Author Archives: Shane Farrell

Goodbye Summer, Hello Future.

Over the past couple weeks diving has been spotty due to the high seas and busy schedule of Doug. However, the Rasher Lab did go out for a few day trips to the southern coast of Maine by Casco Bay. Unfortunately, kelp has seemed to up and disappear from these previously inhabited sites. Remnants of small horsetail and sugar kelp plants are scattered infrequently. The fleshy red seaweeds that are warm water toleratant comprise a majority of the hard rock substrate that kelps usually thrive on. Morale on the boat is always a little lower when the dive sites are seemingly barren, a situation that was happening at every site in Casco.

The highlight of the last couple weeks was when Chris took our dive class to Monhegan Island on a dive charter. I had previously dived Monhegan with Doug and Thew earlier in the summer; however, I was still excited because Monhegan is known for its steep mountain cliff faces and sheer drop-offs. Small swim throughs between rocks and mega-fauna like seals abounded, while Mola Mola greeted us as we approached our dive site. This wasn’t at all like the 5 and 10-meter kelp collection dives. Our first dive had a deck (depth limit) of 120 feet, Chris wanted us to experience and see first-hand how inversely proportional depth and remaining bottom time were as a person went deeper. At 120 feet, we had 13 minutes at depth before we would run into decompression obligations. We also were given the opportunity to don a redundant gas supply, a small 20 cubic foot pony bottle, which I was eager to opt for, both for safety and to practice carrying the gas.


In a tropical setting with over a 100 feet of visibility, diving to depth of 100 feet seems almost effortless. Little thought and worry crosses a person mind (although maybe it should) when conducting such a dive. Here though, in Maine, in 50-degree water with less than 40 feet of visibility, and over 30 pounds of weight, drysuit, and a redundant gas bottle – there was a lot to think about.  

When looking at my dive computer while descending it seemed like feet turned into inches; 90 feet down, seconds later, 100 feet, 110 feet. We slow our descent by becoming neutrally buoyant. At 120 feet you begin to feel the onset of nitrogen narcosis affecting your judgment. You get a sense of euphoria and lose some of the sharp mental acuity you may have had at the surface. Personally, I thought to myself, “what in the world am I doing at 120 feet with all this stuff on me.” I was sucking through air and usable bottom time like no tomorrow and signaled to my buddy to ascend to a more suitable depth. Besides, there’s nothing to see at 120 feet anyway. The dive was successful with everyone returning to the boat safely. After a quick lunch break, we drifted around the island to a dive site reminiscent of some of our sampling sites.

After the dive trip, there were few opportunities to dive. My last classes of AAUS consisted of water rescue skills and a DAN Pro first aid course. In the past, I’ve found that CPR/general first aid classes have been mainly lecture and some hands-on work – a boring afternoon with little information retained. Yet, Chris completely flipped my past experiences upside down. Broken up between two weeks, the DAN Pro CPR and first aid course was a hands-on opportunity to learn, review, and discuss different methods of life-saving and patient care.  What made the class helpful was that it was a discussion, Chris was obligated to teach the DAN standards, yet after, he would give his advice and wisdom from his years of experience in situations he’s been in as a volunteer firefighter.  He would also ask if we’ve been taught differently from other organizations or know something different. This dialogue made the class blow by and actually improved the retention of information, for me at least.  At the end of class, Chris provided the class with small rectangular slates with general CPR guidelines, how to providing emergency oxygen, how to assembly a DAN oxygen kit, and a neurological assessment slate. These will be stowed in my save-a-dive dive kit; hopefully the only time they will see the light of day is when I renew my CPR certification!

My last dives with Doug and Thew couldn’t have been much better. We had an overnight trip planned around the Mount Desert Island region. We took the Silver Sides and started the two-hour boat ride north toward Acadia. It was a perfect day with calm seas which spared our spines from the usual waves of the Gulf of Maine. I was particularly excited for this overnight trip because we would be camping on an island instead of getting a motel room or just driving back to Bigelow. The only downside to a long day of cold water diving is you want a warm shower when you get back, a luxury we were not afforded on an island in the middle of the ocean. However, what this small island lacked in amenities made up for in beauty.




