Archive for the ‘What’s Happening at MLML’ Category

MLML goes to Baja – the trip continues

March 17, 2014

Jackie Lindsey By Jackie Lindsey, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

For the next two weeks Moss Landing Marine Labs will be a little quieter, and not just because of spring break.  A large class of graduate students has just departed for Baja California Sur for two weeks of field research, and I am lucky to be among them!   Many of us have never been to this part the world, and we are full of hopes and dreams that we can pull off the projects we designed back in the classroom.

El Pardito

El Pardito

We are spending the majority of our trip on a tiny island called El Pardito, located within the Sea of Cortez.  This island is home to a small community of fishermen who have lived on the island for generations.  Many of us are depending heavily on their expertise to set up our projects and navigate the local waters.

Our projects range from mapping benthic habitat, to monitoring Marine Protected Areas, to studies of sea turtles and damselfish. We are spending full days in and on the water around El Pardito, and the weather should be just about perfect (fingers crossed)!

Turtle captures on El Pardito http://www.seaturtle.org/imagelib/?photo=6498

When we get back there will be plenty of pictures to post, commemorating our journey and all our hard work, but for now let me leave you with this image of NOT EVEN ALL OF THE GEAR!  Food, cooking tools, boats, compressors, dive gear, camping gear, sampling gear…the list goes on and on (and on and on).

Sampling gear

Sampling gear

Dive gear explosion

Dive gear explosion

I hope we didn’t forget anything because it’s too late now!  See you in two weeks!

Sometimes You Have to Celebrate!

March 5, 2014

Back in December 2013 I went on my last sampling bout for my thesis to Santa Catalina Island. My team included three amazing colleagues from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. We conducted surveys in sand and rhodolith beds which will be used to compare the communities. Rhodoliths are free-living calcareous algae that look like little pink tumbleweeds and propagate above sand.

Rhodolith

They appear to provide diverse structure increasing abundance and diversity of flora and fauna, similar to how trees provide habitat for epiphytic plants, climbing vines, and animals like birds and mammals.

Mantis shrimp in a rhodolith bed

A mantis shrimp in the rhodolith bed. They are holding a scallop shell probably found within the bed.  Filamentous red algae is covering the pink rhodoliths.

We conducted surveys to estimate the abundance of macroalgae growing on each substrate, macroinvertebrates, fishes, and took cores for later sorting under a microscope to estimate microinvertebres within each substrate. We celebrated by wearing santa hats which made the long sampling dives more fun. It was a great way to finish up my thesis.

Gabara December 2013 Thesis Team

The Catalina Island December 2013 sampling crew. (from left to right) Sarah Jeffries, Scott Gabara, Will Fennie and Kristin Meagher (taking the photo).

Sarah Jeffries

Sarah Jeffries holding a quadrat and bags filled with core samples, whilst wearing our symbolic santa hat.

Appropriate boat name

An appropriate boat name at Avalon Harbor during my thesis sampling.

Journey to the Center of the Slough

February 14, 2014

by Catarina Pien, PSRC Lab

If you’ve ever visited our lab, you’ve seen the beautiful waters surrounding us, often bobbing with a variety of marine mammals. The main body of water that surrounds Moss Landing Marine Laboratories is Elkhorn Slough, which is an estuarine embayment that drains into the Monterey Bay.

Beautiful Elkhorn Slough, photo by Jennifer Chiu

Beautiful Elkhorn Slough, photo by Jennifer Chiu

Elkhorn Slough has evolved greatly in the past few centuries. Since the dredging of Moss Landing Harbor in 1946, the slough has become directly connected and thus heavily influenced by the Monterey Bay. This connection has led the slough to change from a freshwater-influenced estuary to a predominantly saltwater-influenced and erosional body of water. A great deal of research has been done to study how these changes have influenced habitat structure and biological communities in the slough.

My own thesis research will focus on Elkhorn Slough, and how various oceanographic variables have changed and are influencing elasmobranch (shark and ray) populations in the slough. I am hoping that the class will be beneficial in showing me how to measure chemical variables, and analyze values in terms of how they influence biological communities.

