Monitoring Marine Debris in Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz MPA Collaborative

Latest update July 10, 2019 Started on June 18, 2018
sea

Dive under the waves to explore, survey, and monitor marine debris in its un-natural habitat, the Monterey Bay.

June 18, 2018
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In The Field

On July 3, we ventured to Natural Bridges State Beach for our 5th dive with Seamore. Little did we know that this particular morning, the swell was VERY large. Deciding to brave the crashing waves, we walked a short distance onto the rocks to find a launch site. We ended up choosing a small inlet, where we tossed Seamore into the surf. With such large waves, Seamore got tossed around quite a bit, moving in and out with the waves despite our directions. The multitude of un-anchored seaweed in the ocean ended up getting tangled in Seamore’s propellers, rendering him unable to be driven. So, we dragged Seamore out, and tried again a few more times.


For a small ROV, Seamore is certainly tough. After getting thrashed against the rocks and pulled this way and that by the surf, Seamore didn’t obtain a single scratch. Our video footage reflected how much Seamore was tossed around, as well as the large amount of seaweed present nearshore. In this video clip, we were able to get a little bit of footage of a beautiful silver fish! Look closely to catch a fleeting glimpse.

After a couple attempts of trying to get Seamore past the crashing waves without success, we decided to move over to the small lagoon on the sand. This area was infinitely more calm, and Seamore had no trouble driving out as far as the tether would allow… that is until the propellors became jammed with seaweed. This continued to happen after we cleaned the propellors and launched Seamore again, so we decided to call it a day.

Looking ahead, we would like to find a way to protect Seamore’s propellors from unanchored seaweed so we don’t have to shorten dives in order to clean them out. Furthermore, our failure to get Seamore past the crashing surf inspired us to try and swim out with Seamore so we can explore deeper water and guide the camera for a smoother video in future dives. Driving the ROV is a learning process, and we are always striving to improve! Stay tuned!

Dive #4 San Lorenzo River (under the trestle bridge by the Boardwalk)
On May 30, 2019 we set out on our 4th dive with Seamore. We picked this location because for three big reasons: 1) the accessibility; 2) the calm water; and 3) the expectation of trash. While the location was easily accessible, the water proved to not be as calm as expected, making it difficult to catch any trash on camera. We think the combination of currents and brackish water are what caused Seamore be a bit more unruly than usual.

When looking over our footage from the dive, we were a little disappointed that we didn’t catch any trash on camera as we were expecting. Don’t get us wrong; not seeing a river filled with trash is a good thing. But, the point of our expedition is to monitor marine debris and we would be naïve to think it’s not out there. This made us think about micro trash. Just because we don’t “see” trash, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Micro trash is a serious issue-- arguably the most serious issue facing our oceans and waterways today. Micro trash refers to any small pieces of trash in the environment that is dangerous to wildlife when ingested. It ranges from cigarette butts to candy wrappers, bottle caps, plastic pieces, styrofoam, glass, etc. Some micro trash can be so small we can’t even detect it with our own eyes… or Seamore! Here are some sobering statistics about micro trash:

  1. 8 million metric tons of plastic are dumped in the ocean annually. Of those, 236,000 tons are microplastics smaller than your fingernail.
  2. There are 5 massive patches of plastic in the oceans around the world. One of the biggest can be found between California and Hawaii, measuring the size of Texas.
  3. Every minute, one garbage truck full of plastic is dumped in the ocean
  4. By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
  5. Many of the fish that we consume have at one time or the other ingested microplastic.
  6. According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, over 100 million marine mammals die every year due to plastic debris in the ocean.
  7. Micro trash is the primary threat to the California Condor, a species already on the brink of extinction.

Check out this map showing where microplastics are found throughout the world. https://www.adventurescientists.org/microplastics.html

At Save Our Shores, we are all about trash! Join one of our many cleanups and do your part in helping to eliminate micro trash from our environment. In the meantime, try to pick up a few pieces of micro trash every time you go outside. This truly makes a difference.