The dives in this region were kelp dominated especially at the five-meter depth. In the past, our dives had little kelp for me to collect, and when there is little kelp, I usually can complete my collection process just as Doug or Thew is done collecting percent cover estimates. Not on these dives. On one occasion, there was such an abundance of kelp that Thew was so used to me being finished when he got done with his job he started reeling up the transect line and handing his quad to me to carry back to the surface. After about 30 seconds of me trying to get his attention and communicate that I was only halfway done, and still had two more full square meters to harvest. He then re-laid the meter tape and he held the bag and stuffed the kelp as I cut the stipes by the handful. When we got back to the boat we had a pretty hardy laugh about the incident as he said, “Yeah, I was reeling in the tape and saw you signaling me, I thought we were done… nope, you were only halfway.”




After our dives, we headed to the secluded island to camp for the night. One thing about pulling up with a boat was the whole shoreline was rocking, and with nine-foot tides, we couldn’t just park the boat on shore or even very close. Thew had to anchor the boat offshore and swim to the island in his dry suit. A job that Doug and I concluded would be best for the previous division one colligate swimmer.  We set up our tents and then ate dinner on the rocks, a Pad-Thai dish Thew made the night before. After dinner, we sat on the rocks eating some cookies and watching the sunset. It had been an amazing summer with incredible experiences and even better people culminating in a beautiful last moment, as dusk turned into night and the stars appeared one by one – a place to reflect on my summer and think about my future. Doug and I stayed up talking about my next steps in the immediate future, and his plans for his research.  The peacefulness of the night faded away as daylight approached. The lobstermen were out in force or it seemed like it at least. The engines in those boats produce the most ridiculously load noise at 5 a.m. It doesn’t help that sound travels on water, but you would swear the U.S. Navy was conducting some operation with the noise that was produced by these boats.

The next day was my last AAUS class of the summer. In the morning, we went to Pemaquid Point for a fun dive. Chris asked to be my dive buddy citing “It’s my last dive here” a bittersweet moment, I’d accomplished so much over the 100-hour class and the summer as a whole, which I could be very proud of, yet after this, it’s was coming to end. I asked Chris to take the lead on the dive because for the last dive I just wanted to enjoy myself, not worry about navigation, and let the professionals worry about that! The dive was a good one, we saw fish! Yes, there are actually some fish in the Gulf of Maine! I also saw the biggest lobster by far of the summer hiding in a crack. I swear the claws were bigger than my hands. After our first fun dive, it was back to the DMC to concluded our rescue exercises and put them to a test in a simulated live rescue.

Class ended on a high note, after we got done diving, cleaned and rinsed our gear, we head to the air condition library at the DMC to take our pictures for our AAUS certification cards. We also got to learn our dive class nickname, a tradition Chris has been doing ever since his first class at UMaine. The class will get their class picture framed and hung in the dive locker with the nickname below. We were gifted with the name “the lone divers.” Being there was only three of us we also were given specific names, “Tonto, Lone Ranger, and Silver.” Somehow I was relegated to Silver, maybe a more fitting name then I truly realized at first. Chris even signed off on his last email to me “Hi-Ho Silver,” he always knows how to make a person laugh and keep it lively.

My Internship was a complete success. I earned my AAUS dive certification and got a lot of hands-on research with Doug at Bigelow. I also made friendships that will last a lifetime and made connections that will indefinitely help me in my future search for underwater science exploration. My plan at the moment is to go back to school at Lawrence University to complete my senior year. I will graduate early — this Thanksgiving — and I plan to come back to Maine and continue to help Doug and Thew with diving in the winter months. I hope to continue my education in a Ph.D. program studying inter/intra-species interactions in either kelp forests or coral reefs. Thus, if you’re reading this and know of — or have — an open spot and funding for a PH.D student I’d love to get connected with you!

This is my last blog for my internship summer, and I have many people and organizations to thank. Thank you, Dr. Lee, Somers and Martha Somers for your extreme generosity. A special thank you to Chris Rigaud, Doug Rasher, and Thew Suskiewicz. Chris was an incredible host, he was a great mentor that was willing to go above and beyond to make my internship enjoyable and fruitful, whether it was loaning me gear or being on call if I ever had a problem. Doug went above and beyond as a co-host. He gave me every opportunity possible to dive, was willing to give me advice and mentor me in the realm of graduate school, and made me feel at home in his lab. Thew, was a great teacher and mentor. He was extremely patient with me when I was first identifying seaweeds and taught me all about good dive practices. His methodical attention to detail kept me in check and productive the entire summer. Thank you to Our World Underwater Scholarship Society, American Academy for Underwater Sciences, and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. Thank you OWUSS and AAUS for giving me this opportunity and supporting me throughout the process and in the future. Thank you, Bigelow, for housing me and making me a part of your world renowned scientific community. Thank you, Katherine Newcomer, for your wisdom and guiding me through this internship. Jenna Walker and Stephanie Roach for all your hard work behind the scenes, coordinating these wonderful internships and coordinating with USIA. Thank you USIA for letting me use your amazing drysuit, without it I would have been one frozen popsicle. Thank you to everyone else at OWUSS, AAUS, and Bigelow, for your hard work which makes internships like this possible. I had a blast and I look forward to sharing my experience at Lake Tahoe at the AAUS symposium, and the OWUSS annual weekend in New York.


