Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Safety training at Sea

Hi all

Today I got to participate in safety training on a 20 meter long research vessel called the R/V Fulmar.

The R/V Fulmar is used by the Sanctuary for oceanic research off of the Californian Coast. It is not just any boat; from this boat, scientists can SCUBA dive to research shallow water habitats, and operate remotely operated vehicles with underwater cameras in water too deep to dive. The boat also serves to teach people about the ocean and it responds to emergencies out at sea. To work on the R/V Fulmar, everyone needs to go through safety training each year.

Here I am waiting to board the R/V Fulmar in Monterey Bay. Whenever I am near or on a boat, I always wear my orange life jacket! (Notice the sea lions in the water behind me.)

In training, we prepared for worst-case scenarios out at sea, such as a sinking ship or what to do in case of a fire. If you had to go into the ocean, you would need protection against the cold (water is 17 C.), and you would need to stay afloat until help arrived. This is what immersion suits are for.

Here I am in a toasty warm immersion suit that only took me 30 seconds to get into! Can you guess why the suit is bright orange? You certainly wouldn’t miss me if I was bobbing around in ocean

Here I am with the Captain of the R/V Fulmar in the wheel house. The captain of a ship has to go through a lot of training and have many hours of practice in order to get his (or her) license. He must be able to steer the boat in any conditions, as well as help the research team and assist in emergencies at sea.
Just like a map on land helps people find their way, charts are used to navigate at sea. This can bge more difficult than on land as their may be no point of reference to know where you are and there definitely aren’t any road signs. Here I am next to a chart which can be put into a computer. The captain will use this chart to plot his direction and to stay on –course (even without roads or road signs).

Here I am next to another computerized navigation system. This information helps the captain plot his course and tells how deep the water is so the boat doesn’t run into anything underneath it. I hadn’t really thought before about all things you need to keep a boat and everyo0ne on board safe. I think you must be very clever to be a captain because there is so much you need to know and do. Whew! It makes my head spin just thinking about it.

I think I need to tap a nap

Bye for now Ed

Monday, 29 March 2010

Monteray Bay Nation Marine Sanctuary

Hi all

Sam and I just arrived in Monterey California, home to the nation’s largest National Marine Sanctuary. California, on the west coast of the US is home to my friend Sam, who will visit with friends and family while we are here. March in California is very different than in England – the flowers are blooming everywhere and it is a lovely 21 C today.
I am here to see just some of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. This sanctuary is quite large, it’s 444 km in length and covers 15,783 km2 of ocean. At its deepest point, the Monteray Bay Nation Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) reaches down 3,250m!

The MBNMS is one of the world's most diverse marine ecosystems, and home to numerous mammals, seabirds, fishes, invertebrates and plants.

Elephant seal

A beautiful sea slug

Nesting coastal bird

Without even stepping foot on a boat you can witness its incredible marine life from shore -- whales, sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, pelicans, and a variety of marine life abound!
Slip under the surface of the water and you can glide through kelp forests, home to many species of fish, sea stars, urchins, and nudibranchs.
Kelp forest

Leatherback turtle

Just two years ago, they added the Davidson Seamount to the sanctuary – it’s an underwater volcanic mountain!
Life on the seamont

There is a neat slide show about the sanctuary here:

I can't wait to find out more. Bye for now Ed and Sam

Friday, 26 March 2010

Burrowing sand hoppers and great white Sharks

Hi all

Sam and I got to participate in some of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary’s School Programs. A group of first graders came to the Visitor Center for a fieldtrip and learned about the sanctuary, its animals and what those animals need to survive.

A view of the visitors centre and the beach

We went out on the beach looking for beach hoppers – tiny amphipods about 25 millimeters (1 inch) long that burrow in the sand and feed on washed up algae.
We found several and talked about how they have the food, shelter, water and air that they need right here on this healthy beach.
Justin, Parker and me.
Me, Sam and Parker after we were hunting for sandhoppers

The students also got a tour of the Visitor Center and watched while the animals in the aquaria were feed – some of those crabs and fish can move pretty fast after a meal!

