Operation Where’s Waldo?

Background: Approximately two weeks ago, Lexey and I placed 2 iButtons in each of the 8 locations: Isthmus, Campground, both sides of Cat Harbor, and both sides of Little Harbor. We will extract the mean, max, and min temperature readings for each location. We will analyze whether the variations in temperature of each location have an effect on snail and hermit crab abundances, and whether it influence the species of shell the hermit crabs occupy.

Mission: Recover iButtons.

Status: In Progress

Detailed Report: We were able to recover both iButtons from Campground and one from each side of Cat Harbor. Our back up support, Dovi and Satthea, were crucial to the recovery of one of the iButtons. Dovi’s knack of rock identification aided in our rediscovery of the iButtons during our expedition to the east side of Cat Harbor, allowing me to find the iButton after searching for 3 hours. Satthea was able to identify the rock our iButton was on for the west side of Cat Harbor and Dovi found the iButton instantly after. The All-Star was Lexey because she found both of the ones at Campground. We will only search for the rest of the iButtons at Little Harbor because the rocks at Isthmus and Cat Harbor didn’t have the iButtons; only remnants of the epoxy were left. Therefore it is futile to attempt another search in Isthmus and Cat Harbor. We also that we at least had one temperature reading on each side of Cat Harbor. However, upon further inspection I noticed that the iButton from Cat Harbor West had a hole in it, rendering the data irretrievable. Another setback is that the one from Isthmus didn’t record any temperature readings. Our team is not easily despaired; we have high hopes for our next search at Little Harbor.

iButton squished in epoxy

iButton squished in epoxy


Bye, Aplysia!

This last week had been filled with 24/7 science. Noor and I have been racing the clock to finish our field project and take all the UV measurements of our anemone sites. While in the lab Colin and I have been working on our last seven animals of our sea hare experiments.

Field work can be quite tiring, but so interesting and unlike any other experience. For the past few days, Noor and I have been going to each of our sites and taking UV readings every hour, collecting tentacles to examine algal symbionts, and collecting previously placed temperature sensors (iButtons). Easy enough, right? Not so much. Let’s start with the iButtons. We stuck them to rocks with a two part epoxy (a mixture of tan and black goo) that blend in very well with surrounding rocks. We used a GPS locater but it only has an accuracy of approximately 15ft. When we were searching rock cliff faces, it was hard to see the small silver sensors in a wall of browns and blacks. We did locate all of the senors but there was a lot of climbing and searching and re-searching! Then with the UV meter we had a small water leakage inside of the mechanism, causing the sensor and reader to act up. Noor saved the day with some fresh water and hydrogen peroxide!

We’ve also managed to collect and process almost all of the samples we’ve needed from most of the sites —and they are all brown. This ties into the first project we started here on the island, showing that both Anthopleura elegantissima and Anthopleura sola have similar cove-wide algal symbiont distributions. With all the anemones having brown symbionts, this could mean that because of other factors, the anemones are limited to certain regions, or aspect on a rock face. This is where we tie in our UV and temperature readings, and basic information on the shape and orientation of the cove/site → we are running statistics on this right now!

The day we kayaked for at least 6 hours in Cherry Cove

The day we kayaked for at least 6 hours in Cherry Cove

Lab work with Colin has for once, gone smoothly this week! Although we don’t have as many test specimens as we planned for, we are working with what we got. We’ve added a small sub-question to our experiments regarding the sea hare species Aplysia vaccaria, the California black sea hare. Since we’ve been finding some in the field, we added some to our temperature experiments and have been using the same protocol to test their reactions the tactile stimulus. We shall see if they have a similar response over multiple trials as the Aplysia californica. From what we have seen so far, they are similar in reaction time but since they have different siphon/parapodia structuring it’s harder to tell if they are fully retracting the siphon or only half retracting it. We will run statistics this week on the program R to see if there is any significant differences between the two species.

Colin and I working during the island wide electrical black-out

Colin and I working during the island wide electrical black-out

Sad to leave the island in a few short days,


Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got

Yesterday, the tides were finally low enough for Kelly and I to collect some more anemone tentacles from the Two Harbors Campground and Isthmus Cove. Since we were unable to detect differences in the type of symbionts found on Anthopleura sola in the low, middle, and high regions of the intertidal (all of them only had zooxanthellae, none of them had the zoochlorellae we were expecting to find based on previous studies), we decided to collect more tentacles from Anthopleura elegantissima (which are much more abundant than sola) on different rock faces to see if that factor had an influence on which symbionts they contain.

