fish are up to (or even if they're in the neighborhood) after we deploy the bait trap, the ROV allows us to get a glimpse into their behaviour before divers get in the water. As you can see in the video, these fish are curious! And the receiver data allow us to understand what the fish are up to when we're not in the water. Stay tuned, this is an ongoing study!
In the meantime, check out this talk I recorded for the 2020 Western Society of Naturalists conference (Nov 6-9th)
I am very pleased to announce that the Edwards Lab's first paper from our 2016-2017 Aleutian Archipelago research trip has been published in PLOS One! You can access, "Marine deforestation leads to widespread loss of ecosystem function" here
Trophic interactions can result in changes to the abundance and distribution of habitat-form- ing species that dramatically reduce ecosystem functioning. In the coastal zone of the Aleu- tian Archipelago, overgrazing by herbivorous sea urchins that began in the 1990s resulted in widespread deforestation of the region’s kelp forests, which led to lower macroalgal abun- dances and higher benthic irradiances. We examined how this deforestation impacted eco- system function by comparing patterns of net ecosystem production (NEP), gross primary production (GPP), ecosystem respiration (Re), and the range between GPP and Re in rem- nant kelp forests, urchin barrens, and habitats that were in transition between the two habitat types at nine islands that spanned more than 1000 kilometers of the archipelago. Our results show that deforestation, on average, resulted in a 24% reduction in GPP, a 26% reduction in Re, and a 24% reduction in the range between GPP and Re. Further, the transition habitats were intermediate to the kelp forests and urchin barrens for these metrics. These opposing metabolic processes remained in balance; however, which resulted in little-to-no changes to NEP. These effects of deforestation on ecosystem productivity, however, were highly vari- able between years and among the study islands. In light of the worldwide declines in kelp forests observed in recent decades, our findings suggest that marine deforestation pro- foundly affects how coastal ecosystems function.
It has been an honor to work with Dr. Lydia Kapsenberg and Liz Weinberg on this new ONMS webstory:
A Safe Haven in a Changing World Can Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Serve as a Local Refuge Against Ocean Acidification?
To promote this story, check out this "Situation Report" submitted to ONMS weekly:
Northern Channel Islands Ocean Acidification Refugia webstory released by ONMS
Due to their position in the California Current, and their location along the coast of California, the Northern Channel Islands are home to a diverse assemblage of ecologically and economically important species. One of the drivers of this diversity are the strong seasonal upwellings pulses that bring nutrient rich waters to the Santa Barbara Channel. However, upwelled waters are low in pH, and thus expose organisms to more acidic waters. Coupled with ocean acidification, upwelling pulses can synergistically impact marine organisms at multiple trophic levels across food webs. A recent study Dr. Lydia Kapsenberg, former UC Santa Barbara PhD student, showed that the north-facing beaches around the Northern Channel Islands may be unaffected by drops in pH due to upwelling. Because ocean acidification is an ongoing problem, areas that are productive but that might be spared from the impacts of ocean acidification are of critical concern. In effect, the Northern Channel Islands may represent a refugia for organisms that live in areas that are exposed to upwelling pulses. These findings can be used by marine managers for conservation and/or restoration efforts, and to enhance marine protected areas. CINMS Sea Grant fellow Pike Spector worked with Dr. Kapsenberg to share this story with the general public. Link to webstory: https://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/news/feb20/channel-islands-ocean-acidification-refuge.html
Significance: Ocean acidification threatens many commercially and ecologically important organisms. As our understanding of these impacts increases, areas of special concern need to be identified for conservation. Further, ocean acidification, coupled with strong seasonal upwelling pulses, may synergistically impact marine life beyond what has already been studied. Because of their position on the coast, the Northern Channel Islands may serve as an ocean acidification refugia because they are immune to the deleterious drops in pH caused by upwelling.