One of the sanctuary’s most famous (and misunderstood) animals is the White Shark (sometimes called “Great White Shark”).
They come into these waters in the autumn to feed on young elephant seals. Sam and I went along on a Sharkmobile Program, which is part of the sanctuary’s At Your School program.
Sanctuary educators go to different schools and bring all sorts of great shark stuff (jaws, teeth, whole preserved specimens, and so forth) and teach kids about sharks.
We learned that the Gulf of the Farallones has one of the largest populations of sharks in the world – estimated at about 200. Scientists are working in the sanctuary to learn more about these magnificent animals. Current research includes learning about where they go the rest of the year (most are only in the sanctuary for a few months), where and when they breed, and how they navigate back to the same place year after year. I think it would be pretty cool to have a job studying and protecting sharks! My buddy Steve teaches people about sharks and I helped him run a course before I started my travels.  My buddy Steve would love it here.

Well I think this really is my last day here in the Gulf of Farallones. I have had a great time learning about the wildlfe in the area, helpiung with surveys and I met some great kids and the staff here have also been fun and looked after me. I hope I get to come back again some day.

Bye for now, Ed and Sam

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Helping out with a Beach Watch Survey


I think Sam has been playing a joke on me because we are still at the Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Today Sam and I headed out with Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Scientist Jan Roletto on a Beach Watch Survey at Rodeo Beach just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Jan told me that Beach Watch is a beach monitoring program. Since 1993 the programme has trained volunteers to undertake two surveys each month of over 150 miles of sanctuary coastline.

More than 100 volunteers from all walks of life take part in Beach Watch. Beach Watch surveyors count live and dead animals at the beach, record levels of human and dog activity and look for oil or other signs of ocean pollution. This data is used to help protect the sanctuary. They can watch for changes, such as an unusually large number of dead birds on the beach and then look for clues as to what might be causing the change (lack of food or an illness, for example). Knowing what is “normal” by doing regular surveys also helps sanctuary managers have an idea of how an oil spill or other disaster affects our local beaches by having real “before” and after data to compare. Such data was extremely useful during the Cosco Busan oil spill in 2007.
Ed, Sam and Jan taking a break from the survey

During Sam, Jan and my survey today at Rodeo Beach, we counted people, birds and marine mammals along the beach as well as any dead birds and mammals that had washed up on the beach. We also kept our eyes open for oil and marine garbage. Luckily there wasn’t any oil. I got to practice sampling oil on a previously collected oiled bird (a rubber ducky!).
I wore a specially made Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response suit (HAZWOPER for short) with gloves to protect me from getting oil on my fur. (People use these suits so as not to get the oil or other toxic chemicals on their skin when involved in a cleanup.)
Counting birds at bird rock, just off Rodeo Beach

Collecting data ona dead bird

Jan said today was a historic survey, because we had the first recorded sighting of a sea otter off this beach. Sea otters are rare north of the Golden Gate Bridge, although in olden days they were quite numerous in this area. Jan explained that before being hunted for their fur in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, sea otters were found all along the Pacific Coast of North America, from Mexico up to Alaska. In 2007, the annual sea otter count found just over 3,000 sea otters in the central California coast, down from an estimated population of 16,000 before they were hunted for their fur. Jan explained that the California's sea otters are the descendants of a single colony of about 50 southern sea otters discovered south of Monterey in 1938. Now they are typically found from Santa Barbara to San Francisco, a very small portion of their former range. Ypou can see a pocture os sea otters in an earlier blog entry 17th February 2010 called "The Science of Surfing." Today’s sighting means they may be expanding their range a bit – it is a hopeful sign!

See you tommorow

Ed and Sam

Monday, 22 March 2010

Ed and Sam help students monitor marine life.

Sam and I went out with local High School students to help with the sanctuary’s environmental monitoring and education program, LiMPETS (Long-term Monitoring and Experimental Training for Students) that studies local beaches and rocky shores. We helped the students collect data on the abundance of specific plants and animals at study sites along the coast. We learned that every year about 3,500 students participate in this program that is a project of three of the California sanctuaries: Gulf of the Farallones, Monterey Bay and Channel Islands. Wow that's a lot of students.

At a sandy beach site – we counted, measured and determined the sex of sand crabs (Emerita analoga) found along our transect.