Map of Elkhorn Slough, from Google Earth

Map of Elkhorn Slough, from Google Earth

Last week, our chemical oceanography class was split into five groups and deployed to various water bodies around our school to take some measurements and water samples. It had just rained earlier that week, so we were hoping there would be some visible differences in salinity and nutrient content in the regions we were sampling. Although the main channel of Elkhorn Slough is heavily influenced by the Monterey Bay, and thus oceanographically similar to the ocean, the upper reaches of the slough are often less saline (depending on the season), and more influenced by precipitation. One group went offshore to Monterey Bay, two groups went into Elkhorn Slough, one drove around to Salinas River, Carneros Creek, and other connected sloughs, and my group sampled in Moss Landing Harbor.

IMG_3811

We took one of our school’s whalers on a beautiful sunny morning, excited (though some of our facial expressions may not be representative) and ready to sample.

Our team!

We motored slowly through the harbor, observing sea lions sunning themselves, and being observed by harbor seals and a portly sea otter.

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Sea lions sunning themselves

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Curious harbor seals

Large male otter

Large male otter

Once at a station, we used the CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth) to measure salinity, temperature, and pH at eight stations within our region.

CTD measures salinity, temperature, pH among other oceanographic variables

CTD measures salinity, temperature, pH among other oceanographic variables

We also recorded GPS coordinates, and collected water samples with a syringe, and filtered them into a bottle to bring back to the lab.

Marisa is inserting CTD to measure salinity, temperature, pH

Marisa is inserting CTD to measure salinity, pH and temperature

Emily recording CTD measurements

Emily recording CTD measurements

Marisa filtering seawater

Marisa filtering seawater 

Many of the changes to Elkhorn Slough have been anthropogenic, including the construction of levees, dikes, tide gates, salt ponds, and railroads. Some of these were constructed early on for agriculture and ranching, whereas others have been created to remedy erosional problems we have created.  These barriers have altered tidal flow within Elkhorn Slough, and created distinct oceanographic areas. In order to determine differences between these areas, some stations required us to leave the boat to sample adjacent areas that were separated by a barrier.

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Evan braving the train tracks, photo by Jennifer Chiu

We passed by the lab, hoped we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves in front of the whole lab, and successfully finished our collections near the tide gate leading to the Old Salinas River.

MLML!

MLML!

Combined with the rest of the teams, we now have oceanographic measurements and water samples all around Elkhorn Slough and the surrounding bodies of water. Over the course of the semester, we will learn how to measure phosphate, nitrite/ nitrate, oxygen, silicate, and alkalinity of the water samples. The measurements will tell us something about how how the stations differ from each other, how Elkhorn Slough is partitioned, and the outside influences to each station.

As marine scientists, many of us spend a substantial chunk of time in the field. While field work can be frustrating and tiring, on a beautiful day like this, encountering a multitude of wildlife and puttering slowly through the beautiful waters, it is easy to remember why we went into the field of marine science.

Whalefest: Not Just a Tale of Whales

February 3, 2014

By Melissa Nehmens, PSRC

Whalefest banner 2014

Whalefest banner 2014

On January 25th and 26th, the Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf held its 4th annual Whalefest event to celebrate the migration of grey whales. Thanks to the efforts of fellow Pacific Shark Research Center (PSRC) student, Kristin Walovich, the PSRC and Friends of Moss Landing Marine Labs, hosted a booth at the event, speaking to attendees and passersby about what Moss Landing Marine Labs is all about!

Table attractions for the PSRC included a dehydrated Mako shark head and shark fin from our museum collection, and an anatomical model of a great white that allows you to see the inside of a shark. An interactive matching game, created by PSRC student Jessica Jang, was another favorite allowing people to test their shark knowledge by matching a shark to its description and name. We also showcased a story done by Central Coast News, interviewing PSRC director, Dave Ebert, about the lab’s role in international shark research.

How well do you know your sharks? PSRC student, Vicky Vasquez, helps a girl figure it out.

How well do you know your sharks? PSRC student, Vicky Vasquez, helps a girl figure it out.

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May the Flow Be With You!

January 22, 2014

Scott GabaraBy Scott Gabara, Phycology “Seaweed” Lab

Circulating seawater systems are very important for marine laboratories as they need to keep organisms from the ocean alive and use the water to aid in conducting experiments.  We have recently had our Moss Landing Marine Laboratories offshore intake upgraded and we went on a dive to inspect its current status.  The large meshed cylinder sucks in water and supplies our lab with flowing seawater.  We routinely inspect and clean the surface of the grates and the structure. 

One of our MLML intakes rising from the sand.

One of our MLML intakes rising from the sand.

