Field courses are one of the best parts of attending graduate school at Moss Landing. Class is moved from the classroom or lab to the great outdoors. Getting away from the computer and out into nature helps keep anyone more balanced. We learn ecological concepts and then view or test them in the field to better understand subtidal ecology. This spring, the subtidal ecology class has been out SCUBA diving around Monterey Bay, identifying species and their relationships (ecology).
The subtidal ecology class gears up to go on an identification dive. The water temperature is around 11 Celsius (52 Fahrenheit), so thick neoprene suits are used as thermal insulation.
Identifying organisms in the field can be very difficult if using color, as it changes as you descend through the water column. Red, orange and yellow do not penetrate through the water very far, so we use waterproof flashlights to restore the natural spectrum and hopefully more easily identify organisms.
Two students in the subtidal ecology class (Catherine Drake and Christian Denney) are on an identification survey, trying to learn different fish, algae, and invertebrates in Monterey Bay.
Comparing data with someone else when learning to identify organisms makes the process much easier. You can quickly learn if you are mis-identifying something and try to find another one to recalibrate yourself. Here are some species you may see around the Southern Monterey Bay area :
This alga, the Southern sea palm, reaches about 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) tall. An identifying feature of this alga is that is has a “Y” near the top of the stipe or stem, where is splits into two bunches of blades. Aggregations of this alga form understory forests, important for different fishes, invertebrates, and mammals.
This is an anemone, named the fish-eating anemone, which feeds on shrimp, small fish and other opportunistic food items. An identifying feature of this anemone is the smooth red column seen at the bottom of the photo.