Save Our Shores Cleanup calendar: https://saveourshores.org/eventscalendar/

Check out the websites of the sources we cited for more info: https://keepnaturewild.com/blogs/journal/the-impact-of-micro-trash https://www.earthday.org/2018/04/05/fact-sheet-plastics-in-the-ocean/

Dive #3 Santa Cruz Harbor
On May 2, 2019 we embarked on our third dive with Seamore. To get a better hang of driving the ROV with the remote control, we decided to deploy Seamore from a boat dock in the harbor. The winds were light and the sun was out, making for clear conditions. Our only major hazard was incoming boats, but luckily the harbor was pretty calm during our dive.

The harbor water was clearer than we were expecting, given the amount of boat traffic and dredging. Dredging in the Santa Cruz Harbor takes place from October to April at the entrance channel. Dredging is necessary because of the constant easterly movement of sand along the coast. Strong currents and wave activity are the cause for the large amounts of sand, called littoral drift. The accumulation of littoral drift at the harbor entrance is dredged and deposited in the inter-tidal zones where it is then carried down the coast. Dredging is essential to maintain harbor depth and mitigate wave activity; a hazard to incoming and outgoing vessels.

Back to the dive…. When we got Seamore to the harbor floor, we were surprised to see it covered in little holes. It was like a moon landing! We are pretty sure the holes are from sea crabs, although we aren’t totally sure. The Harbor floor was also quite muddy/sandy, as to be expected. There was minimal debris other than sticks and bits of seaweed. We did encounter what looked to be discarded piping. Check out the video below.

Harbors can harbor (no pun intended) large amounts of waste and pollution. One of the biggest threats to harbor waters is engine oil and fuel spillage. Boat maintenance--cleaning, degreasing and painting--can also harm the water. Debris such as fishing gear, spare parts and basic every day trash can easily end up in the harbor water if not monitored and accounted for. Luckily, since 2007, the Santa Cruz Harbor has been a certified Clean Marina. The Clean Marine Program was developed to ensure clean facilities for boating and to protect waterways from pollution. At Save Our Shores, we also encourage and educate recreational boaters on clean boating practices through our Dock Walkers program. Starting in 1994 and adopted statewide by the California Coastal Commision in 1999, Dock Walkers has been one of our most successful programs to keep our waterways clean.

Towards the end of our dive, a seal was roaming the water not too far from us. Unfortunaby, given our ameatur driving skills, we couldn’t get Seamore close enough to capture any video. Goals for the future!

Check out the websites of the sources we sited for more information: https://www.santacruzharbor.org/ https://eponline.com/articles/2017/03/27/the-environmental-impacts-of-boating.aspx https://saveourshores.org/dockwalkers/

Dive #2 Twins Lake and Crows Nest Café Harbor
Our second dive on April 25th with Seamore was an exciting adventure. After learning from our last expedition that a good diving location is crucial, we decided to submerge off of some rocks by the mouth of the harbor. Because the water was deeper here, we thought that it would be a better location to start our dive, but we still faced issues of kelp, swirling water, and rocks. We didn’t let these setbacks stop us from our goal of finding marine debris. We decided to move to a new location, the calm water in the harbor by a local café. Here is where things got interesting.

We sent Seamore down into the water, which was murky, medium tide, and fairly calm. The ROV lights had to be turned on to see what was under the surface. Then it happened, we found some marine debris! In the video below you will see a cigarette butt laying on the ocean floor. I got a little too excited when I spotted the cigarette butt and accidentally kicked up some sand with the propellers, but I will continue to grow my operator skills with each dive. Before you discount the impact of one cigarette, allow me to inform you on the facts.