It is interesting to see what invertebrates recruit or move onto the structure.  With sand surrounding us we create a small oasis of life concentrated on the hard substrate.  One of the issues we have to deal with is that seawater contains invertebrate larvae and some species will settle on the inside the pipes and eventually constrict and clog our flow, similar to plaque buildup in an artery.  We have to force a Pigging Inspection Gauge (PIG), a tool which is usually a piece of cylindrical foam, through the inside of the pipe to clean and clear the walls.  It’s great we can get routine cleanings so our seawater system continues flowing and our lab doesn’t have a “heart attack”!

Diana Steller inspects our intake line.

Diana Steller, Dive Safety Officer, inspects our intake line.

Ballast water and epifluorescence microscopy

January 13, 2014

by Liz Lam, Biological Oceanography Lab

The Golden Bear Facility, home to MLML's ballast treatment testing team

The Golden Bear Facility, home to MLML’s ballast treatment testing team

Ballast water treatment and testing is a big focus here in the Biological Oceanography lab, and this is no exception even when it comes to class projects.  Last semester, I started a project aiming to improve one of our counting techniques.  I’d previously written about IMO’s restriction to 10 organisms per 1,000 liters of discharged ballast water and counting zooplankton under a microscope in order to check for these results.  But when it comes to even smaller organisms, such as algae and other even tinier phytoplankton, different methods are called for.

We already have a pretty clever way of quantifying such microscopic organisms by using a few chemical and optical tricks.  The first key ingredient is fluorescein diacetate, or FDA.  One of the special features of this molecule is that it can only be cleaved by certain proteins in live cells.  Once FDA is split, what remains is fluorescein, a compound that glows bright green when excited under blue light. We can then use an epifluorescence microscope to both shine the right wavelength of light and magnify a sample in order to count any green organisms.  If it glows green, then it means it’s alive!  This allows us to quantify the number of live organisms that are extremely small and difficult to see.

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Small Boats, Great Resource: Student Small Boats Course

November 13, 2013

By: Scott Miller, Ichthyology Lab

One of the perks of being an MLML student is that we get to utilize the lab’s fantastic diving and boating resources – provided we get proper training first.  While “training” sounds like a drag, it can actually be quite a lot of fun!  For example, the lab recently offered a course to get checked out on the small boats.  Getting checked out on the small boats allows us to take the boats out for thesis-related work and other lab-approved reasons, so a number of students met up at the harbor to get certified.  After confirming that we had previously taken our online boating safety course, we began learning about nautical navigation and the basics of an outboard motor.

Nautical charts and tools to plan a route.  We'll be navigating the high seas in no time!

Nautical charts and tools to plan a route. We’ll be navigating the high seas in no time!

After learning all about the boats and procedures in the morning, after lunch it was time to take to the sea.  We separated into two smaller groups and went out on our Boston whalers.  The helpful staff at Marine Ops guided us as we practiced maneuvering in the bay.  Although I have boating experience on lakes, driving in-and-out of ocean swells was quite different and I had a blast learning the techniques.  After braving the ocean, we headed back into the harbor to practice docking.  While there wasn’t too much boat traffic inside the harbor, we still had to drive carefully to avoid the otters and seals that are abundant in the area.  We each took turns docking into different spots and under different conditions, then we took the boats back to the dock and cleaned everything up.  Spending a beautiful afternoon on the water got at least one student excited about having the opportunity to use the boats more frequently to help with his future research!

Heading home to the Moss Landing harbor.  While we technically could have asked for better weather, it really just would have been greedy.

Heading home to the Moss Landing harbor. While we technically could have asked for better weather, it really just would have been greedy.

Diving the MLML Seawater Intakes

October 25, 2013

By Diane Wyse, Physical Oceanography Lab

Earlier this week I volunteered to dive on the MLML seawater intakes, located about 200 m due west of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and 17 m below the surface.  The intakes supply seawater to multiple sites around Moss Landing, including the aquarium room at MLML, the Test Tank at MBARI, and the live tanks at Phil’s Fish Market.

Location of the intake pipes offshore.  Image: MLML/Google Earth (2013)

Location of the intake pipes offshore. Image: MLML/Google Earth (2013)

The purpose of the dive was to attach a surface float to a subsurface float located at a depth of about 15 feet.  A secondary objective was to visually inspect the intakes, which can be viewed in the video below.

The view from approximately above the intakes. Photo: Diane Wyse (2013)

The view of Moss Landing from approximately above the intakes. Photo: Diane Wyse (2013)

So how do you find an intake system 50 ft below the water?

