Science for Everyone


Researching Down Under​

Post by Bailey Moritz, Scallop Research Intern

The boat is loaded and we’re reading to hop in the water!

Scallop survey dives in and around Muscle Ridge have begun! Cait and I have gotten out on a lobstermans boat several days so far and more days to come. Meeting our captain and his lobster boat at the dock at 7am, we step over bait totes and down the steep metal ramp with our scuba tanks and equipment. Ideally, 4 dives get done in a day. Once we reach the dive site, a 100m transect is laid down with cement blocks and buoys on either end. Fighting against our awkward fins and the rolling of the boat to maintain balance, we hit the water and descend on the transect, down the length of which we will record the number of scallops and crustaceans we see, We’ll also collect the scallops we encounter in collection bags to be brought topside for tissue sample processing and later shell analysis. The bags can get heavy if the site is rich in scallops, so we have to control our buoyancy accordingly.

As it may sound, the survey methods themselves are quite straightforward. Lay out a 100m transect on land and the task is rather simple. But as this has been my first experience with underwater research, I’ve learned that there are definite complications to take into consideration as you descent for a scientific dive.

Jim, the fisherman who took us diving, demonstrates how to shuck a scallop. We’ll keep the adductor muscle for sampling, which is the part people eat. 

Barnacles and seaweed often cover the top of the scallops. This one is a female, indicated by the pink, egg filled gonad.

One of the critical factors for underwater research are the limitations that come with diving. We can only stay down as long as we have sufficient air in our tanks, so the scope of data collected has to fit within that timeframe. As anyone who has gone for a swim in Maine lately can attest to, the water is not warm and since we are diving in wet suits, we eventually get too cold to stay underwater. Tides impact the depth at which each site sits, changing multiple times a day. Some days, the tide and currents are moving strongly and we can get carried off to the side of the transect or just carried right over the top without time to collect any data! The other day, we attempted to do a dive survey, but storms the night before had kicked up a lot of mud and sediment, and the bottom was just too dark and murky to see your hand in front of your face, let alone any scallops. Visibility becomes one of the biggest factors in this type of research.

Another challenge underwater is the ability to write. Fun fact; pencils can write underwater! Because of this helpful perk of the yellow No. 2, we are able to use “writing cylinders” on our wrists, which are a segment of PVC pipe with waterproof data sheets and a pencil taped on, to collect data. Since hand signals can only go so far, they also allow us to write notes to each other if there is a change in the plan or a point of confusion.

Scallop dive surveys will continue into the fall, and we’re crossing our fingers for some sunshine and good visibility going forward!

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Dive Master Training 101

On December 12, 13, and 14th, 2014, I began my dive master training with Blue Horizons Dive Center in Glen Mills, PA. By gaining this certification, I will be able to lead other certified divers on local diving excursions and build my confidence in supervising interns who dive with the Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership as part of research projects. Successfully earning this certification will also bring me one step closer to getting an instructor certification which means we could provide dive training opportunities as part of our programming on Hurricane Island. 

To earn the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI) dive master certification, an individual must complete timed waterskill exercises and challenges; master underwater demonstration-quality skills including how to conduct a diver rescue, how to complete the 24 skills in the basic open water skills circuit (e.g. partial and full mask clearing, swimming without a mask), and how to accomplish practical skills (e.g. dive site setup and management, mapping a dive site, giving a dive briefing, and executing a search and recovery scenario); demonstrate they can teach workshops including SCUBA Review in confined water, skin diver course and snorkeling supervision, discover scuba program in confined water, and discover local diving in open water; complete practical assessments in working with open water diver students in confined and open water, continuing education students divers in open water, and certified divers in open water; and demonstrate their knowledge with a final exam. Finally, dive master candidates are also evaluated on their professionalism. 

In the video, I was in the midst of working through my first skill circuit as part of my dive master training. I definitely have a lot to learn and improve upon. For example, I'm not always using the correct hand signals and I don't quite have a great handle on my buoyancy which is an extremely important component of diving to limit damage to the marine environment. Going forward, I am excited to continue to improve upon the skill circuit and increase my comfort level with teaching scuba skills rather than just practicing them while conducting dives for the scallop project. Stay tuned next month for more updates about my progress! 

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Paperwork - the not-so-fun side of research...

Phoebe and I prior to one of our dives on the Muscle Ridge closed area in the fall of 2013.

Phoebe and I prior to one of our dives on the Muscle Ridge closed area in the fall of 2013.

This month (June 2014), we have been making incremental progress towards getting into the field for the second year survey effort for the Lower Muscle Ridge scallop closed area. Basically, overcoming barriers to collaborative research takes time. Some organizations, like the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the University of Maine already have systems in place to allow their divers to do field work off of commercial fishing vessels while, others have not yet ventured into that realm. I am in the process of putting those systems in place for the Hurricane Island Foundation so our staff will be able to conduct research dives from commercial fishing vessels as well as our own. Doing so can take some time, but it's all in the name of having a safe SCUBA diving operation which is of the utmost importance if we want to continue doing research-related diving in the future. This process involves creating documents that outline the potential risks of participating in field work on a boat and underwater, as well as identifying ways we plan to mitigate those risks by being prepared with safety equipment and identifying the closest medical facilities to our field site. We are also developing a project dive plan that outlines our anticipated diving activity.  Diver conduct will adhere to the University of Maine's diving safety manual until we create one specific to the Hurricane Island Foundation. Eventually, we will create a diving control board made up of experienced scientific divers who will review our dive plans to ensure we are operating safely. We are also considering pursuing an organizational membership with the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS), an organization that specializes in establishing and maintaining scientific diving standards. 

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