ARREE

Latest update December 19, 2018 Started on October 18, 2017
sea

ARREE: Applied Rocky Reef Ecosystem Exploration


We are a group of marine ecologists exploring the diversity, productivity and ecology of seaweed dominated rocky reefs from Baja California to Alaska. We focus our studies on the rich kelp forest communities and the services they provide. Our team members are investigating a variety of questions related to how changes to these rocky reef communities impact the important services they provide, and how we may better inform resource managers, stakeholder, school groups and the public about the deleterious effects of climate change, overharvesting, disease outbreaks, and winter storms on these vital communities. ARREE’s goal is to bring our work to the public's attention. One way we do this is to involve K-12 classrooms with hands-on exploration of these underwater habitats through the use of ROVs. With the help of OpenROV, we will bring students into the field with us and use a Trident ROV to allow students to experience the undersea world in real time.

Our first of many planned expeditions will take place this summer (2017) on Catalina Island, off the coast of southern California. With the help of funding from CA SeaGrant, we will explore the impacts that vessel moorings have on shallow water benthic communities. Aside from diving and surveying the effects these moorings may have on these communities, we will let groups of students from the mainland "fly" our ROV while we are working underwater. With the help of two-way communication masks we will be able to communicate with the surface, and share our research with a wide and diverse audience.

October 18, 2017
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In The Field

A Glimpse Inside the Coralline Algae (Rhodolith) of Catalina Island


As a senior at San Diego State University, and volunteer with the Edwards lab, I was asked to partner on a project to identify the invertebrate composition in cores taken in rhodolith and sand (control) samples collected from Catalina Island. Master’s candidate and primary coordinator, Billie Beckley, took the time to introduce me to the project in the early spring of 2018. This project was made possible through the California Sea Grant and Principle Investigator (PI) partnership with Dr. Diana Stellar at Moss Landing Marine Lab. The primary research objective is to ascertain the impacts mooring lines might have on rhodolith beds around Catalina. The data will be used as a baseline for rhodolith ecosystems worldwide in order to study and preserve the complex habitats they provide for other animals.

The initial cores were collected in July of 2018. They were photographed underwater immediately following extraction and preserved in a -80°C freezer until thawed out to be sorted using a microscopic. The pictures were used in identifying anoxic sediment content along with rhodolith composition through the utilization of ImageJ® software.

Although scrutinizing samples multiple hours a week under a microscope may sound monotonous and boring, it was far from it! Every day had its own set of highlights and interesting discoveries. With a sense of curiosity, new organisms were found or different variations of the same order of invertebrates were observed. For example, an interesting mite-like organism popped up a couple times in some of the cores.

Another notable moment in my sorting process was observing different morphological characteristics between Tanaids found in nearby sand beds verses those in the rhodolith beds. In the sand, Tanaids were a whiteish, opaque color whereas the Tanaids that were living in the rhodolith beds were opaque with darker colored spots on their carapaces. Although this is not explicitly part of the primary research question, it would be interesting to know what factors allow for phenotypic variation between the two taxa.

From January 8-18, 2019, members from both affiliated labs will go back to Catalina to gather more core samples and bring them back to SDSU to sort and analyze. Photosynthetic measurements through the use of Photosynthetic Irradiance (PI) curves will be used the same day they are collected so that we have a better understanding of the overall productivity in these ecosystems. So stay tuned for more updates from the field and the lab!

Natalie Goetz San Diego State University B.S. Marine Biology, 2019

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A lot of folks know that seafood makes up the majority of animal protein consumed by humans around the world, but surprisingly few people talk about the marine algae that find their way into our daily diets. Did you brush your teeth today? There's a good chance there's carrageenan in that toothpaste. Dairy products? Most of them contain emulsifiers derived from red algae (that carrageenan again). Lipstick and gelatin? Oh you better believe it! Not only are algae incredibly interesting, they're a vital part of our food source.


Well, our partners at Sunken Seaweed are trying to bring algae to the forefront of the climate change battle, and the battle for your palette. We're very excited to be helping Torre and Leslie with their prototype algal farm right here in San Diego Bay! We deployed light loggers to test surface, midwater and benthic irradiance in the Bay. These data will help Sunken Seaweed develop plots to grow their algae!

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This marks the second trip this summer to the gloriously cold waters of California's central coast. In order to execute another successful deployment of sensors in a kelp forest and urchin barren in Stillwater Cove, ARREE explorer Pike collaborated with a graduate student from Moss Landing Marine Labs.


While the sensors were "soaking" in Stillwater Cove, we jetted across Carmel Bay to dive in the pristine waters of the Point Lobos State Nature Reserve. Jacques Cousteau said Point Lobos was one of his favorite dive sites in the world, and we can definitely see why! We spent all day diving on the bull kelp, Nereocystis luetkeana, and nearly all night taking bio-metrics on these gorgeous giants.

