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Santa Rosa Island Research

November 11 2014
Ongoing subtidal and intertidal research on Santa Rosa Islands, part of the Channel Island Marine Sanctuary and Channel Island National Park.

November 11 2014


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Name: Paul Spaur
Account ID: 799110778

Mission Underway

The team is finally getting settled back into repair, design and build mode after spending a combined 3 weeks deploying ROVs on Santa Rosa Island. The total combined deployments between the MPA transects, subtidal/intertidal transects and fun dives have given us a total of over 120 dives with our new 2.7 units. The majority of the dives were done with our two transect duty ROVs: The Remote Underwater Mariner (RUM) and the black Pearl. We've learned quite a bit from using them on such regular intervals.

Lessons learned:

The motors need to have a strain relief on the copper windings to prevent breakage of the wire and subsequent shorting.
We used hot glue to better attach the windings to the rear of the stator, avoiding getting glue on the rotor and interfering with the motor mounts.

The ROV should always be slightly positively buoyant, we use the hold depth function which works great for running transects.
On one of the last 60 meter transects, our ROV's tether became completely and utterly tangled in kelp due to heavy surge. Harsh conditions and attempts to pilot out of the tangled mess resulted in the tether being severed at 30 meters from the launch site, because the ROV was slightly positively buoyant, we were able to retrieve the ROV!

The out of the box balancing of our ROVs needed to have some ballast adjustment because of the tendency to pitch forward on straight transects.
The video transects we perform require a higher quality video, so we use two GoPro cameras, a forward one and a downward facing one. We mount them on a 3D printed rail system that Paul designed, with PVC skids for protection (the side outrunners are for the intertidal system.) The rail allows for adjustment of position for balance and ballast. Some additional high density closed cell foam floats from fishing nets were used to offset the weight, and provide more buoyancy in the rear.

The topside adapter needs to be fully sealed off one of ours died due to corrosion from sea water splash, and moist conditions.
We have a pelican box with a battery powered wi-fi access point, the wires pass through holes we drilled and then filled with hot glue.

Two absolute necessities for repeated deployments are a tether management reel (a commercially available slip ring works well to allow the spinning) and if working in uncovered areas, a laptop shade!

See and read more on our blog at


So great to hear! Excited to see the video, too!

I am amazed that the tether actually broke! Nice work with the recovery.

The glare issue is elegantly solved with something like this pop up shade for a laptop:

Sounds like Paul could design and cut one out pretty quickly!

In complete contrast with last trip to Santa Rosa Island, things have gone quite well! The rest of our intertidal team arrived and brought us a patch kit for the boat, and it’s holding air!

We have been testing our intertidal ROV, the Black Pearl, and it has passed through every test that we’ve thrown at it with flying colors.

Pearl has a set of PVC skids and ballasts which also serve connection points for the intertidal rig. There is an accessory rail with a top down gopro camera, and a second at a 45 degree angle down and forward. Due to the extra weight, additional floats were necessary, but the ROV flies perfectly flat, and straight!

The intertidal system is necessary because there is often a lot of wave action in the shallow subtidal and intertidal zone, and the area is covered in rocks. It would be too dangerous to send in divers, so sending in an ROV is ideal, but running a straight transect is very difficult.

Our system was designed by Paul and uses a gondola, or track/rail set which attaches in the mid intertidal zone via two monofilament lines. The ROV is then launched from offshore by boat or kayak.

The boat / kayak setup is being designed to allow two National Park Service Intertidal Ecologists to carry one unit, place it on a kayak (their method of travelling between sites) and run their subtidal to intertidal transects after performing the intertidal surveyss. It consists of an aluminum frame with two ocean fishing reels with 150lb test line, a tether reel (with slip ring for tangle free operation) and a Ipad mount. The Ipad is in a submersible case, and provides GPS location, along with ROV control (currently not functioning due to software issues, so a tough book is being used.)

We first tested it by launching it at the pier to prove the concept, and the ROV scooted perfectly along the lines!

Next we took the boat out and ran the lines from the boat to the pier, and yet again Pearl ran it with no problems!

Finally, today was the real test, the system was deployed in the intertidal site. The setup worked very well, there was a wall of sea grass which caused us to need to extend the transect lines back further, but Pearl pushed through the sea grass no problem.

See more pictures on our blog at


Wow! I am so impressed by this setup! I know a bunch of explorers who could use the same setup but haven't engineered one yet. This is great! Can't wait to see some of the footage!

Thanks Erika! It took a lot of tweaking to have it work correctly, and it still needs more. I plan on sharing how I set up everthing once I get it all solidified!

The Marine Protected Area survey is run by team member Chris, it consists of 20, 40, 60 and 100 meter line transects. The pier on Santa Rosa is the dividing line where the Carrington Point MPA starts, which makes it the perfect place to deploy the ROV. We have the tether marked with distance, and floats. The 100 meter transects require our inflatable boat because the length of the tether will not permit it.

