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California's MPAs - PISCO monitoring

June 1 1999

Every year since 1999, the PISCO team (Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans) heads out to California's nearshore oceans and islands to monitor the health of kelp forests and evaluate the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas.

June 1 1999


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Mission Underway

Diver Profile: Meet Chris Honeyman!

If there are three things Chris Honeyman wants you to know about him, it's that he's 6'5, outfitted for all outdoor activities, and "would rather be diving," as announced by his license plate frame. Since graduating from UCSB last year, Chris stepped up from undergraduate lab manager to full-time lab technician. He's a NAUI Divemaster who said he relates to the uniform point contact category "bare rock" because "my jokes tend to fall flat. Get it?" (Please disregard that and try to enjoy the rest of this interview.)

Why did you decide to study marine biology? I think the ocean is a fascinating place facing a variety of change and challenge, both natural and anthropogenic. Working to study, understand, and protect such differing and diverse ecosystems via a variety of exciting means was something that attracted me as a young scientist. Plus you can practice it anywhere in the world!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in diving and marine research? What are you waiting for? Just do it! Many institutions offer discounts on courses and rates for students and staff members, so take advantage of it while you can. The sooner you start the sooner you can get where you want to be!

If you weren't a marine biologist, what would you do instead? Probably some sort of outdoor adventure guide. Or something similar that would grant me the opportunity to explore and enjoy nature. I’ve been trying to explore new forms of enjoying the outdoors: trail running, rock climbing, and stand up paddle-boarding have recently been a focus of mine.

What does the future have in store for the "Honey Badger?" Eventually I’ll return to school in pursuit of a graduate degree, but for the time being, I couldn’t be happier with the exciting mix of lab and field work I’ve been exposed to. My experience has been nothing short of awesome!

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Meet the "Boss Lady," Dr. Jenn Caselle!

A marine ecologist by training, Jenn started diving in 1983 and has been contributing to research on the underwater world ever since. Before introducing our current dive team, I wanted to ask the woman who started it all a few questions about her PISCO experience.

What's your favorite part of working with PISCO? Teaching new students and interns how to monitor kelp forests.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in diving and marine research? My advice is to stick with it. Maintain your natural curiosity and realize that there will be a lot of challenges along the way - maybe in school, maybe finding your first job or getting research experience. If you really want to do it, you will find a way!

If you were a sessile marine organism on one of our UPC surveys, what would you be and why? Nothing because that would require me to be immobile. That is impossible for me!

Photos are from Jenn's most recent trip to the Azores.

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One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish!: Counting fish takes more training than Dr. Suess would have you think

The summer is halfway through, benthic surveys are wrapping up, and as the late spring/early summer fish recruits have settled on the reef, PISCO is gearing up to count them! This week, the dive team spent three days on the RV Garibaldi for our annual fish training. After classroom sessions on fish identification, measuring techniques, and the PISCO fish counting protocol, each diver entered the water equipped with a slate and a memory bank full of species codes.

Measuring and identifying fish as they swim by is no easy task. This is why a mix of experience levels is necessary on the dive team. Over the course of three days, everyone dives with every one else, calibrating our fish ID's and measurements. We practice by estimating the lengths of kelp blades, rocks, and other objects we can actually lay a slate across and measure. Then more experienced fish counters swim next to newer ones and point out individual fish to ID and measure. After enough practice, our new fish counters can look at a cloud of fish and size and ID all of them in a matter of seconds.

With that, we'd like to congratulate all our new fish counters! It's a valuable skill to have as a marine biologist, and I'm sure it will forever be difficult to look at a fish in a market and not say its PISCO code.

PHOTOS: (1) Luca Silva is faced with a field of territorial Garibaldi under the Anacapa arch. (2) Sea lions smooch at East Isle, Anacapa. (3) Jade Zounes measures a nesting Garibaldi - or is it measuring up her? (Photos by Chris Honeyman). (4) Juvenile kelp rockfish (Sebastes atrovirens) hide in the canopy (Photo by Katie Davis).