With that, Chris – I look forward to diving with you again in October! Doug – be ready for more hipster music when I come back in the winter! Thew – congratulations on the new baby!

Signing off for the last time, your Our World Underwater Scholarship Society 2018 Dr. Lee H. Somers American Academy for Underwater Sciences intern.





This week was a hectic week, I received my drysuit from USIA, I had AAUS class, a day dive with Doug and Thew, and had to prepare for the five-day trip DownEast.

I was extremely excited to get my drysuit so thoughtfully given to me by USIA. As much as I love diving four times a day in a wetsuit, I will be more comfortable in my drysuit and able to focus even more on the science at hand. I am drysuit certified already but that was back in 2016. I metaphorically and literally was thrown into the deep end on our day trip out to Mohegan and Allen Island to test my drysuit for the first time. After a quick buoyancy check and 4 pounds of weight added to my setup, I was under the water and dry! During my four dives of the day I hadn’t had too much trouble adjusting to my new dive setup; however, my position in the water seemed a bit more vertical than horizontal. My feet most of the time seemed to be above my head. I’ll just brush that off and attribute it to me having to get down close to the substrate ripping out all the small little seaweeds which would lead to my awkward position.

The dives themselves with nothing especially out of the ordinary. The collecting procedures are the same, but we have become more efficient as a team both under and above the water. One positive about going to these different islands and places along the Gulf of Maine is I get to experience Maine from the water. People, when they travel to Maine, might take a day trip out to an island and back, they get to experience a small fraction of the coastline and islands that Maine has to offer. Me on the other hand, taking day trips and overnight trips up and down the coast of Maine, I get to experience a wide array of beautiful scenery, with the best vantage point — the water. After the day trip to the different islands. I had all of Tuesday to process and digitize all the samples collected.

Wednesday was the 4th of July, yet there is no rest for the wicked, and we could not afford to miss an AAUS class. Chris gave the dive instructors the day off and with one student sick it was a very small class. Our task for the day was to relocate sand screws using compass bearings we took last week at the same dive site. These sand screws were placed in the middle of eelgrass beds. Once we located the screws we were to run a transect out and quantify percent eelgrass cover. There was a small competition between the students as to who could come up with the best sampling procedure. Chris would be the judge, and the winning procedure was the one we would use in the field. Nick won the competition and we would be using his protocol to conduct percent cover of the eelgrass along with height, substrate type, and lobster/crab counts. This exercise was to help the student dip their toes into underwater diving research. Chris gave Nick and me free rein to plan the dive, locate the screws, and conduct the survey while just watching above. We were using similar material like when I dive with Doug and Thew, transects, quadrats, and writing slate. Thus, for me, I felt this was good practice to try and focus on my buoyancy skills while conducting the survey. In reality, the data we were collecting was just an exercise. I think there were more important aspects of scientific diving that Chris wanted us to see and try and work through. One of these skills was underwater communication. I found it key when diving with Doug and Thew to have good underwater communication. In our work together, we often place each other’s quadrats at the meter tape or ask if one person can move on to the next meter mark, or just asking if they are okay. Being aware of what your partner is doing under the water is a principal component of scientific diving. Another foundation principle is buoyancy especially with a sandy or silty substrate. In those conditions, one needs to pay attention to hanging gauges and equipment and especially their fin kicks. Even a hand touching the muck can disturb and add a plume of dirt into the water and into your quadrat. We worked through these skills and surveyed two sand screws in two eelgrass beds. Another successful day of class.

The following Thursday and Friday was purely prepping for our DownEast trip. As a Midwesterner and especially as someone from Minnesota the term “DownEast” was extremely confusing for me. To Mainers, DownEast means north, up the coast. I understand the east part because Maines coastline juts out to the east but I still don’t understand the down part. I call everything up, “up north” “I’ll come up to visit you,” even if someone was south we would still call it up, but I digress.

