What do red urchins, Pacific sand lance and scientific trawling of the seafloor all have in common?
All three exist at depths that can’t be easily observed by scientists — that is unless you bring in some fancy tools. Enter SeaDoc and our friends at OceanGate Foundation, with whom we’ve partnered to bring a submarine (a manned submersible called Cyclops 1) to the San Juan Islands this September. We funded three unique research projects, none of which would be possible without this incredible piece of machinery to carry our teams.
OceanGate submersibles have been used to explore reef ecosystems, shipwreck sites and more.
“Just like the space shuttle provided a unique perspective for scientists to understand space, Cyclops 1 is able to provide a deep sea view that wouldn’t be possible otherwise,” said SeaDoc Science Director, Joe Gaydos.
We’ll be holding a public event in conjunction with Friday Harbor Labs during the week of September 10th to allow the public to see the submarine, learn about the research being conducted and celebrate the a week of great science. Stay tuned for more information as the event comes together this summer.
In the meantime, here’s a glimpse at the work we’ll be supporting:
How do deep-dwelling red urchins survive without immediate access to their food source?
Urchins in the San Juan Islands play an important role in structuring sea-floor communities and they represent a multimillion dollar fishery, but little is known about the populations that live below depths where kelp can survive, especially the ones so deep that they are not accessible to SCUBA divers. No human has ever seen a red urchin below 100 meters, although unmanned cameras have documented them.
Kelp depends on sunlight for survival, but it’s also the main food source for red urchins, which can live to be 150 years old. This study will explore how these deep-dwelling urchins manage to feed at such depths, with a specific eye toward the role played by drift kelp, which urchins can grab with their long spines as it floats by.
- Dr. Aaron Galloway, University of Oregon, Oregon Institute of Marine Biology
- Alexander Lowe, University of Washington, Department of Biology
Observing the rolling sand waves that make Pacific sand lance habitat
Sand lance are a small forage fish that play a crucial role in the food chain by converting plankton to fat that other fish, birds and mammals can access. They don’t have a swim bladder, which means they can’t stabilize themselves in the water column. They’re known for plunging their bodies into waves of sand at the seafloor as a mechanism for hiding out or resting. They do this year round, but it’s most common in the winter.
Beyond those basics, little is known about how they use this unique habitat. The sub will give our scientists a front-row seat of these rolling sand waves, with real-time discussion inside the sub and peripheral vision to document a far wider range than the camera alone could document.
Researchers will test several existing hypotheses about this important species, like which part of the sand waves are preferred for burrowing, how they are affected by noise, and their behavior related to predation.
- Gary Greene, Moss Landing Marine Labs and Tambolo Seafloor Mapping
- Matthew Baker, Friday Harbor Labs, University of Washington
- Joseph Bizzarro, Center for Habitat Studies, Moss Landing Marine Labs
What are the long-term impacts of scientific trawling on the seafloor?
For decades, scientists have trawled the ocean floor for valuable research purposes, but trawling is not without environmental effect. It can alter structure, decrease diversity, and remove habitat for larger animals in the ecosystem.
The submarine will run transects in areas that have been trawled for scientific purposes up to 10 times per year for the past 30 years. Through observation and video documentation, the researchers will compare trawled sites to adjacent un-trawled areas.
As with all SeaDoc-funded science, they will make the resulting data available for public consumption with the goal if informing future policy decisions related to the effects of scientific trawling.
- Dr. Adam Summers of Friday Harbor Labs, University of Washington
- Dr. Mackenzie Gerringer, Friday Harbor Labs, University of Washington
- Dr. David Duggins, Friday Harbor Labs, University of Washington
Mark the week of September 10th on your calendar and stay connected with SeaDoc for more information about our public event where you’ll get to see the submarine at Friday Harbor Labs.