N. luetkeana takes over as the dominant canopy-forming species along the west coast just north of Santa Cruz, Ca, and persists all the way into the Gulf of Alaska! Data from this study will help researchers estimate bull kelp biomass without having to collect these unwieldy algae.

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I didn’t know that about Cousteau! How cool

We’re just now wrapping up our first of four expeditions to Catalina Island’s rhodolith beds, and boy do we have a lot of data to process! In total, we’ve sampled five beds for fish, invertebrates, benthic cover (including cores) and set up 30 CBITs! We’ve talked about what we’re doing out here, and how it’s done, but the story won’t be complete until the data are analyzed. As ecologists, we try to balance field work with “office” work. While we’re often daunted by the enormity of trying to sample an entire ecosystem, the magic really happens when we analyze our data. But more on that later!


​ Clearly, we’ve spent a lot of time underwater on this trip, maximizing our sampling effort and taking advantage of the incredible conditions. At first glance, the rhodolith beds look pretty plain and simple. But as we’ve shown, they’re a lot more dynamic than they appear. If you spend enough time in the ocean you’ll see some amazing organisms, and the rhodolith beds are no exception. From competitive macroalgae to charismatic vertebrates, check out some of the best biota the beds have to offer!

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Look who stopped by our CBITs! We dropped ARREE in the water to check on our experiments and happen to catch this gorgeous bat ray (Myliobatis californica) cruising by for a closer look.

“We speak for the rhodoliths”. But first we need to learn their language. Of the 10 scientists on this expedition, only three of us (project PIs Dr.’s Matthew Edwards and Diana Steller, and PhD candidate Scott Gabara) have worked in rhodolith beds before. That means that the rest of us have a lot of learning to do. And quickly! After a few “shake-out” days, we finally have our sampling protocol dialed in: subtidal surveys, collapsible benthic incubation tents (CBITs), and lab based incubations. Dr. Steller is leading the survey dives, while Dr. Edwards and the Edwards Lab is in charge of the CBITs. We’re incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Ju-Hyoung (who joined us in the Aleutians) working tirelessly in the lab running seemingly endless incubations.


Most of the divers rotate through the survey dives; it takes six or so divers at least three dives to effectively survey a rhodolith bed. Each dive team, consisting of at least two divers, is responsible for a piece of the survey puzzle. For example, a dive team might be running fish transects, which consist of four surveys for fish inside and outside of the rhodolith bed (i.e. over an adjacent sandy bottom). During this time, another team is conducting four transects for invertebrate cover, uniform point contacts (UPC), and quadrats for percent cover. We also take eight cores inside the rhodolith bed. These cores help us understand the size frequency distribution of individual rhodoliths, and what the sandy bottom looks like under the rhodoliths. That’s a lot of work just to understand who is in and around a rhodolith bed!

We’re coupling these surveys with our CBIT incubations. Just the like larger “chambers” we used in the Aleutians, these “chamberitos” allow us to estimate in situ productivity and respiration. That is, what exactly goes on in a community dictated by these coralline algae. The rhodoliths themselves make up the community we’re studying, but the individuals produce and consume oxygen just like any other photosynthetic being. We want to know what net productivity (photosynthesis minus respiration) looks during over a daily cycle. Our CBITs are secured to the benthos via heavy chain and contain a fixed volume of sea water. Inside this CBIT the community goes on producing and consuming oxygen without being disturbed by the experiment. The flexible design allows for the transfer of water motion, and the polycarbonate panels allow undistorted sunlight in without trapping it like a green house. We leave an oxygen and temperature sensor along with a sunlight sensor inside the CBIT to record daily changes.

It’s all well and good to study the components of the community, but our metrics of community composition and Net Community Productivity (NCP) aren’t complete without a detailed understanding of individual contributions to NCP. Enter our productivity expert, Ju-Hyoung. He flew all the way from South Korea to help us understand what individual organisms, including rhodoliths, are capable of from a physiological perspective. All day long Ju-Hyoung is measuring how much oxygen heterotrophs (organisms that only consume oxygen, like humans) consume, and how much oxygen autotrophs (organisms like plants) produce and consume in a rhodolith bed.

Our days are long. But the water is warm, the visibility is great and everyone is excited to continue exploring!

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Getting ready for field work is no easy feat, especially when you kick of a 10-day expedition at 4 o’clock in the morning. But that’s just what the Edwards Lab, accompanied by Dr. Ju-Hyoung Kim from Korea, did in the pre-dawn humidity on July 10th. After doing our final checks to make sure all of our equipment was properly stowed, we piled into the lab’s suburban, 21ft dive boat in tow, and headed from San Diego to San Pedro. At around 6:30am we met up with Dr. Diana Steller and another graduate student from Moss Landing Marine Labs (MLML) at the Southern California Marine Institute. There we loaded our gear onto USC’s Miss Christy, the small mainland-Catalina ferry, and prepared to cross the water to Catalina Island.