The trasect was a line made straight down the beach which the students studied for crabs. This is a good scientific technique to study an animal where the whole beach is its habitat. This can be repeated on different parts of the beach.
Every crab that we measured was carefully put back afterwards. Sand crabs are an important species in sandy beaches as they are the main food source for many shore birds and near shore fishes, so they are a good animal to monitor – if they are doing well, then probably the animals that feed on them are doing well also.

At rocky intertidal sites, we recorded about twenty types of organisms in quadrats at rocky shore sites. The quadrats are special squares that can be laid over the rocks and all the animals and plants present can be counted and recorded.
One of the species we recorded was this sunburst anemone

The students sample the same area each time they come out to see how the distribution and abundance of plants and animals change from season to season and year to year.

Sanctuary managers use this information to help protect the sanctuary. For example, in November of 2007, a large container ship; the Cosco Busan, ran into a bridge support and spilled oil into San Francisco Bay. Some of the oil went out into the sanctuary. Sanctuary staff were able to use the data from LiMPETS to compare the abundance and distribution of species before and after the spill. This helped them know which areas might need the most help to recover from the spill. So the students get to learn some fascinating stuff about marine wildlife and the sanctuary benefits from their studies too.

I really enjoyed helping the students monitoring the beach and finding out about the types of animal that live in the sand and rock pools.

Off to our next destination soon, but Sam is keeping it a secret. I wonder where we will travel too next?

Bye for now Ed

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

A day kayaking in the sun

Hi all

Today Sam and I had a special treat – we got to go kayaking on Tomales Bay, part of the Farallones Sanctuary, with several sanctuary staff. Oh yes, a  kayak is a type of canoe, just incase you were wondering. 
 Sam ansd I Kayaking

We had a really fun day – we paddled up along the coast of the bay and saw osprey, cormorants, king fishers, grebes, turkey vultures and even a couple of harbor seals like the ones back home.
Harbour seal

We stopped at Pebble Beach and had lunch, before going on a short hike through the woods along the shore. We saw many flowers and trees (including a Redwood Tree) and even saw a Banana Slug – normally a bright yellow, this one was greenish – it must have been decked out for St Patrick’s Day!
Sam has been helping me build up my skills in the water so  thought I would teach him a bit about what bears love best. Climbing trees. We started with somethiung small....
...And progressed to a redwood tree

Banana slug

One of the women kayaking with us, Yuen, was from Vietnam. She is a graduate student in Ocean Policy in Seattle and has been involved in the Sanctuary International Program in Vietnam. She is visiting some of the West Coast Sanctuaries during her Spring Break to continue her education about sanctuaries and other marine protected areas.
Sam and I took this picture of the sanctuary folks who took us kayaking. They are (left to right): Carol, Yuen (visiting from Vietnam!), Angela, Sage, Christy, Kelley and Alison. They were a really fun bunch.

I commented that Tomales Bay was an interesting shape – it is long and narrow - and learned that Tomales Bay sits on top of the San Andreas Fault and is a submerged linear estuary that runs along the North American and Pacific Plate boundaries. (The Cordell Bank offices are not far from here – where I learned a bit about earthquakes a few weeks ago.)
Estuaries are places upon which wildlife depends – not only do they offer habitat for many animals, they provide spawning and nursery areas for many fish species, and they are an important food source for many local and migrating birds.

The sanctuary has been working with the local community to protect the habitats in Tomales Bay from water pollution, habitat loss, introduced species and other human-caused disturbance to these important ecosystems. Estuaries around the world face similar issues, 60% of the world’s population lives near an estuary.
This is the estuary near my local beach at Shoreham. It may not look much but the sandy mud is full of marine worms, crabs, sea snails, bivalve molluscs and lots of tiny shrimp-like crustceans. Lots of wading birds come to the estuary to feed on these tiny animals. Infact, UK estuiaries are even more important in the winter when they are visited by thousands of migrating wading birds that come to the Uk becaue the places they come from are much colder than British winters. Many types of fish also feed on these mud living marine creatures.
Wow, a great day kayaking and many more experiences of willdife and wild places.