For this trip, we would be trailering the boat and taking a four-hour car ride north of Acadia National Park to the fishing town of Jonesport. This 5-day diving excursion posed some logistical problems like air fills. The nearest shop to fill our scuba tanks was an hour and a half away so instead of wasting our precious time driving there and back, the kind researchers at the Maine Department of Resources let us borrow extra scuba tanks. We brought 28 tanks in all, and our arms got a pretty good workout lifting them all. Another logistical piece was to bring

Tanks filled and ready.

enough collection/sampling equipment along with all our processing equipment. During these five days and four nights, we were living out of a motel, not an ideal place to sort and process samples. However, we brought our whole lab sorting equipment with multiple plastic bins and sorting trays of various sizes. Lastly, we needed to bring extras of most things. Besides our BCDs and exposure suits we had extra of almost everything, writing slates, quadrats, meter tapes, collection bags, multiple save a dive kits, coolers for kelp storage. It was quite the process of getting everything organized and then trying to fit it in the back of a truck.


Doing some tree trimming with the RV Silver Sides.

The trip was from Saturday to Wednesday and we would have some help diving. Liz Maxwell a fellow scientific diver from U. Maine who previously dived with Thew would be joining us for one day. We also had Courtney there to help with general organization and seaweed processing. She was also the main DJ for the trip, as we remembered a portable Bluetooth speak which as Doug put it “Increased the coolness of his lab.”Our days were long, but fruitful, with fun mixed in too. Morning wakeup calls would be at 5:45 to promptly go to breakfast by 6 a.m. We would be out on the water all day with long boat rides to far east sites. We won’t be back to the samples at the motel unit 5pm most nights. Our work did not end there; we would usually go right from diving to sorting for three hours or so before cleaning up and going to dinner at Helen’s. Something that was on everyone’s mind at the end of a long workday Along the Bold Coast, where we would be sampling the water was cold. The surface water was a balmy 50 degrees and temperatures at depth were as low as 47 degrees. My drysuit came in handy keeping my dry and happy all day every day. Like I said early, in my drysuit, I am happy and comfortable at the end of a four-dive day. The first day of diving because of Liz I only had to dive twice instead of four times. This was a pleasant break from under the water and gave me a glimpse of what Doug and Thew do above the water. While diving the surface people are transferring the seaweeds from collection bags to storage bags, organizing the boat, and just enjoy the sunshine. With my time not diving on the first two dives, I got to take some great but maybe less the flattering images.

These dives would follow the same procedures as the previous ones with our efficiency going through the roof. I’ve started while collecting the understory to try and identify each species before putting it in my collection bag. Ironically, identifying the small red seaweeds can be easier in the water than online. On the surface the frilling reds clump together making their distinguishable markings hidden; however, in the water, the frills of the seaweed are flowing making them somewhat easier to identify.

12 different seaweeds separated to be placed in an oven to dry them out for a comparison between wet and dry weights.

During the days of diving, we had a diverse array of sites, some silted out with little kelp and seaweed, and others with an abundance of large kelps.

Kelp can be as small as this juvenile.

Kelp stipes can be massive, or…

One site, in particular, exemplified a mass aggregation of primary productivity. It was our last dive DownEast, and we were diving at the site named Ram Island. In past surveys, the kelp has not disappointed and that was sure the case this time. Doug and I after the dive both proclaimed that this was hands down the best of the summer so far. Our opinions were backed up by my collection bags which were overflowing with kelp. There was so much kelp per square meter that some of our collection bags were too small to put all the kelp and understory in them. The dominated kelp was L. digitata. These kelps can get big, four feet or so, but the length of the kelp is not the impressive part of this species. Instead, the stipes of these kelp are most impressive. The stipes are significantly larger than one’s thumb and have multiple three to four-foot-thick blades originating from the bottom. One plant can weigh a couple kilograms if it’s big enough. In one square meter, there was over 13 kilograms’ worth of kelp, not including the understory which covered the floor! It is amazing to see such primary productivity in such high abundance, a true sight to behold. It was a great farewell to DownEast and from there it was back to Bigelow to continue processing the kelp.

Kelp covers the sea floor.


Doug writing on his slate.

Next week will be less diving and more data entry from our recent trip. AAUS class as usual and our class has scheduled a boat charter to dive on Monhegan Island which will be a great experience in a less formal scientific training setting. Rumor has it we will be doing some deep diving. Thank you, USIA for the gift of dryness, to the DMR for lending us the tanks, and as always OWUSS and AAUS for this underwater adventure.