To execute the operation, Assistant Dive Safety Officer Scott Gabara and I took a whaler from the MLML Small Boats with the assistance of boat driver Catherine Drake.  We used the best GPS coordinates previously called upon to locate the intakes, then threw a spotter surface float attached to a line and weight that unraveled to the seafloor.  We followed that line to the bottom and practiced our circle search skills until we found the first of the two intakes.  While anchoring the search line I saw a pipefish, a couple flatfish, and not much else.  During our descent and ascent we spotted half a dozen sea nettles, but on the sandy bottom it appeared pretty desolate.  The intakes, on the other hand, provide a hard substrate for sessile invertebrates and their predators to form a lively little oasis in the sand.  The first thing you notice when you come upon the intakes are the large white Metridium anemones.  If you take a closer look at the video, around 15 seconds in, you can spot a little octopus scurrying for cover.  After inspecting the first intake we moved to the second, that’s right, completely submerged by sand, with the line extending up to the subsurface float.  Though the video is short you can see some of the organisms residing on the line include seastars, Metridium, caprellids or “skeleton shrimp”, and my favorite marine invertebrate: nudibranchs.  Hermissenda (opalescent) nudibranchs, to be exact.  I wish I had a chance to take still photos while I was out there, but we had a job to do.  We successfully tied the surface float to the line and removed old line, thus making it much easier for future divers to study sediment movement and perform maintenance on the intake pipes.

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A Sandy Situation

October 20, 2013

Diana Steller (left) and Angela Zepp (right) warm up in the sun after a dive at the intakes.

We want to go with the flow when it comes to supplying seawater to Moss Landing Marine Labs.  The incoming water is used for research and husbandry so we keep a close eye on and maintain our seawater intake system.  In efforts to better understand why sand has been building up around our intakes over the years our diving safety officer, Diana Steller, and a new student, Angela Zepp, have started to take cores of the sediment in that area.  We hope to learn more about the sand movement and/or retention from cores by continually taking them and comparing the sediment size over time.  Sand seasonally moves onshore and offshore during the summer and winter seasons, respectively.  We hope to learn why this buildup is occurring over time.

Ballast Water Creature Counting

October 7, 2013
The Golden Bear Facility at the Cal Maritime Academy is the site of all our ballast treatment testing

The Golden Bear Facility at the Cal Maritime Academy is the site of all our ballast treatment testing. Photo: CMA

Although I’m only a first-year graduate student here at Moss Landing, I’ve had the pleasure of working on the ballast water testing team with the Biological Oceanography lab for over a year now.  Aquatic invasive species have become an increasingly large problem across the globe and one of the ways organisms make their way to non-native waters is through the ballast tanks of ships.  The IMO (International Maritime Organization) is now requiring all ships to reduce the number of live zooplankters in their ballast tanks to only 10 in every 1000 liters.  Since most zooplankton are microscopic, you can imagine that this is an incredibly challenging thing to accomplish!

Samples are carefully collected so we can compare the treated water with the control

Samples are carefully collected so we can compare the treated water with the control. Photo: GBF Staff

But another huge challenge that our team directly faces is determining whether certain treatment methods have worked.  How do we do this?  With some good old fashioned counting!  First, samples are filtered through a net that catches only organisms that are greater than 50 um in size (which is the size class we count by eye).  Then, 5 mL of that sample are pipetted into a serpentine tray, which allows us to count what is in the sample row by row.  We can then look under a microscope and manually count every single living zooplankton found in that 5 mL sample.  This is sometimes known as the “poke and prod” method, since we may not even be sure if a zooplankter is alive or dead until after we’ve poked them with a small poker stick.  Afterwards, we can use our 5 mL sample counts to extrapolate how many total organisms were found in 1000 liters of the treated water and determine whether the treatment method passed.

Counters use microscopes and serpentine trays to count every zooplankter in a 5mL sample

Counters use microscopes and serpentine trays to count every zooplankter in a 5mL sample. Photo: Kevin Reynolds

In order to make sure our zooplankton counts are as reliable as possible, we have to count samples multiple times.  Although the work is time consuming and sometimes back-straining, it’s fun and fascinating to discover all of the tiny, microscopic organisms found in just a few drops of water.  Everytime I count a new sample, I wonder what kind of alien-like creatures I’ll find swimming around!


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