Yawn! I think I need a nap


Monday, 15 March 2010

Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary

Sanctuary Sam and I arrived at the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary offices in San Francisco, California today. This is quite near to the Cordell Banks Sanctuary offices I visited earlier this year. I’ve heard San Francisco is famous for its fog, and it was very dull when I came last, but today it was a beautiful, sunny day, and the Golden Gate Bridge, near the sanctuary offices, glowed a bright orangey-red – not golden at all!

Unlike the offshore Cordell Bank sanctuary, the Farallones sanctuary is right next to San Francisco where about 8 million people live. Lots of people, and lots of wildlife, all living side by side. The Farallones sanctuary protects the waters outside the Golden Gate Bridge and around the Farallon Islands, which are about 27 miles offshore. It also includes some shallow coastal areas, called estuaries, like Tomales Bay, and Bolinas Lagoon.
In this map you can see Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary where I am now, the Cordell Banks Sanktuary where I visited before and Moneray Bay (my next destination)

But for now there So much to discover here! First we learned about the local wildlife with a Visitor Center tour. The visitors centre has life-sized replicas of white sharks and giant elephant seals.
I'm glad this great white shark is only a model. I know humans are not their usual prey but a little bear like me could easily be mistaken for a tasty morsel. My buddy Steve, back in the UK, teaches people about sharks and he has written books about sharks as well. Steve also has a seal shaped decoy which has been chewed up by great white sharks that the kids can handle.

The enormous elephant seal replicas were fabulous, and we even listened to recorded whale voices – something Sam has experienced before while actually swimming in the ocean with them! Awesome sounds!

The aquariums have big green and tiny pink anemones. They are so huge they look even more like plants.
 I was so surprised when I first discovered that sea anemones were actually animals. In another aquarium tank there was a monkeyface prickleback eel named Monty, some crabs, and a big abalone.

I learned that this part of the Pacific Ocean is one of the four most productive areas in the world because of something called “upwelling.” Along the coast here, strong springtime winds push the surface waters offshore and that brings cold water, which has lots of nutrients in it, up to the surface. Near the surface, the combination of nutrients and sunlight allows the tiny one-celled plants, called phytoplankton, to grow really fast – just like a garden that’s been fertilized. Lots of different kinds of animals eat this plankton, including little shrimp-like animals called krill. Krill is a very important food, and there’s so much of it here, giant blue whales come here in the summer to feed on and can eat up to four tons of it each day!

But many other kinds of animals live here, too: 36 species of marine mammals (like Sam’s buddies, the California sea lions, seals, sea otters, porpoises and dolphins), and thousands of different fish, birds and invertebrates – sea snails, limpets, sea stars and sea urchins. In fact, there is so much food here, that many animals travel thousands of miles just to come here and feed, including seabirds and even sea turtles. One bird, the Black-footed Albatross, flies here from Hawaii to get food to bring back for its chicks. It takes the bird three weeks to make the trip here and back – that is a really long way to go for a grocery run!

Black footed albatross

The Farallon Islands, a very rocky and jagged group of rocks, aren’t actually part of the sanctuary, but are a National Wildlife Reserve where hundreds of thousands of seabirds nest, and five types of seals and sea lions come ashore to rest or have their pups (babies).

There are no schools or shops on the islands, not even a dock: to get on the island, a crane lifts people and supplies from a boat onto ledge. That must be exciting – and maybe just a bit scary. Only a few scientists can live on the island at a time, to make sure the wildlife won’t be disturbed.

The Sanctuary Visitor Center exhibits gave us just a sneak preview of different animals and habitats of the sanctuary. We got to get an up-close look at some these animals in the visitors centre aquariums, and found some of the same creatures under the dock and among the rocks and sand on the beach outside the visitors centre. We are hoping to encounter even more of them out in the wild during the rest of our visit.

All the animals - the tiniest krill, the birds, seals, fish, whales and even sharks that feed in the sanctuary waters around the islands, and the humans that fish or swim in these waters need a clean, healthy ocean to survive. And that’s why this area is a sanctuary – because things like ocean dumping and oil drilling that would pollute the water, or disturbing wildlife are not allowed. It’s good for them, and good for us.