Farm to Table — Kelp to Processing Table

This week was dive intensive. Early in the week, Monday and Tuesday, I finished digitizing the old kelp data thus making it possible for Courtney to make maps of the kelp using geographic information systems (GIS) using ArcMap to visualize the data. Using these maps, we can see that kelp is moving further north to colder waters, along with a change in species composition. Cold water species such as Alaria esculenta are virtually non-existent in the warmer southern waters which are predominantly inhabited by other species like Saccharina latissima and Laminaria digitata.

Hattie, a dive master for the AAUS class, having some fun with a giant scallop!

On Wednesday I had my third AAUS class. This class is always a highlight of the week due to the close community we have formed in such a short period. With only six people in the class, three instructors and three students, it is a more intimate and fun atmosphere with jokes and laughter flowing each day. Chris keeps the class upbeat but keeps us focused on learning and our diving tasks for the day. This Wednesday we headed to my neck of the woods, Bigelow Labs, to complete a dock dive from their property in the Damariscotta River. The purpose of these dives was to plan and execute a multi-level dive starting at 45 feet and progressing upwards. Bigelow is uniquely suited for a dive like this, right off their dock is 20-30 feet of water and a short 20-foot swim will drop you into 60 feet. We completed two multi-level dives while getting to experience a different environment from our previous dive site Sand Cove. We saw massive kelp, five to six feet long, and giant scallops almost the size of dinner plates. Lobsters, Jonah crabs, and Green Crabs inhabit every crack and crevice.

Thursday was finally my first true scientific dive a Bigelow! We woke up early and prepared the gear and loaded the boat to be on the water by 8:00 a.m. We had four dives planned for the day – two dives at Damariscove, one at 10 meters the other at 5 meters, while two more dives at Pemaquid at the same depth profiles.

We will be sampling these two sites plus 18 others this summer. Each site has been sampled back in 2004 with little knowledge about the changes over the last 14 years. The return of these kelp beds to Maine have been understudied in the past years. The aquatic ecosystem in Maine long ago was a more diverse system with many trophic levels and a complex food web. Cod was a top predator eating smaller fish and keeping the sea urchin population at bay. However, in the 1950s we started fishing cod and nearly fished cod to extinction in the 1990s. Without these top predators left in the waters of Maine, sea urchin population spiked. Sea urchins are incredible but destructive organisms. Their appetite is unquenchable; urchins can eat 2-4 percent of their body weight each day! Sea urchins also have a preferred food of choice: kelp. Thus, with the fall of cod and the spike in urchin populations, kelp was quickly being eaten and obliterated by the urchins. In 15 years kelp beds, like cod, were gone leaving empty sand and rock patches with only urchins, known as “urchin barrens.” However, Mainers are resourceful and like to make money. Urchins and their gonads are a valuable delicacy in Asia and quickly people started to dive and snorkel for these small spiny creatures. The business was so lucrative and easy that in less than ten years Mainers had fished almost all the sea urchins from the Gulf of Maine. In those ten years, it is estimated that 250,000,000 urchins were taken from Maine’s waters!  With the decimation of the urchins, kelps soon started to return to the Gulf of Maine. And here we are today, kelps are returning, yet no one really knows how much has returned, which species returned, and what proportion of species make up these kelp beds. These questions, along with others, are the questions that Doug and Thew are trying to answer. To answer these complex ecological question means collecting data, and collecting data means getting in the water, and getting in the water means SCUBA diving! Now my summer has really begun!

While I’m in the water, Courtney starts handing me collection bags, and quadrats from the boat.

The dives at Damariscove and Pemaquid were an entirely new experience for me. Unlike recreational dive, scientific diving has a unique feel to it. You have a mission, an objective, and you are simply using SCUBA to accomplish that goal. You aren’t diving for the pleasure of seeing kelp beds and lobster, although it’s a bonus if you like the work! On each dive, I am either diving with Doug or Thew while the other stays on the boat as surface support. Each diver is loaded with gear for the dive: writing slates with underwater paper, collection bags, transect tapes, and quadrats. A bit cumbersome on land and the surface, but underwater it is manageable. All dives start with a descent down the anchor line to the bottom. Depending on those ten-foot tides it could be anywhere from 30 to 45 feet. Once we reach the bottom, we either are directly over a kelp bed or swim a few meters to the start of one. I wait at the starting point while the other diver runs the 10-meter transect across the bottom. While the other dive is doing that, I place one of the half-meter quadrats at the two-meter mark. After laying the transect line, Doug or Thew will come to that first quadrat to begin analyzing and quantifying everything inside, including percent cover of the different kelp species. They will record the type of substrate these seaweeds are growing on and if there are any crab or lobster in the quadrats. After they are done they will move to the left side of the two-meter mark on the transect, then the right side at 4 meters, left side at 4 meters, doing this until they reach 8 meters.

Thew trying to record percent coverage of different seaweeds in the quadrat.

After they record their data I come in and place my quadrat in the same place and begin to collect all the kelp in the quadrat. Kelp can be as big as 6-7ft or as small as an inch. Each kelp is put in a collection bag and will be later measured and weighted. Not only do I collect all the kelp I also collect all of the small understory, the small little seaweeds that cover the bottom. After both divers collect their data we pick up the transect and ascend back to the surface. We will take a short break moving to the next depth or site while getting new collection bags ready and fresh sheets of underwater paper.

The dives themselves take anywhere from 25 minutes to 1 hour. We left Bigelow at 8 a.m. and were back by 4 p.m. The water was cold, only 52F, and doing all four dives can get pretty cold. I have been graciously gifted a drysuit by USIA however, at this point it is being shipped to me, thus I’m diving a 7/8mm semi-dry which tests my fortitude. Being wet and in 50-degree water for 6 hours at a time is definitely an experience. But I love it. That’s why I came here to dive, and there was plenty happening this week.

After our one-day dive trip, we had Friday to process the samples I had collected and prep for a three-day research cruise to Hurricane Island. Hurricane Island is 10 miles southeast of Rockland and two miles southwest of Vinalhaven in the Fox Islands archipelago, Penobscot Bay, Maine. The island has a small staff along with cabins which provide hands-on education programs and research opportunities focusing on marine sciences, for all ages from middle school to adults. The island is run completely of the grid, with solar panels generating the electricity and a gravity fed pump for water. The simplicity of the island is charming. 

Loading the Silver Sides for our trip to Hurricane Island.

A fully load boat! 18 tanks, 3 sets of dive gear, sorting geat, and our clothing.

Our three-day trip, Sunday-Tuesday, was a work-filled fun time. Going on the trip was the usual crew: Doug, Thew, Courtney, and I. We woke up early and loaded our trusty boat, the RV Silver Sides, and started on the 1.5hr ride to Hurricane. After getting there we immediately unloaded our essential research gear and got a quick tour of the facilities. Doug has an “in” at Hurricane, Phoebe Jekielek, the Program Director for the Island. They were good friends in the early stages of their careers at the Marine Darling Center. Phoebe is this wildly funny, free spirited person with a smile that is contagious. After our dives when we would sort our samples, she would come to hang out and tell stories of when Doug and she were younger and all the “shenanigans” they got into. So after our quick tour, we jumped in the boat to go on our dives for the day. Similarly to our last dive outing, we would be sampling two sites and two depth using the sample procedure and protocols as before. It was nice to have Courtney on the boat, as an extra set of hands to help out. After a couple of long hours, we headed back to Hurricane.  

Hurricane Island.








Late night sorting. Thew measures and weighs each kelp, Courtney sorts the understory, Doug trying to key out the similar looking species, and I record the species weights and length. Processing samples can take anywhere from 2-4 hours so good music and a speaker is key!

A goat cheese salad, with fresh beets along with crackers and hummus — yum.

Serendipitously, that Sunday Hurricane Island was providing a farm to table dinner, one of three they put on for the community in the summer. This white tablecloth, five-course meal, was the talk of the town and somehow Phoebe squeezed us four grubby scientists on the guest list. When we unloaded the boat we looked like a motley crew, wet, tired, dirty, and even slimy from our kelps. None of us packed nice clothes for such an occasion making this event even more comical. We cleaned up as best we could and dressed to the nines (jeans with ripped holes, and rain coats) sat for an amazing meal. Seared scallops, kale salad, halibut, pork and polenta, and rhubarb cake. Doug and Thew continuously reminded Courtney and me that this is never how nice research trips usually are and we should be extremely lucky. After the dinner was over we all slowly and painfully and to leave to process our samples, sorting, identifying, measuring and weighing kelps and seaweeds into the night. Monday was the same plan, get up, dive, and process samples. Hurricane provides it residents breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all of which are high quality and fresh meals. Although they aren’t five-course meals we still were spoiled. They even packed us an amazing lunch of salad, beets, hummus, and crackers.

In the span of our three days at Hurricane Island we dove 12 times at six different sites. Each morning was an early wake-up call, load the boat, eat breakfast and be on the water by nine. Our nights were long, getting back at six or seven followed by cleaning and rinsing gear and ourselves. Dinner would promptly follow with our day ending in sorting our samples, which took three hours with all of us working hard. It seemed like a short trip with us always being on the move or needing to complete some task. I enjoyed my time on the island and would love to go back to visit and hike their trails. For more information on Hurricane Island:

Next week we will take a day trip to Monhegan and Allen island and I have AAUS class. During the week, we will be preparing for our down east trip which should bring lots of diving and stories. Thank you to Pheobe for being an amazing host at Hurricane and to Courtney for the GIS maps. Thank you OWUSS and AAUS. 

Until next time – Shane



New Adventures Start Here.

While in Maine opportunities come both under and above the surface. When I’m not diving, I have the chance to explore the state of Maine. This past weekend I decided to venture north and explore Acadia National Park. One fun fact about me is I am an avid road cyclist, so much so I had to bring my bike to Maine for the summer. So, when briefly researching Acadia and what to do over the weekend, I read about the carriage roads. These roads were commissioned by John D. Rockefeller from 1913 to 1940. These 57 miles of compacted smooth gravel roads are perfect for runners, walkers, bikers, and even the occasional horse-drawn carriage. My weekend was filled with numerous miles on my bike exploring the trails and taking in all the beauty that Acadia had to offer. The highlight of the trip was climbing to the peak of Cadillac Mountain which had spectacular views of the coast and Bar Harbor.

After the great weekend, it was back to work. Doug had signed Courtney, a summer intern at Bigelow also working in the lab, and myself up for a boating course. In the event one of us needed to drive the boat we would have the proper training and knowledge of the high seas. The class was two days and consisted of learning the entire US Coast Guard “Navigation Rules and Regulations Handbook,” survival procedures for cold water environments, a multitude of anchoring methods, and how to read and plot on charts.

After the two days of the boating course, I had my AAUS class at the Darling Marine Center. Before each class, we have designated reading material from either PADI or SDI. Our class time is spent reviewing these readings and Chris Rigaud usually gives a quick PowerPoint lecture on this week’s scientific diving skill. This week class was short due to the high tide coming in at 11:15 a.m. Here in Maine and especially around East Boothbay, the tides rise and fall over nine feet! Therefore, it is essential to get out during high tide when we have the most water. We had two dives planned in which we would be reviewing our navigation and buoyancy skills, along with other small tasks. Our first dive was fairly shallow at 30ft with the water temperature reaching a chilly 51oF. During our first dive, we practiced mask removal and replacement along with buddy breathing. Chris teaches a more rigorous buddy breathing than in normal SCUBA classes. Buddy teams must share only one regulator taking two breathes and passing it to their buddy that is holding their breath. (Well not really holding their breath because we all know the number one rule in diving — never hold your breath!) The buddy team must safely ascend using this method. After practicing these skills, we were released to plan a quick dive while floating on the surface. The only stipulation of this dive was to navigate back to the departure point.  We planned a short out and back dive along a nice kelp wall with massive kelp completely shading out the bottom. Lobsters and crabs scurried and hid as we passed just overhead.

After a one hour surface interval, we were back for our second dive. The sole purpose of this dive was to try and prefect our buoyancy and streamline our dive set up. Chris had set up two hula-hoops just big enough for a diver to squeeze through without touching the sides. In many buoyancy classes, students swim through swim rings or swim squares at fast speeds. Chris implored us to try and inch our way through, stating: “Anyone can maintain neutral buoyancy swimming Mach 3, but it takes real skill and control to go slowly through it.” The ultimate goal was to stop and hover exactly in the middle of this small hula-hoop a task I could not complete. These 25 minutes of us having fun and practicing our buoyancy is something many divers don’t give themselves. Most divers whether it be recreational, commercial, or scientific usual have some objective of the dive – exploring a reef, repairing a pipe, or sectioning the bottom. Most people do not dive just to try and work on their dive skills. I enjoyed and valued this practice time and hope to dedicate more time throughout this summer and in my life to working purely on such skills.

My first dive at Bigelow and in front of Doug and Thew was a bit anticlimactic. Due to unforeseen issues, we have yet to start collecting field data on the kelps, so this dive was primarily a check out dive for Thew and myself. Thew especially, wanted to make sure his gear was in working order and his new drysuit seals were properly trimmed. We used this dive to get oriented with each other’s equipment, weight systems, dump valves etc.. The second goal for this dive was to practice the sampling methods that I would need to carry out on a dive. The dive was short, around 20 minutes at 20 feet. The sampling method had us run out a 25 meters transect line on the bottom. Using the half meter quadrats I made, I would start at the beginning of the tape measure and lay my transect on the bottom. Any kelp stipe (the root) originating in the half meter transect was to be cut and put in the collection bag I carried with me. I would replicate this process four times – at the 2,4,6, and 8 meter mark on the meter line. The dive was successful because 1) Thew and I both gained knowledge of each others dive setups, and 2) I felt confident in the sampling procedures that I would be conducting independently on future dives.


Thew (left) and Doug (right) laying out all of their gear checking it over before going in the water.

To end the week, Bigelow had a BBQ on Friday for all of the employees and interns. During the BBQ there were the “Lab Olympics” going on, which had different wings of the building competing against each other in different oceanographic themed challenges. The BBQ was a good way to meet other people who worked at Bigelow and to get to know Doug and Thew on a more informal level.

From left to right: Myself, Doug, Doug’s daughter Betsy, Thew, and Courtney.

Next week we start conducting our kelp surveys. Doug, Thew, Courtney, and I will be going on a three-day dive trip to Hurricane Island to do the work.

Thank you to Our World Underwater Scholarship Society, American Academy of Underwater Sciences, and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences for giving me this great opportunity.



My first week: Bigelow providing big opportunities.

My name is Shane, and as the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society Dr. Lee H. Somers American Academy of Underwater Sciences 2018 intern, I have two primary goals for this summer – complete the AAUS scientific diving class, while simultaneously getting hands-on field research at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.

My first full week in Maine has been getting settled in and getting into a rhythm. Maine is a lot like home — Minnesota — and so the transition of settling in has been an easy one. What we do not have in Minnesota is a front row seat to the amazing and powerful Atlantic Ocean or the focus of my research: kelp!

At Bigelow, I am being mentored by Dr. Doug Rasher, a senior scientist working on collecting kelp growth data on the coast of Maine. Along with Dr. Rasher, I will be working closely with his post-doc, Thew Suskiewicz. During my first few days, Doug and Thew put me on the task of making rectangle half-meter quadrats out of PVC. This seemingly small task was nothing of the sort, as they entrusted me to accurately and thoroughly prepare five quadrats to perfect specifications. If built too large or small even by an inch, could skew the valuable data we will be collecting.

An example of the five half-meter quadrats made from PVC. Black tape lines two sides every 5cm for video analysis.

After completing the quadrats and acquiring the appropriate materials, Thew and I were simulating my job during a dive. For these first dives, I will be cutting and collecting kelp and other seaweed for biomass samples back on the surface at the lab. After gear organization and checks, sampling material and methods completed, my last task during my first week at Bigelow, was digitizing kelp cover data from the 1990s. In Excel, I would copy the site location, depth, date, and percent cover of kelp from paper records.  It’s the less glamorous side to science and scientific research but will be helpful and necessary later in the process.

Not only am I working at Bigelow, but on Wednesdays, I head up to the Darling Marine Center part of the University of Maine to take my AAUS class with Chris Rigaud, a world-class diver, and instructor. The first AAUS class was mainly orientation and fitness testing such as the 400 and 800 yard swims. We briefly entered into the surprisingly warm (55oF) salty water of the Damariscotta River. In this brief “check-out” dive we reviewed skills such as cramp removal, taking off and putting on our BCD’s, and inflating our emergency signaling devices. These seemingly simple tasks even for a relatively novice diver are important.  Chris said this about the exercise, “What separates professionals (scientific divers) from others, is they practice the small things, they practice all the little details too. That way if the time comes when they need to use that skill, they’ve done it.” He went on to say, “I’ve been lost in the ocean and it isn’t fun” in reference to when he asked us to inflate our signaling devices.


Suited up for the first dive practicing key skills like buoyancy and navigation. From left to right: Colby (assistant instructor), Chris (instructor), Shane (me), Nick (student), and Rachel (student).

This really stuck with me, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. That was great advice especially at the beginning of the summer. It is the small things that can make the difference between completing an experiment correctly or having a successful safe dive. The small things can help you in a dive emergency if it arose. Attention to detail now can pay dividends later. I don’t just want to go through the motions this summer. I want to learn as much as possible and apply everything I can, even the small seemingly insignificant details. Any skill, even if I’ve learned it before, I can still get something new from the experience. This summer I am looking forward to having a lot of “firsts” but also expanding on what I already know.

Next week is diving and lots of it! Thank you to Our World Underwater Scholarship Society, American Academy of Underwater Sciences, and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences for giving me this great opportunity.