During the summers of 2016 and 2017 the Edwards Lab, along with the Konar Lab from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, studied productivity in kelp forests along the Aleutian Archipelago. This time we’re doing a similar study in another kind of algal-dominated community: rhodolith beds. Rhodoliths (rhodo meaning “rose”, but in this case “red algae” and lith meaning “rock”) are rock-like “balls” of coralline red algae that can form massive beds on soft sediments in clear water. These little “tumble weeds of the sea”, as PhD candidate Scott Gabara calls them, can support a rich diversity of marine organisms in nearshore environments (Gabara 2018). While kelp forests dominate temperate waters on rocky reefs, rhodolith beds thrive in sandy habitats, especially in protected sandy coves. Which, as it turns out, is an excellent place to establish a mooring field for boats. These moorings, where boats tie up overnight, are anchored to the ocean floor (known as the benthos) by heavy chains and massive concrete blocks. Scientists have known for a long time that these mooring chains can crush rhodoliths, turning the once vibrant beds into coralline rubble patches. Scott, who did his Masters on rhodolith beds with Dr. Steller, aka Di, at MLML, showed that benthic diversity is significantly greater inside the beds than outside.

Which brings us to the purpose of this first of four expeditions to Catalina Island. In conjunction with Dr. Steller and several graduate students from MLML, the Edwards Lab plans on repeating our Collapsible Benthic Incubation Tent (CBIT) experiments inside and outside of rhodolith beds so we can finally understand just how productive these rolling red communities are. Di will be leading SCUBA surveys for diversity, and overall rhodolith community structure, while Ju-Hyoung will be conducting incubation experiments in the lab on individual rhodoliths, and the marine organisms that make their home among the algae.

Our base of operations is USC’s Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, located adjacent to Two Harbors on the west end of Catalina. We’ve got two boats, the 21ft Stillwater Cove, and the 12ft inflatable Kenner (last seen in the Aleutians), 10 scientists and 10 days to learn as much as we can about rhodolith beds, the communities they support, and the consequences of their loss. Be sure to follow along for more rhodolith-related action!

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It’s been a longtime coming, but we’re incredibly excited to report on our debut dive day with ARREE. In collaboration with OpenROV, our team was able to conduct dive operations concurrent with a Trident test flight in Stillwater Cove, Carmel, California. Stillwater Cove (SWC) sits within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is one of the best places to study kelp forest ecology.


In conjunction with the Edwards Lab’s focus on kelp forests community dynamics, we have been exploring the formation of sea urchin barrens, and the differences between these two systems. In order to aid in our understanding of the differences in processes between a community dominated by photosynthetic kelps, and those dominated by voraciously herbivorous sea urchins, we have been deploying experiments from Baja California to the Aleutian Archipelago in Alaska. Our experimental set up in SWC provided the perfect opportunity to collaborate with OpenROV and their Trident Drones.

We were thrilled to have OpenROV employees Zack, Mike, and Nicole join us as we explored the vibrant kelp forests and adjacent sea urchin barren grounds in SWC. With the help of our newest lab mate, ARREE the Trident, we will continue exploring and document the changes kelp forest communities are experiencing in an age of unprecedented social and ecological change.

Join us as we continue to explore autotrophic communities (those dominated by photosynthetic organisms likes sea grasses and algae) along the Eastern Pacific. We’ll be taking ARREE to Catalina Island this summer to explore fascinating algal communities called Rhodolith beds, and the human impacts to this fragile yet vital ecosystem.

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Expedition Background

We are a group of marine ecologists exploring the diversity, productivity and ecology of seaweed dominated rocky reefs from Baja California to Alaska. We focus our studies on the rich kelp forest communities and the services they provide. Our team members are investigating a variety of questions related to how changes to these rocky reef communities impact the important services they provide, and how we may better inform resource managers, stakeholder, school groups and the public about the deleterious effects of climate change, overharvesting, disease outbreaks, and winter storms on these vital communities. ARREE’s goal is to bring our work to the public's attention. One way we do this is to involve K-12 classrooms with hands-on exploration of these underwater habitats through the use of ROVs. With the help of OpenROV, we will bring students into the field with us and use a Trident ROV to allow students to experience the undersea world in real time.


Our first of many planned expeditions will take place this summer (2017) on Catalina Island, off the coast of southern California. With the help of funding from CA SeaGrant, we will explore the impacts that vessel moorings have on shallow water benthic communities. Aside from diving and surveying the effects these moorings may have on these communities, we will let groups of students from the mainland "fly" our ROV while we are working underwater. With the help of two-way communication masks we will be able to communicate with the surface, and share our research with a wide and diverse audience.

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