Author Archives: SamiS

Channel Islands National Park-Anacapa Island

My first day diving at Anacapa Island in Channel Islands National Park was beautiful. The water in the landing cove had cleared up significantly from last week and was a few degrees warmer as well, which really made a difference. I participated in two Channel Islands “Live Dives” and a pre-dive to search for animals to be shown in the programs.

The Channel Islands National Park’s “Underwater Video Program” was established in 1985 and has been showing Live Dives to the dock at Anacapa Island for 25 years. In 1995, the program started being broadcast to the visitor center in Ventura. This summer it finally went live to the internet with the assistance of a partnership with the Ventura County Office of Education. Live Dives are interactive programs shown in real-time, where a dive team can expose the wonder and diversity of the kelp forest that few people see.

The Live Dives are part of a bigger program at the park- Channel Islands Live. Through live interactive hikes, dives, and webcams, Channel Islands Live can connect people to their resources at the Channel Islands National Park from the mainland or from a computer. As the Channel Islands are one of the less frequently visited national parks, the program is designed for people all over the world to see the isolated beauty located on the islands, even if they are not able to visit them. To learn more about Channel Islands Live visit:

The first diving program of the day was directed towards a group of fourth graders from Haycock Elementary School, who had come to the visitor’s center in Ventura to learn about the kelp forest ecosystem. Also, students from Hathaway Elementary, who were visiting the island for the day, watched the program from the dock at Anacapa. Naturalist, Andrea Mills, taught visitors about the kelp forest while underwater with the aid of a microphone-equipped full face mask and a waterproof ear piece which she use to hear questions from her audience. She was filmed by volunteer diver, Bill Kendig, as her program was broadcast to the visitor’s center auditorium on the mainland, to the dock at Anacapa Island, and on the internet. Andrea explained the interconnectivity of the animals and habitat in the kelp forest. She described the roles of consumers, producers, and scavengers in relation to several kelp forest animals such as urchins, sea stars, lobsters, kelp and fish that she saw there. During this dive, I played the role of the “Research Diver” using a quadrat located on a transect line to record the species I saw on a waterproof slate as the students in the visitor center did the same with their own slates.

The next dive was a live program for the general public broadcast to the park’s mainland auditorium and on the internet. During this dive, I tended the camera cable to make sure camera operator, Dave Stoltz, didn’t get tangled in the kelp. I also brought in a large sheep crab for Andrea to show on camera during the program. The crab managed to pinch me hard enough to break my skin through my glove, but it was worth it for the visitors in the auditorium to see that crab magnified on a 10 foot screen, looking like a giant sea monster. Monica Baker, volunteer naturalist on the island, and Ranger April Rabuck, in the visitor center, facilitated questions asked by the audience during the program.

While all of the other divers took the boat back to the mainland that evening, I stayed on the island because they were scheduled to come back out to dive the next day. However, their boat was canceled due to rough weather in the channel. Another school group from Haycock Elementary had come to the visitor center that day and was expecting a Live Dive. So, I ended up setting up the camera and microphone to give them a live introduction to the prerecorded Live Dive where I showed them the Landing Cove and answered a few questions. Luckily, I have already worked at this park for two years and was familiar with the island and the camera equipment! It was a first for me, and I also did another introduction for the general public program at 2:00.

Later that day, during an inspection of the stairwell, a maintenance worker noticed corrosion on part of the frame support on the only staircase leading up to the 200 foot cliffs on the island. Due to safety concerns, they closed the whole island until further inspection.  I was disappointed that I would only get to dive one day out of the three days I had planned, but I was more concerned about how I would get home in time to continue with my internship. Stranded out on the island, I never really felt that alone because I was accompanied by over 10,000 western gulls that use the island as a nesting ground in the summer. They did their best to make sure there was never a silent moment.

The next day with the help of Ranger Dave Begun, I luckily managed to hop on a “Non- landing North Shore Wildlife Cruise” of Anacapa offered by boat concessionaire, Island Packers. Unfortunately, the Live Dives and Live Hikes on Anacapa Island have been cancelled temporarily but pre-recorded programs still can be watched online at

Thank you to Dave Stoltz, Andrea Mills, Bill Kendig, Tim Jones, Dave Begun, Monica Baker, April Rabuck, and the Island Packers Vanguard crew.


Channel Islands National Park-Kelp Forest Monitoring

After discovering I had been chosen as the 2010 Our World Underwater Scholarship Society National Park Service Intern, the long planning process began.  Phone calls, emails, and paperwork flew as I rushed to get applications, gear, funding, and logistics squared away for my summer adventure.

Finally it all began with a four day long Kelp Forest Monitoring (KFM) trip at my home park, Channel Islands National Park.  The Kelp Forest Monitoring Program is the longest established monitoring program in the National Park Service and has taken inventory of the kelp forests around the Channel Islands since 1982. 