According to the American Lung Association there are 7,000 chemicals and 600 ingredients in one cigarette. Some of these harmful substances include arsenic, lead, nicotine, and butane which are used in objects such as rat poison, insecticide, batteries, and lighter fluid. Tobacco Free Life reports that cigarette butts are not biodegradable, but are photodegradable. This means that they will not break down completely, but the sun will break down the butt into very small pieces. The Truth Initiative states that cigarette butts are 98% plastic fibers and account for 1.69 billion pounds of trash per year. They go on to confirm that after 2 years a cigarette butt will only decompose about 38%. Some more dramatic data they provide is that 75% of smokers admit to disposing of their cigarettes on the floor or out the window, adding up to 4.5 trillion cigarettes that are littered each year. This cigarette waste makes up 38% of all collected litter. Proper disposal of cigarettes could help keep our oceans cleaner and safer for marine life, yet this is not the norm for most smokers and cigarette butts easily find their way to the ocean from storm drains, wind, and rivers.

Below you will see our footage of a cigarette laying on the ocean floor.

Check out the websites of the sources we cited for more information: https://www.lung.org/stop-smoking/smoking-facts/whats-in-a-cigarette.html https://tobaccofreelife.org/resources/smoking-wildlife/ https://truthinitiative.org/news/5-ways-cigarette-litter-impacts-environment

Dive #1 Blog Post
We had our first dive on April 16, 2019 at 2:22pm-3:00pm! We went to one of the most popular beaches in Santa Cruz, Cowell’s Beach. Located next to the wharf, we expected to find some debris in the water because our beach clean ups here always result with pounds of trash. Still, our expectations were not too high because this was our first ocean dive after all.

The weather conditions were: 65 degrees, partly cloudy, 50% humidity, and 7 UV index. The tide was low at -0.4. The habitat type was sandy bottom and wind direction/ speed was WNW 10 mph. The Beaufort Scale was 3, which meant large wavelets, crests begin to break, and scattered whitecaps. Some interesting finds we saw where lots of different kelp including pink, green, and spongy kelp.

We learned a few useful tips from this dive:

  1. We need to find better spots to dive into the water. We launched our ROV, Seamore, into the ocean from some rocks right where some waves were breaking because we didn’t have access to a boat or dock. This was not a good place to start the expedition because all the waves made it hard to maneuver and made the materials in the water swirl around too much. Next time we will try to find a calmer place to submerge.

  2. Three people is ideal per dive. Emily was safety person and was knee deep in the ocean looking out for the ROV. Lin was tether manager, making sure we had enough tether to use as well as keeping the tether untangled. I was the operator, so I was driving the ROV and taking videos.

Attached below is our first ocean video we have ever taken! As you can see, the waves and swirling materials made it hard to maneuver, but we still had a great time on our first dive. Save Our Shores is excited to keep progressing towards our goal of discovering marine debris in the Monterey Bay!

Preparation

First things first!
We are happy to announce that our Open Explorer Trident ROV’s name will be: Seamore!!! Thanks to everyone who voted.

I would like to explain all the training and research I have conducted to prepare for our expedition to monitor marine debris in the Monterey Bay. On March 15th 2019 Save Our Shores took Seamore to a MPA Collaborative ROV training and meeting at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center. To find out more about the exploration center go to their website at: https://montereybay.noaa.gov/vc/sec/welcome.html

First, we got a review session on how to use the ROV and its controller. We even got to work with one of the tech developers of the ROV. He explained cool facts like how the ROV needs weights while in salt water and they need to be taken off in freshwater to maintain buoyancy. This is helpful information for when we dive in oceans or rivers. We also learned about the controller and all it’s functions. The controller looks like a mix of popular video game system controllers. All these years of playing video games is going to pay off! We learned how three people per expedition dive is a good number because there are three roles: Operator, Tether Manager, and Safety Person.

The Operator is in charge of using the controller to drive the ROV. They are usually under a blanket for better visibility of the screen and have to focus on moving the ROV, capturing videos, and keeping it out of harm's way. Tether Manager is in charge of dropping the ROV in and out of the water and using the tether. They also have to be able to unravel the tether the right amount in correspondence with the Operator, so the ROV can move smoothly. Safety Person is in charge of pulling in the tether rope when it is getting too tangled in the water. Having three people at each dive will allow everyone to specialize on their task and allow for more safety for the equipment and people involved.

