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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Underwater, Where it's Dry

Post by Scallop Research Intern, Bailey Moritz

When you’re in a tropical place like the Caribbean, there’s nothing more refreshing than taking a dip in the sun-warmed, 80 degree water. But for those of us doing underwater research in Maine, where even summer water temperatures don’t typically exceed 60 degrees, submerging yourself in the water can be somewhat less enjoyable. That’s where dry suits come in. Available in a variety of materials, they are essentially like a loose, thick bag worn over a layer of cozy fleece. Throughout the dive, you add air to the suit both to adjust your buoyancy and to keep you warm. Your body heats up the air that gets trapped in the undergarment and acts as insulation. The air moves around in the suit, eventually venting from a valve on the shoulder when needed. Properly adjusted neck and wrist seals are critical so that the suit doesn’t leak.

Dry suits allow a diver to keep diving into the winter and early spring when water temperatures and surface conditions would be really treacherous to experience in a wet suit. Dives can also be longer in cold water because you aren’t experiencing the direct cold of the frigid water. This makes dry suit diving a good alternative for commercial fishermen diving for scallops or urchins here in Maine. And if you ever have the desire to dive in the Arctic, a dry suit is a must!

In order to add to our diving repertoire, Cait and I just completed a dry suit certification with Aqua Academy in Portland. Our instructor Jim Dock took us to Kettle Cove State Park for our first dry suit experience. Beautiful and varied kelp swayed in the shallow current, revealing lobster, hermit crabs, and several small rock fish. Tiny periwinkles clutched to eelgrass as we made our way out with the tide. Other than being a bit more difficult to remain neutrally buoyant at first, the suits worked great. And its hard to describe the unnatural feeling of the fuzzy fleece reminding you that even 20 ft below the surface, you aren’t at all wet! Of course, as we maneuvered out of the suits and packed up gear on shore, it started to rain. So much for staying totally dry!

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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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DMR Lobster Settlement Survey Dives


I spent Friday Oct 18 and Monday Oct 21 helping (by sorting samples) DMR scientists Robert Russell and Carl Wilson, who are conducting their annual dive survey of larval lobster settlement rates at 50 sites along the Maine coast. At each site they sampled 12 quadrats via underwater suction sampling. Samples were then sorted and processed on the boat. The suction sampler pulls up all loose sediment and other organisms, so we needed to sift through it and pull out any lobsters and crabs we found. Many of the samples also had shrimp, urchins, seaweed, brittle stars, marine worms, asst. shells, and occasionally rock gunnels and cunner (fish). Once the sample was sifted, we measured the lobsters and crabs carapace length, and we also collected data about the lobster's sex and number of claws.

The boat they used for these dives was the 38' Lady Anne, operated by Sea Ventures Charters, Captained by Dave Sinclair.

Some of the sites we visited during these surveys were Head Harbor at Isle Au Haut, Ragged Island, Allen Island, Matinicus, Hurricane, and Monhegan


Overall, Carl and Robert said that they were seeing far fewer settler-size lobsters across all of their sites than in previous years (this survey has been going on for 22 years). For example, we only found 6 settlers from the 5 sites that were surveyed on Friday, when in the past Robert and Carl have found 4-5 settlers per site in that area.

The data from these surveys will feed into the American Lobster Settlement Index.

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