For more information please contact Pike Spector firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a crosspost with California Sea Grant's blog
Let me start out by saying that I have no idea how robots work. My background is in kelp forest ecology, I cut my teeth diving in the North Pacific from Baja California to the Bering Sea (Alaska). So, when I convinced my master’s advisor to let me instruct a group of high school volunteers in the construction of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV; think underwater tethered drone), I was surprised when he said yes. By following the instructions laid out by the ROV’s manufacturer I was able to stay one step ahead of my team. It helped that the ROVs I was working with are small, portable, and much simpler than their expedition-grade cousins (Hercules, Deep Discover).
Flash forward nearly two years and I found myself sitting at a Conservation Working Group (CWG) meeting in advance of a Sanctuary Advisory Council meeting during my very first week as a California Sea Grant fellow with NOAA Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS). Although this group of policy informers, agency representatives, and resource protection specialists made me feel more than welcome, I did my best “fly on the wall” impression, hoping to soak in as much information as possible. However, when the subject of ROVs came up, I simply couldn’t resist. “Are you talking about Sofar (formally OpenROV)? I used to work with them when I was a graduate student!”
Suddenly, all eyes were on me. I was swiftly, promptly, and unequivocally now the de facto ROV liaison between the CWG, the Marine Protected Area Collaborative Network (Santa Barbara Chapter), and CINMS. Great. Already I felt in over my head. But after all, isn’t that why I set out to work with CINMS in the first place?
As a Sea Grant fellow at CINMS, my duties are split between the management team and the outreach and education team. From the start of my fellowship I was given a lot of latitude for project support and development. CINMS has longstanding partnerships with local organizations and school groups, which allowed me to integrate into that network. Helping bring the underwater world to the general public through the “eye” of an ROV fit in perfectly to CINMS’s commitment to “promote understanding, support and participation in the protection and conservation of marine resources.”
Exploring the ocean without getting wet
After a whirlwind first month at CINMS I brought along the ROV when I joined a group of Santa Barbara City College students on a trip to Santa Cruz Island as part of their Field Methods class.
With support from Sofar, not only did we get to showcase the ROV and its capabilities, we let the students “fly” two of them through eelgrass meadows and kelp forests. Most of the students had never seen the underwater world through anymore more than curated video recordings. Through the Trident pilot’s view the students were able to see the verdant expense of a seagrass meadow, and the dizzying complexity of a kelp forest in real time, without having to get their feet wet. Their wide-eyed looks of wonder and amazement serve as a continued source of inspiration.
While remote viewing tools like ROVs cannot replace traditional SCUBA surveys for scientific purpose, allowing students to explore the nearshore habitats of the Channel Island from the comfort of the research vessel is a priceless exercise.
Since that first cruise in April 2019, I’ve gotten to put the underwater world in the hands of many other stakeholders up and down the coast. From local high school and middle school science teachers to MPA Collaborative members in Mendocino County, we’re slowly but surely expanding CINMS’s outreach and education toolkit to incorporate these nimble ROVs. On a more recent cruise in fall 2019 we were able to put a Trident to the test during a logistically complicated mooring recovery on Santa Rosa Island.
This fall our collaborators with the MPA Collaborative in Mendocino broadcasted the first ever live dive as part of the “Help the Kelp” initiative started by the Noyo Center. During my fellowship with CINMS I hope to bring the underwater world to the eyes of the general public through our own live dives in and around Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.
If I’ve learned anything at CINMS, it’s: keep asking questions, keep exploring, and don’t be afraid to let your voice be heard!
Words by Pike Spector
As part of my California Sea Grant fellowship with NOAA’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary I’ve been helping with the beginning stages of our Management Plan revision process. Since this is a large, multi-year process for our sanctuary, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what this looks like, and why we’re revising it in the first place. Here, I’ll try to break things down make it a little more digestible!
What is a Management Plan in the first place?
Our sanctuary’s Management Plan encompasses all of the programming and activities NOAA does in the sanctuary and in the surrounding communities. Specific program areas include: research, education, outreach, volunteers, conservation, and enforcement. Effectively, the Management Plan guides the direction of these program areas, and helps ensure that we’re staying on track to meet our goals.