At the training, we got to test drive our ROV in a tank at the center, which was full of fake sea animals and plants. This simulation was a great place to test the three speeds of the ROV, practice taking videos, and overall to see how to use the ROV. I was delighted by the surprisingly clear video quality showing HD details of all the prop creatures in the Exploration Center.

During the meeting I learned the limitations of our research such as: no anchoring and we can only do observational work. I also got to present Save Our Shore’s expedition plan at the meeting. I shared how we plan on using the scientific method to test some hypotheses, our proposed locations and what factors we plan on recording. There were other ideas for Trident use by the meeting attendees including pH, dissolved carbon, and salinity testing. Lastly, we learned at the meeting that ROVs were originally invented to find a lost bomb.

After more research into the early development of the ROV I found the US Navy was a huge funder of the technology’s advancement in the 1960’s to find a nuclear bomb lost in the Mediterranean Sea after the 1966 Palomares B-52 crash according to the Remotely Operated Vehicle Committee of the Marine Technology Society website.

When I got back to the office, I kept my training in mind. I created a diagram of the controller and wrote what each button did such as: tilting, going up and down, recording, lights, moving right and left, as well as indicating the power button and charging port. I read the manual and online forums to research all I could about the equipment, this way I can feel confident when I execute my first “In The Field” dive.

Below is a video we took at the Exploration Center during our first practice dive! Our SOS employee Nia can be seen as well as impressed center visitors, another ROV, and prop ocean creatures in the tank.

We are excited to announce that our Trident is finally here! The whole team was ecstatic to receive the OpenROV today in the mail. Save Our Shores is excited for our next steps to explore the Monterey Bay and the marine debris that lurks below the surface.


Please head on over to our social media sites to vote for the name of our new Trident OpenRov!

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SaveOurShores.org/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/saveourshores/?hl=en

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Save Our Shores is excited to get our ROV to see what trash is accumulating off our local shores of the Monterey Bay. We can’t wait to track our findings and help the local population see the unfortunate truth of marine pollution. We anticipate that our use of the data will help advance our advocacy and education efforts in our community and help inspire other communities across the globe, and we’re inspired by the many other Open Explorer expeditions that are already using the ROV in fascinating ways.


Here are some of our favorites!

  1. Unsettled Waters: Golden Gate MPA Watch is part of the MPA Watch program aiming to monitor human activity and habitat life in the San Francisco Bay and Drakes Estero area. They also focus on educating the public on the importance of marine protection. This expedition has managed to capture captivating videos of large sharks swimming in the waters of the Golden Gate region. Coupled with chilling music these videos are not only entertaining but show how technology is safely allowing humans to get up close and personal with wildlife. This expedition utilizes modern technology, such as iNaturalist and Whale Alert apps to record whale and shark sightings. All their posts are written with an artistic quality, so the reader feels as if they are listening to a thrilling tale. If you want to be educated on marine life and human interaction in Golden Gate area, we would suggest you check this expedition out! Link: https://openexplorer.nationalgeographic.com/expedition/journeytothedevilsteeth

  2. Discovering Mossel Bay’s Secret: Oceans Research and OpenROV was one of the first marine science organizations to use an OpenROV Trident. They are using the ROV to sample fish assemblages in the biodiverse waters of Mossel Bay, South Africa. Their posts are fun to interact with because they sometimes will show videos of fish and have the readers guess the species. They also display the reality of working in the ocean when their fist ROV got broken by a boat propeller; and yes, the ROV’s last moments of survival were captured on camera if you were wondering! This expedition was especially interesting because one team member had 3D printed a GoPro mount to put on the ROV, which later fell off. Here at Save Our Shores we had been thinking about adding attachments to the ROV to help pick up trash from our ocean, so it was supportive to know some one else had attempted this as well. Link: https://openexplorer.nationalgeographic.com/expedition/discoveringmosselbayssecrets

  3. The Aquarius Project: The First Student-Driven Underwater Meteorite Hunt is part of the Adler Planetarium's Far Horizons Program in Chicago, Illinois. This is an exciting Open Explorer expedition because of its amazing background. This expedition was made to find meteorites in Lake Michigan after a green, car-sized, fireball of space rock fell from the sky February 6, 2017, around 1:30 a.m. about 10 miles off the coast of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The Aquarius Project works with NASA scientists, astronomers, and local teenagers to try to find meteorites in the water. This expedition even made it on the local radio for an interview. Unfortunately, on the very first run with the ROV, this expedition found a sunken ship and the ROV got stuck in the wreckage! They were saddened by this happening, until the ROV got discovered by a strange rescue team… who happen to steal and hold the ROV for ransom! Luckily the NOAA or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration helped them get it back and the team continued its journey to find meteorites. These were only some of the exciting happenings from this expedition and we encourage you to look at all their educational and inspiring posts. Link: https://openexplorer.nationalgeographic.com/expedition/rovmeteoritehunt#backgroundStage

Over all, Save Our Shores is excited by the progress and journeys of other expeditions. The interdisciplinary approaches to studying water ecosystems across the globe are not only fascinating, but inspiring for our team. As adventurous scientists and local youth participate in these expeditions, more research is found with ROVs to help protect the oceans and to help inform the public about the animals and plants that lurk below the ocean water. We can’t wait to see what unexpected objects we find with our ROV as we look for trash and pollutants in the Santa Cruz area here in California.

MEET THE TEAM


Julia Anderson- Intern

As a native Californian, the beach has always been a big part of my life. From a young age I would spend every summer swimming in the ocean waters and building elaborate sandcastles decorated with sea glass, shells, and seaweed I would find along the shore. The ocean was always a beautiful place I could go to relax and have fun with my friends and family, that’s why I was drawn to Santa Cruz when it was time to go to college. I am currently a senior at UC Santa Cruz studying Environmental Economics where I learn economic analysis along with the environmental mechanics of resource production and conservation. Save Our Shores stood out to me when I was looking for an internship because of their great work for ocean conservation and local educational programs. As an intern I lead beach cleanups, analyze data, and assist teaching local students about ocean health. I can’t wait to use the ROV to help improve the local ocean’s condition and to research what pollutants are the most abundant. Once we see what trash is in the water, we can send divers to areas of high contamination and collect the harmful rubbish that is hurting local ecosystems. It will be beneficial to see what trash our community needs to work on polluting less while also using what we find as a catalyst for social and political change in the local community of Santa Cruz.

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MEET THE TEAM


Katherine O’Dea- Executive Director

As a nonprofit leader, conservationist, and sustainability expert, Katherine has tackled environmental challenges from coast to coast for the last 25 years. She has worked for environmental organizations including Business Social Responsibility, GreenBlue, and the Nantucket Conservation Foundation. Katherine is an expert on product and packaging sustainability and identifying pathways for abating plastic waste which comprises so much of the debris in our marine environments. At Save Our Shores she focuses on the organization’s vision and strategy and influencing policy to ensure a healthy Monterey Bay now and for decades to come.

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On September 15th, Annual Coastal Cleanup Day, 10 volunteer divers went deep underwater into the Santa Cruz Wharf. They found 8 pounds of trash including: 3 glass bottles, 5 fishing buoys, 2 fishing nets, 104 fishing lines, 6 ropes, 1 lighter, 3 pieces of construction materials, a plastic bucket, batteries, clothing and even a diamond earring! This is eye opening that just one dive session could bring in such a haul.


One of the most alarming findings from that dive was all the fishing gear. Fishing gear can be harmful to the ocean by catching unexpected creatures and killing or injuring them as they get tangled; this is commonly referred to as ghost fishing. The Ghost Fishing Foundation speaks on this problem by explaining that nets, long lines, traps, and all other man-made contraptions used to fish have a chance of ghost fishing for several centuries because of the materials used to produce fishing gear. They go on to declare that hundreds of kilometers of nets and lines get lost annually. Having any species caught in drifting fishing gear can cause a ripple effect of change in the ocean’s natural ecosystems, but when pregnant fish and species on the brink of extinction get ghost fished, their absence has an even more detrimental effect on the ocean’s health. The more fishing gear we collect, the safer the animals will be and ecosystems will have more freedom to flourish.

Once our ROV expeditions are underway we will be able to see the best areas to send divers and thus we will maximize our collection capabilities. After specifying the most condensed areas of trash and marine litter, we hope to send divers to those areas to directly clean up problem areas. This will help avoid wasting divers’ time on generally clean areas. Our ROV expeditions will make clean up diving sessions more efficient and lead to a cleaner ocean.

Picture from NOAA National Ocean Service

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The California Department of Fish and Wildlife defines MPAs, or Marine Protected Areas, as marine or estuarine areas designed to protect or conserve marine life and habitat. MPAs are open to the public for enjoyment and for research, but they have certain requirements to limit total human disturbance. Marine debris affects MPAs by hurting animals and ecosystems, therefore it is crucial we act now to limit the massive amounts of litter humans produce to ensure a healthy ocean.


Although MPAs are regulated to try and minimize human disturbance, plastic pollution and trash still find a way into California MPAs just from everyday life activities. Regulating plastic pollution has become a hot topic in society recently because of the increase in knowledge about plastic pollution. Starbucks plans to ban all disposable plastic straws by 2020 and California’s state-wide plastic bag ban has been in place since 2016. Even though there are these social movements to move away from plastic, the ocean still is full of debris. In fact, according to MPA News, the UN committed its 2018 World Environment Day to the cause of beating plastic pollution.

Our expedition will focus on the Central California MPAs in the Santa Cruz area. Santa Cruz County has two Marine Protected Areas: The Greyhound Rock State Marine Conservation Area and the Natural Bridges State Marine Reserve. If we can pinpoint trash hidden under these water’s surfaces then we can better focus our conservation efforts. We expect to find plastic debris, but we don’t have an idea of the type or source of the debris. Our next step after finding the trash with the ROV, would be to possibly modify the device to collect the debris, use the data to show volunteer divers where the most condensed amount of trash is, and to compare pier and non-pier trash results.

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This expedition is important to not only the Santa Cruz community but for the entire ocean as well. Trash negatively effects the ocean in multiple ways such as hurting animals and leaching chemicals into the ocean that harm ecosystems. Save Our Shores mini-ROV expedition will illuminate trash under the surface.


A diagram created by the Santa Clara Valley Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention Program clearly shows that littler gets into creeks from daily human sources. This is important because all creeks flow into the ocean. By identifying common types of trash with our mini-ROV, we will then be able to better guess what sources are most contributing to pollution. Lastly the image depicting transport of plastics throughout the environment shows just how closely trash is integrated into the ocean from the surface to the ocean floor. Save Our Shore's goal is to use our mini-ROV to find what trash is most common.

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Although we do not have our ROV, we have created some steps to get us ready towards our first expedition. We want to survey the amount of marine debris in the water by using transects. We will visit 5 beaches where we will launch our ROV. The best time to gather data will be after a busy summer weekend, holidays, and when the tide is low.


These are the next steps towards our expedition:

  1. Get the ROV
  2. Learn how to use it
  3. Come up with a plan and a testable question
  4. Visit 5 beaches with piers that can be easily accessible to launch ROV
  5. Collect information
  6. Review data/ videos
  7. Analyze the results
  8. Inform results

Possible next steps would be:

  1. Modify the ROV to collect debris
  2. Work with local volunters divers to collect trash
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Expedition Background

Is there trash in Monterey Bay? We sure think so. Studies have show plastics in every part of the ocean in every part of the world, from the open ocean surface down into the sediment on the ocean floor, even in arctic and antarctic sea ice! With a mini ROV we will soar through our near-coast habitats surveying marine debris using our current data cards. From there, the possibilities are endless! Stay tuned for the scientific plan...

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