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Unfortunately, we found collecting Anthopleura elegantissima tentacles to be very difficult. First, low tide this week was considerably higher than it was two weeks ago. Second, the tentacles of Anthopleura elegantissima tend to be much smaller than those of Anthopleura sola. They also tend to be entirely covered in little pebbles and rocks. Every time the water was calm enough for me to snip a sample off an anemone, I was disappointed to find that I did not actually get any tentacles and was just fooled by the rocks that I got.

Eventually, I got the hang of it and Kelly and I were able to get all of the samples we needed. After coming back to the lab, I processed all twelve samples immediately. After carefully studying each one, I still found that all of the symbionts were golden (zooxanthellae) and none were green (zoochlorellae).

Today, Kelly and I had a long day at Catalina Harbor taking UV measurements. We had originally intended to spend the day getting hourly UV measurements from the East and West sides by kayaking back and forth between the two sites from 8:30am to 4pm. Though we anticipated that this would be tiring, we were not expecting it to be as physically exhausting as the huge gales of wind we encountered this morning made it. We kayaked from the dock to Catalina Harbor East to take our first reading there, then we kayaked to Catalina Harbor West to take our initial reading at that site. Upon kayaking back to Catalina Harbor East, the wind pushed us way off course and we were paddling for our lives to not end up in the middle of the ocean (lol maybe an exaggeration but that’s how it felt at the time). We were kayaking for over 90 minutes, and we realized we couldn’t keep it up for six more hours, so we decided to just take measurements for Catalina Harbor East today and do the West side later this week.


In between UV measurements, we also tried collecting anemone tentacles for our symbiont composition analysis. Unfortunately, we were not able to get the samples we needed since in Catalina Harbor the anemones are all found in very low tide, low tide was not that low today, and the waves were extremely strong. We are still going to examine symbionts in tentacles from the other sites.

– Noor

Exercise High Fading Out

For the first time in 4 weeks, I finally ate breakfast at the cafeteria. Normally, that 7:30am rise and shine life isn’t for me. However, with only one week left on the island, I had to fit in all the fun I can get out of each day. So, I decided to join the Sunrise Club to watch the glorious sun rise over the majestic ocean. Somehow, I managed to make myself wake up at 5am to hike up Megastrea Mountain. Satthea, Collin, Kirsten, Dovi and I reached the summit only to have another peak obstruct my view of the sun rising from the ocean. Although it I didn’t get to see the view I wanted, it was still beautiful and for first time in 4 weeks I was awake early enough to eat breakfast!


Behold: Megastrea Mountain


Successfully completed my initiation into the Sunrise Club

In the afternoon, Lexey and I finished our Cat Harbor quadrats. WHOOHOO! We finished just in time, too because our quadrat broke on the last throw. Our sense of achievement was spoiled by our inability to find the two iButtons that we placed at the site two weeks ago, even though we had a GPS to aid us. Dangit I was looking forward to whipping out my hammer and screwdriver to retrieve them. Now all that’s left is our site at Little Harbor and a lot of statistical analysis. We have a lot of data to work with and that can be good because it allows us to test for lots of patterns and trends. It is also overwhelming because it is difficult to know where to start, learn what tests to use, and learn the R code to make it happen.


Brittle Stardom

This week, Kirsten and I dedicated all of our time to testing our brittle stars for their last sets of trials. As of yesterday, the 432nd and last trial was ran. As we begin to analyze the data further, we are sure to come up with some useful and interesting conclusions.

A brittle star, wounded from intense experimentation but in a celebratory pose from a job well done.

A brittle star, wounded from intense experimentation but in a celebratory pose from a job well done.

Throughout trials, Kirsten and I completed nine experiments. To begin, we tested simple variables such as Light versus Dark environment, Light versus Shade, and Shade versus Dark. Interestingly, we noticed that the brittle stars in general had no preference between light and shade. Therefore, we posed a new question: Do the brittle stars hide under rocks for the darkness or simply for contact?

This led us to our next experiment: the brittle stars were tested to see if they preferred a dark environment or a rock in full sunlight. We extended this experiment and tested the same question at night using just overhead red wavelength light. For that, we concluded that the stars definitely preferred darkness rather than contact.

A brittle star, resting at night on top of one of their beloved rocks.

A brittle star, resting at night on top of one of their beloved rocks.