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Meet the 2018 Dive Team! These eleven divers - one of our biggest teams yet as the PISCO program at UCSB turns 20 - were selected to take sound scientific data underwater. Led by staff researchers Avrey Parsons-Field and Katie Davis, diver Keegan Bell returns for his fourth season, Brittany Tholan and Chris Honeyman return for their third, Lindsey Kraemer and Jake Eisaguirre return for their second, and interns Amanda Rivard, Cece Martin, Jade Zounes, and Luca Silva are welcomed to the team. Over the course of the summer, we'll be posting diver profiles to introduce each individual. It may take a mix of experience levels to make a dive team, but it takes an equal amount of enthusiasm. Morale is high!

PHOTOS: (1) The whole team on the RV Garibaldi (Photo by Chuck Dobbins), (2) Chris Honeyman off-gases on his safety stop (Photo by Brittany Tholan), (3) Jake Eisaguirre celebrates America by working on the Fourth of July (Photo by Chris Honeyman), (4) The Gang goes SCUBA diving (Photo by Chuck Dobbins).

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The PISCO dive team has already visited 18 sites in a banging start to the season. The Santa Barbara channel is awash in charismatic megafauna right now such as whales and dolphins. While cool to see, our team has all eyes on kelp and the amazing diversity of creatures that call it home. Here are a few of them.


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Preparation Stage

PISCO divers are in the water and off to rocking start. The team at UCSB has already completed 6 sites with benthic surveys. Stay posted for photos.

What does it take to get the PISCO team into the water for the 20th year of kelp forest monitoring? We start months in advance, selecting the very best students to join the dive team, purchasing and fixing up the gear, and reviewing the protocols that are critical to ensuring consistency from year to year. Two solid weeks of classroom and in water training and the team is off an running!

Expedition Background

Kelp forests are among the most unique and ecologically diverse ecosystems in coastal temperate oceans and are found globally. In the eastern Pacific ocean, they occur from Alaska and Canada to the waters of Baja California in the northern hemisphere, and along the southern coast of Chile in the southern hemisphere. Kelp forests need rocky coastlines where their holdfasts can take anchor, and cool (50 – 64 °F), clear, nutrient rich water to grow. These forests are tiered like a terrestrial rainforest with a canopy and several understory layers below.

Kelp forests of the eastern Pacific coast are dominated by two canopy-forming, brown macroalgae species, giant kelp Macrocystis pyrifera and bull kelp Nereocystis leutkeana. Both species are highly productive. For example, when conditions are ideal, the giant kelp’s average growth in spring can range from 27 to 61 centimeters (10 to 24 inches) per day. These tiered forests create attractive habitat to a diversity of fishes, invertebrates and other algae as refuge from predators and as a source of food.

Much of the extraordinary production of kelp falls to the ocean floor, like leaf litter in terrestrial forests. There, it either remains to support productive and species rich detritus-based forest food webs, or is exported by currents to adjacent ecosystems where it fuels food webs on sandy beaches, deep rocky reefs or submarine canyons. Among the many species that inhabit kelp forests are a wide variety of economically important species such as sea urchins, abalone, lobster, sea cucumbers, rockfishes and other finfishes, as well as some endangered species including abalone and southern sea otters. The kelp itself is harvested to feed abalone in aquaculture facilities and for use in a number of human products. The forests also support economically important eco-tourism, including kayaking, bird and marine mammal watching and scuba diving.

PISCO’s kelp forest monitoring programs are designed to reveal geographic patterns of the structure and functions of this important ecosystem through quantification of the abundance of the macroalgae, invertebrates and fishes that constitute kelp forest communities. Our approach allows us to quantify large- and small-scale spatial patterns of structure of the kelp forest communities as well as characterize changes over time. This information provides insight into the causes and consequences of changes in species abundance resulting from natural and anthropogenic factors and as such forms the basis of ecosystem-based management of kelp forest communities.

Follow along as we undertake our 20th year of kelp forest monitoring.

For more information and to access our protocols and data, go here:

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