It should be noted that our first mission under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the law that authorizes our program, is protecting the marine resources of the sanctuary. Hence, the Management Plan is organized with this main goal in mind.
Great, your Management Plan helps guide your sanctuary office’s mission. Why revise it?
Any governing doctrine should be periodically reviewed for a number of reasons. Mainly, our office wants to know, are we on track to address the issues in our previous plan (last updated in 2009)? Have we successfully addressed certain issues or are there still gaps to fill? If so, where are they? Have new issues come to light, or are we too focused on outdated topics? We’ve been gathering this information for some time, and recently released our 2016* Condition Report earlier this summer.
With the help of the Condition Report, along with Public Scoping, we are better able to begin the process of revising our Management Plan to meet the needs of the coming years.
*Even though the Condition Report was released in 2019, the data used come from 2016 and before.
Ok, sounds like a lot of work. How can I get involved?
The purpose of the National Marine Sanctuaries is to protect cultural resources of historical significance and areas of special biological concern. Here at CINMS we encourage the use and visitation of the sanctuary and are actively interested in hearing from our constituents and stakeholders. On October 1st we released a Notice of Intent for Public Scoping and will hold this public scoping period open until November 15th. During this time, we hope to gather as many public comments from as many stakeholders as possible!
How can I submit a comment during the public scoping period?
Currently there are two ways you can submit public comments:
Online: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal
Use docket number NOAA–NOS–2019-0110
By mail: Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
NOAA CINMS UCSB
Ocean Science Edu Bldg 514 Mail Code 6155
Santa Barbara, California 93106
Attn: Management Plan Revision
Some things to consider when submitting public comments
Honestly, it's been hard to keep pace with all of the amazing science communicators out there. While I can't speak for everyone, I personally think most of us are just so passionate about the projects we're working on (or that others are working on) that we just can't help but share that enthusiasm!
That being said, sometimes it's hard to come to terms with the state of the world, the state of progress, and the uncertainty the future holds. Especially if it feels like you're yelling into a hurricane. To that end, I was honored when the Xylom asked me to contribute a story to their amazing platform. They left the call open ended, and after some consideration I decided to be as honest as I could be. For the curious reader, check out my story on the Xylom, "Dis-Aleutianed: Where the Wild Winds Blow"
Here's to revisiting the project that helped define my graduate career. Once more unto the breach we go.
All words by the author, adapted from an Office of National Marine Sanctuaries weekly Situation Report.
California Sea Grant state Sea Grant fellow with CINMS helps facilitate Mendocino MPA Collaborative ROV training
The Marine Protected Area MPA Collaborative Network (MPACN), a California-based umbrella organization, representing fourteen collaborative groups now active along the coast, carries out projects that answer local needs regarding MPAs. As such, the MPACN’s individual collaboratives have applied for Trident® Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) through Sofar’s S.E.E. Initiative grant program.
Based on previous experience with Sofar’s Tridents® (small, portable ROVs), I was asked to attend the Mendocino MPAC ROV training in Fort Bragg in late June, 2019. Representatives from local agencies (e.g. California State Parks) and nonprofits (e.g. Noyo Center and California Reef Check) spent the day learning how to operate and maintain the small ROVs, and discussed applications for use and engagement. Through conversations with stakeholders, partners, and staff from the MPACN and Sofar, plans are in development to use Tridents® coast-wide to broadcast “live dives” from within California’s national marine sanctuaries.
Stay tuned for more updates! And, be sure to check in on Sofar's Twitch page where future dives will be broadcasted. Special shout out to my host, and former lab mate, CA Reef Check's north coast manager Tristin McHugh (M.S.)!
Clockwise from top right: Two separate groups of participants get a chance to “fly” Tridents®; Sofar marketing director Zack Johnson successfully uses a cell-booster to broadcast a dive to Sofar’s HQ in the Bay Area; the author and a CA State Park employee test a Trident in the surf, Z. Johnson briefs participants before the dives. Photos: Z. Johnson, P. Spector, N. Palma
Pike Spector is currently a Research Operations Specialist with Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary