Category Archives: 2012 AAUS Scientific Diving

Goodbye SPMC!

The last few days at SPMC were filled with reviewing and editing the DNR footage, attending the SPMC Dive safety board meeting and doing some last minute clean up, at the dive sites, around the labs and in the dive locker. I also was able to go to the community Beach Seine put on by SPMC.  The Beach Seine is semiannual event which is both educational for the community and also provides data to gain insight to what fish (especially juvenile fish) are present.   The highlight of the day included finding a few wild juvenile salmon.  You can tell a salmon is from a hatchery because the adipose fin is clipped off.


Here is an article about the abalone project in the AAUS newsletter, enjoy!

Thank you AAUS and OWUSS and Shannon Point Marine Center for the great summer!




Clean Up Week

On Monday and Tuesday we finished up the abalone surveys and packed up our sites. Packing up the site included rolling up tapes and lead lines which constructed the perimeter and lanes for the survey. On Tuesday we also got a chance to practice using the underwater video camera at one of our sites. Using the camera was a blast, but reviewing the footage was humbling. The video consisted of bubbles, green water, cheesy waving diver shots, a few colorful sea stars and some nice algae on rocks.  Anne and I walked away from the experience with a basic videography lesson; move very slowly and steadily.  We were able to apply what we had learned from our test run to the intake pipe surveys on Thursday.

Shannon Point has a big intake pipe out in front of the lab which pumps seawater back to the lab. Shannon Pt. land is leased from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR). When the pipes were upgraded, part of the agreement with DNR was that Shannon Pt. needed to carry out surveys on the intake twice a year.

It took two dives to complete the survey.  On the 1st dive we went out to lay 600ft of measuring tape from shore out to the end of the intake. We also retrieved and installed a new CTD and took water quality samples at the end of the intake.  On the second dive we took quadrat pictures periodically and also shot high definition video on the swim back in to the beach. Taking pictures was good buoyancy control practice and lots of fun!


Rad Restoration

Anne B. is in the middle of her abalone weaning project.  She is looking at how the type and size of algae will affect growth rate.  In the hatchery juvenile abalone switch from feeding on biofilms to macro algae diets at around 6 months of age.  Her study has implications for the abalone hatchery to help them determine best the size and type of algae to feed the juveniles at this stage during weaning.  Anne is using Dulse (a Palmaria species) and Bull Kelp (Nereocystis leutkeana) for her project. It has been fun helping every three days punching out different sizes, weighing algae, and feeding the juvenile abalone.

Last week Dr. Dinnel, Anne and I went down to the abalone hatchery to pick up some more dulse for Anne’s feeding project. The abalone hatchery is located at the Mukilteo NOAA center, located north of Seattle.  Josh and Paul Pratt (a past Shannon Pt. REU abalone intern) showed us around the hatchery.  A few highlights included learning about the complexity of the spawning process and a seeing a few rockfish larvae.


Native Oyster restoration is another project Dr. Dinnel is working on. These oysters were once indigenous to Washington waters, but the population has declined severely and in many locations the Pacific Oyster now dominates.  In 2002 Native oysters seeds were introduced to a site in Fidalgo bay to reintroduce Native oyster beds.  The oysters were seeded along a bike path over the bay, known as the “Trestle”.   Dr. Dinnel and  Kailey Gabrian-Voorhees (the summer oyster intern) go out on the low tides to count native oysters and also to look at substrate characteristics of the surrounding areas.   They know where the native oysters seeds were planted so they can assume that any oysters found along the Trestle outside of the seeding site are from a successful spawn of the original seeds. The pilings for the Trestle are used as a reference points for gathering data on where the native oysters are found.  If you would like to learn more about Kailey’s project please check out her blog.

I have gone out with Dr. Dinnel and Kailey a few times on low tides to help out with tackling their huge sample area. Sliding around in the mud is fun but also hard work. Dr. Dinnel, Kailey and their volunteers are hardcore!

Fidalgo Bay is flat and muddy and like all estuaries has a channel system.  Dr. Dinnel has been curious about one of the channels for a while because even on very low tides it remains covered with water.  There are rumors that there is a native oysters bed in this channel so Dr. Dinnel invited Anne B. and I to do a dive to investigate.   The visibility was less than ½ a foot, but the depth was only 15 feet at max making the dive doable.  Anne and I would descend, feel the bottom with our flippers, and then swim side by side with our faces 5 inches from the very muddy bottom.  We did not find any native oysters, but Anne surfaced with a pretty awesome “chocolate silt mustache” around her reg.


Anne and I recently whet on a snorkel to do some free diving at favorite spot in a nearby Anacortes park.





No more hand holding

Anne B. and I finished the required Shannon Point Scientific  diver training this week.  We have  been working on AAUS course work including sections such “Procedures for Scientific Diving”, “Dive planning” and “Diving under special conditions”.  We have also been working on the DAN oxygen,  first aid, and neurological exam courses,  as well as the PADI rescue diver and nitrox courses. The cumulative written scientific diving final exam was twenty three pages. My favorite part of training has the pool rescue diver sessions and the NITROX coursework.

Now that we have gone through the material and done the in water training dives, Anne B. and I are good to go diving on our own!    This week we did two more surveys on the same to sites as last week.  I was a little nervous at first, but I  realized that Anne and I are both good about keeping tabs on each other and we knew the sites pretty well from our surveys last week.  Highlights from diving this week include, running into Big Joe (The 150+mm abalone named by Anne B.), seeing a dogfish (a small shark native to Washington), and finishing up both surveys.  Our 1st week solo was a success!

This week Nate hosted a Discover SCUBA class for the summer interns.  Anne and I were able to help out with skills during the pool session. It was very cool to see my friends get excited about diving and see a few of them breath underwater for the first time!


Developing the abalone “search image”

The 1st week of abalone surveys was exciting.  We did 6 training dives last week, working with Josh to setup and survey each site.  Both sites are rocky reefs.  It was a little over whelming looking for the abalone at first. When checking out abalone in the Shannon Pt. tanks, their distinguishing characteristics were obvious.  But when down at the survey sites the diversity of the reef makes finding abalone a little more difficult. The abalone size at the sites range from less than 2 to over 15 cm. Most of the tagged abalone is on the smaller end of this scale.  Abalone, rocks, and other shell fish are often covered in marine life including the pink coralline algae which makes everything seem to blend together. Additionally abalone like to live in cracks and rock overhangs.  Josh trained Anne B. and I on the sites and also helped us develop the abalone “search image”.  Josh would find an abalone and point it out to us so we could make our own mental image. He also showed us the best pace and strategy of abalone surveying.  By distance the surveys are slow, but a lot of area is covered because it is necessary to check out all the nooks and crannies. Once Josh showed us a few abalone on site, Anne and I started finding them ourselves. Then we got addicted to surveying.   Abalone surveys are fun because, 1) of the Easter egg hunt effect, and 2) they live under rock overhangs and in cracks so while looking for abalone you run into many other beautiful animals!


These sites are also home to kelp forests, another important ingredient for good abalone habitat.   One of the sites is especially thick with kelp making minor entanglement frequent.  However, at these sites kelp is also helpful.   With current present while diving, kelp is a valuable and sturdy hand hold.  I am excited to see these forests grow in the upcoming month.

We are continuing to survey the same sites this week.  Josh has been replaced by Nate for our last few training dives. Once we are finished with our 13th training dive Anne B. and I are on our own!


Thank you Christa Doughherty and Kailey Gabrian-Voorhees  for taking wonderful pictures and coming out to the sites.



Getting ready for abalone surveys

Last week we met with Josh who works for Puget Sound Restoration Fund.  He is involved in hatchery efforts to raise juvenile abalone for outplanting.  Josh and Dr. Dinnel discussed how they wanted prioritize the diving for this summer. They both seemed to think it was a good idea to focus on a few sites (instead of all six) to achieve repetitive surveys. Josh also taught Anne B. and I a few things about abalone.  We start the abalone surveys this week!


We have been doing a variety of training dives. Last week Anne B. and I went on a snorkel so we could get a feel for the Straights. Nate also took us off Shannon Pt. beach as a checkup dive. On this dive we went to the salt water intake pipes to check on the CTD mooring.


Later in the week we practiced rescue diver skills in Rosario Bay in Deception Pass State Park.


We  have been learning about the importance of tidal planning. Even with careful planning there is still a high degree of variability in the straights of the San Juan’s.  Nate told us that tidal currents are often localized and factors like atmospheric pressure may affect the predicted exchange times.  This local variation was very clear on our first boat dive.  We jumped in next to a kelp forest off  a rock wall along Burrows Island.  There was a prominent current going one way and strong eddies close by that would take you the opposite direction.  Staying oriented in visibility less than 5 feet and in dynamic current took focus and was also a lot of fun!  Nate had us answer some questions at depth to see how we think underwater and then handed us a dive slate that said something like, “let’s see where this current takes us, stay together.” Even in poor viability there was so much to see including rock fish and a small (unidentified) fish that tried to clean Anne B. and my neopreme gloves.



Shannon Point Marine Center

Hi, my name is Annie Thomson. I am a scientific diving intern at Shannon Point Marine Center, a Western Washington University lab located in Anacortes, WA. This summer I will primarily be working with Captain Nate Schwarck and Anne Benolklin. Nate is the dive safety officer and captain for the Shannon Pt. research vessels. Anne B. is a REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) intern who will be implementing scientific diving into her research project.

Nate, Anne B. and I have been working through the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) scientific diving skills and requirements this past week by practicing rescue diver skills in the local pool. The last task Nate gave Anne B. and I was an equipment swap while buddy breathing. We exchanged masks, BCDs, fins, and weight belts while passing off the reg every two breaths. This was one of my favorite exercises. As we pack packed gear I was reminded of the importance of accident prevention. Although I am grateful for these rescue skills I never want to have to use them. We have also been going through the DAN first aid course, learning about the history of scientific diving and getting ready for the abalone surveys coming up on the 10th of July.

Did I forget to mention abalone?!!!!!!

Pinto abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana) is the focus of Anne’s REU project. She is working with Dr. Paul Dinnel (the abalone expert) to conduct survey work and also develop a lab experiment with abalone. We have been meeting with Dr. Dinnel over the past week to learn about the pinto abalone story here in WA state. Here’s what I know so far:

•The WA populations was severely overfished by sport fisherman starting in the early 1900’s causing abalone to diminish from the WA coastline.

• The abalone fishery was closed in 1994 and it was later determined that the pinto abalone population would not recover with out human intervention.

• Abalone are broadcast spawners which makes reproduction success difficult when individuals are far apart and low in numbers. Lack of reproduction due to low population density is termed as the “allee effect”. The naturally remaining abalone in the Puget Sound are old, consequently big and most likely too far away from other abalone to reproduce.

• There has been an attempt to reintroduce abalone back into WA waters by outplanting efforts starting back in 2009. The hope for outplanting is that abalone can be reintroduced into a coastal habitat in adult aggregations with densities high enough for successful reproduction.

• Last summer Jeff Hester (REU intern) and Jenna Walker (AAUS OWUSS intern) conducted surveys to obtain survival rates on the new outplants of spring 2011. Jenna and Jeff found that repetitive dives on the same site is essential for determining accurate survival rates because abalone are very cryptic animals.

Helping Dr. Dinnel and Anne B. carry out surveys on the previously outplanted abalone plots is one of my focuses for the summer. We will go back to the 2011 outplant sites to identify and measure the size of the abalone by the numbered id tags attached to the shell.

I am very excited to be at Shannon Pt. helping out with this project and developing a scientific diving tool set to help explore and better understand the underwater world of my home state.