Our final set of five experiments tested wavelengths of light rather than purely intensity of light such as in the other experiments. We used primary color filters (red, blue, and yellow) for cross-comparison of colors for the first three experiments. After concluding that red was the most preferred color and blue was the least, we decided, for our last two experiments, to compare Dark versus Red and Blue versus Light. The data gathered from these two experiments was certainly the most interesting, but for now it remains a mystery what kind of conclusions will be drawn until data analysis is completed.

Another brittle star, exhausted after a long day of wavelength testing.

Another brittle star, exhausted after a long day of wavelength testing.

Finally finishing our lab trials, we came to appreciate how unique and interesting the brittle stars are. After 432 trials, it will be interesting to see what conclusions can be drawn in the near future.

Detailed lower structure of a brittle star.

Detailed lower structure of a brittle star.

Tune in again next week for the last update before CatShore moved from the land of brittle stardom back to the land of the stars.

Rolling in the shallow

We’ve been having some difficulties this week finding good sites for our urchin surveying on SCUBA. In order for us to compare sites in different areas, they must be as similar to each other as possible. Satthea and I decided to use sites with a solid rocky reef or bouldery substrate, areas where we should find urchins if they’re there. We also want to conduct each survey at the same depth, and we selected 10 meters for the deep transects. This week I was focusing on the invertebrate-protected zone west of Lion’s Head, but this area is relatively shallow. A lot of the rocky areas were only under about 5 meters of water, giving way to sand flats and seagrass meadows below.

After a bit of reconnaissance, Dawn and I finally found three more separate rocky sites deep enough to satisfy our criteria.


Dawn swims through the surviving Macrocystis


A grumpy garibaldi (Hypsypops rubicundus) fends off the paparazzi


A school of opaleye (Girella nigricans) swarms a señorita (Oxyjulis californica). Looks like they want to be cleaned. Might have read something about that…


A juvenile sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher), one of our target species on the transect. Juveniles are bright orange with black spots, very distinct from the peach-colored females and black-headed males. Yes, it’s there — click on the picture to enlarge.

Meanwhile in our living room… Satthea was hard at work crunching the data from our snorkeling transects in R. Using an analysis of variance (ANOVA), we are able to report a significant difference in urchin density across the three levels of protection, with the density in the unprotected areas the highest by far. And there was much rejoicing! Using a linear regression, we also can report that urchin density does not correlate with percent cover of the southern sea palm (Eisenia arborea), one of their known food items, which suggests that all our sites are comparable in this way. I also ran the data for lobster and sheephead densities, but these were very low across the three levels of protection and did not vary significantly.

On a fun side adventure, Dawn and I did some search and recovery. Some visiting high schoolers had capsized their kayak and lost a pair of glasses, so we dove just a few meters down to comb the area for them. The area was pretty rocky with lots of dark crevices and seaweed clumps, so I was beginning to think there was no way we’d find them. Just then, I turned my head and there they were, perched on top of a rock! Since it took us less than half an hour, we swam around Habitat Reef for a while before heading in.

Alas, my good ocean karma would not last me the week. Kelly and I wanted to grab a few more sea hares for our final trial, but today the wind really kicked up. Our collection site was totally stirred up, and visibility underwater was less than a foot. Since I didn’t bring my weights, Dovi had to step on my back to hold me underwater so I could get close enough to the bottom to see anything. We came back in the afternoon to try again, and it was clearer, but there were not slugs to be found. It looks like we’ll have to proceed with the seven sea hares we already collected.

— Colin

Dancing with the Brittle Stars

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baby brittle star!

This past week has been very eventful as we have been finishing up our lab experiments in attempting to identify wavelength and intensity preference in brittle stars. In our most recent experiment, we compared the least preferred color (blue) between combinations of red vs. yellow, red vs. blue, and yellow vs. blue, to light with no color. We wanted to see if there would be any preference or if they can distinguish between blue and plain light, and our results pointed to the brittle stars having no preference between the two. This was surprising given that we assumed that they would go to the darker area caused by the blue filter, but there appears to be no preference.


Satthea and I kayaking back from Cherry Cove!

DSCF0414This past week, once we organized our data, I also took a trip to Cherry Cove and Fourth of July Cove to check out the rock layout to see if either would be a good fit to survey for our field experiment. Cherry Cove proved to be our best option, not completely ideal, but had a decent distribution of rocks within our size limit, but Fourth of July Cove wasn’t a good fit for what we are looking for due to rock distribution. So we need to check out other possible sites so we can expand on our data outside of Isthmus Cove and try to do transects at Cherry Cove and possibly Little Harbor if possible at a later time.


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view from our “Megastraea Mountain” hike

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Dr Gordon’s look of surprise for his birthday!