The KFM crew surveys each of the program’s 33 sites around the five northern Channel Islands once a year using up to 11 different monitoring techniques to determine the health and status of the kelp forest ecosystem within Channel Islands National Park and National Marine Sanctuary. Sixteen of the KFM sites were established between 1982 and 1986. An additional 16 sites were established in 2005 to be able to compare differences inside and adjacent to four of the new Marine Protected Areas that were designated in 2003.  

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are specific zones where it is prohibited or restricted to take marine life.  These zones are created to serve as nurseries and sanctuaries for species that are often subject to commercial or recreational fisheries and to protect natural ocean resources for future generations.   The Channel Islands National Park has been an excellent example of ocean stewardship with their enforcement and monitoring of these protected areas.  To learn more about Marine Protected Areas at the Channel Islands visit

Data collected from the Kelp Forest Monitoring program has been useful in understanding kelp forest ecosystem changes and some of the impacts of harvesting marine species. The National Park Service KFM program  has found that certain species targeted for fishing, such as lobsters, sea cucumbers, sheephead, red urchins, and kelp bass, are larger and more abundant inside the MPAs than outside in areas where fishing is allowed.  The MPAs encompass approximately 20% of park waters, which means that fishing is allowed in 80% of the park.

Within the four days we surveyed four sites, “Graveyard Canyon,” “Southeast Sea Lion,” and, “Southeast Reef” at Santa Barbara Island and “Landing Cove” at Anacapa Island.  All of the monitoring sites are marked by permanent 100 meter transects made of weighted nylon line which are bolted to the bedrock so that they can be easily relocated each year.

To monitor each site, a 100 meter measuring tape is rolled out along the permanent line. Divers complete their work within 10 meters on each side of the meter tape. Different techniques are used to assess the abundance and distribution of target species. Methods include the use of band transects, random point contacts, videotaped transects, size frequency measurements, roving diver fish counts,  1 meter and 5 meter quadrats.

Mainly, I conducted roving diver fish counts, 5 meter quadrat surveys, and size frequencies for urchins and giant kelp.  Roving diver fish counts consist of swimming along the transect line for 30 minutes counting every fish seen and recording it on a slate. During 5 meter quadrat surveys I counted the number of giant spined stars, adult and subadult species of giant brown kelp and an invasive species of Sargassum from Asia  that were located within 1 meter of the transect line. For size frequencies I measured urchin test diameters with calipers and giant kelp base (holdfasts) diameters with a meter stick in addition to counting the number of kelp stipes or “stems.”

I found that as a researcher, it is absolutely crucial to be able to identify species accurately because if a mistake is made, it not only affects the data for that year, but also the entire 28 year data set that continues to grow each year. This means a day’s work didn’t just end with diving. Each evening after collecting data the crew meticulously went over the data sheets, verified counts, and clarified any potential species misidentification. We even went on a dive specifically to catch a juvenile “mystery fish” that was difficult to identify underwater.

David Kushner, lead marine biologist, only selects experienced divers since they may be doing up to six dives a day in conditions that are often cold and surging with low visibility.  At Santa Barbara Island in a moderate surge I found myself clinging to rocks as I tried to measure holdfasts with my meter stick underwater.  Also, the 54°F water at Anacapa Island Landing Cove left me shivering in my two piece 7mm wetsuit. Some of the crew doubled up on gloves, hoods, and wore vests under their suits for extra insulation during their long cold dives.

This trip gave me my first taste of research diving and gave insight into the experience required to identify species, tolerate difficult diving conditions while conducting research simultaneously, and to be part of a boat crew. Thanks to researchers David Kushner, Kelly Moore, Sonia Ibarra, Josh Sprague, Eric Mooney, Stephan Whitaker, James Grunden and boat captain / diver Keith Duran.


2010 NPS Intern

The National Park Service Submerged Resources Center and the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society are pleased to announce that the first NPS Our World Underwater scholarship intern is Brianne Billups of Camarillo, California.

Brianne is 21 years old and is currently employed as an Interpretive Park Guide at the Channel Islands National Park. She is a Certified National Park Service Scuba Diver and a PADI Certified Rescue Diver. In the summer time, she participates in the “Live Dive” underwater video program which is held at Anacapa Island. Also, she teaches school groups and the public about the Channel Islands and the marine life found there. She is interested in education, outreach, marine biology and ecology.

Brianne is a transfer student from the Ventura County Community College system and maintained a 3.78 Grade Point Average. She earned a Certificate of Marine Studies from Oxnard College and published a scientific research project on the survival and settling patterns of Red Abalone, (Haliotis rufescens,) called “Larval Competency of Red Abalone.” She also completed a nine day internship with the Coastal Marine Biolabs in the spring where she extracted DNA from local rockfish species and uploaded sequences from a specific gene from the fish to the Barcode of Life Database.

Following her internship with the National Park Service, Brianne will be attending the University of California Santa Barbara’s College of Creative Studies Undergraduate Biology Program in the fall to do research on marine life.

Brianne will have three months to travel throughout the National Park System to see and experience firsthand how the oldest non-military diving program in the federal government manages its underwater heritage for future generations.