The MPA transects have been going very well, we have been seeing tons of fish! The visibility has been the best that we’ve seen it. We had a harbor seal come up and give the ROV a friendly bump!

After our hike around the island, we went to get the boat inflated so we could start doing the longer distance MPA transects, only to find out that it had been damaged in transit and had a few holes! We sent out an email immediately to other researchers that were heading to the island and they pick up a patch kit for us thankfully!

Later worked on one of our new units, Leviathan, which has the Blue Robotics T100 thrusters. We had to add some buoyancy to make it neutrally buoyant. It had a great first dive.

It still needs some more balancing, when heading full forward it dives, we found that the front is a bit too buoyant still and we were able to do water breaches!

See more pictures on our blog at


Hey! Great work!
The reason behind the 'diving down' when the ROV goes forward could be behind the positioning of the props.
I assume you talk about the one with the blue robotics thrusters, right? So if the thrusters are too high that means they push the unit down when you go forward.
- Dominik

Hi Dominik, thanks for the words of encouragement! They are indeed the Blue Robotics thrusters, we mounted them as far forward and mounted the height at which the normal thrusters were. I think we may have added a bit too much buoyancy to the rear, but we have been working on more pressing matters like our MPA survey ROV and our intertidal survey ROV, this one was just for backup/fun, but we will be playing with it more after this trip.

After a full month, we are back on the island! Last time we were plagued with issues. We lost out satellite internet half way through the week, and both of our 2.6 units went down due to motor controller and motors blowing out. This time we have three 2.7 units and one 2.6, as well with many more tools and supplies.

The majority of the team is now Santa Rosa Island. We have a great ride aboard the ship, The Ocean Ranger, courtesy of the National Park Service. We arrived and immediately consumed work space with numerous toolboxes, parts, and ROVs.

The MPA survey team arrived a week earlier, and things have been going very well, despite some hangups. Team members Chris and Blake have completed in the neighborhood of 30 transects and will continue to collect data over the next week.

There is still work to be done on the intertidal unit with new reels, but we are making some great progress and will be hopefully be testing it on Thursday.

Read more and see pictures on our blog at


Love it! I'm looking forward to seeing how your surveys go! And to see that great (read crazy looking!) ROV in the water!

Team members Paul and Jay have arrived at Santa Rosa Island Research Station and met with team members Blake and Chris. We were greeted with a pleasant surprise — the station now has highspeed internet! Blake and Chris are continuing to work on the fish studies, during the first week, they solidified their study dynamics, and have now settled on the methods of data collection. Since then, we have run into a few issues with OpenROV #2 (SCOOP), but they have been solved and the ROV is back into action! Stay tuned for a dedicated post on the fish study and videos!

The intertidal team has finished 3 of the 4 permanent site markers for doing photo surveys of sea stars, limpets, crustaceans and oceanic plant-life. We have selected the sites to do the subtidal to intertidal transects. Our team leader, Paul, designed a new body for the OpenROV to stand up to the rigors of the rocky intertidal zone, and made a 3D printed set of thruster mounts which insert tightly into the PVC connectors, and then are bolted in. We are also making a “track” system using shore lines to do subtidal into intertidal transects.The repurposed OpenROV that runs on a set of tethered lines is in the final stages of assembly. The system launches from a kayak or inflatable boat and will be launched 50 meters off shore.

Read more on our blog at


Wow, that looks like an awesome FrankenOpenROV!

After a brief holiday hiatus, we are back! Though we have been quiet on social media outlets, we have been hard at work. Quantitative testing of ROV attributes has begun, and the OpenROVs have undergone some changes. There has been a complete redesign of the OpenROV platform which will allow the ROV to safely navigate the rough waters in the rocky intertidal zones.

Immediately following the new year, team members Blake and Chris headed to Santa Rosa Island for a week long expedition. Our wonderful partners, the National Park Service, kindly transported our team to the Channel Islands aboard their boat, Ocean Ranger. The team will be deploying our OpenROV #2 (SCOOP) and studying the fish populations and evaluating the Carrington Point Marine Protected Area (MPA), to assess for the efficacy of the MPA. The next week team members Jay and Paul arrived on the island to deploy OpenROV #1 (Bucket) on subtidal and intertidal research.


Glad to hear you're project is back. I'm looking forward to seeing the modifications and redesigns you've done to the ROV. I'll be sending my ROV out in a difficult area just below the intertidal zones. Any insight from your planning would be helpful.

Very cool Paul! Excited to see what comes next!

Thanks for the update! Looks like a great research vessel, are they offering to let you deploy the ROVs from the ship or just to transport you to the island?

For you and for Michael @neexplorers: My simplest suggesting for using the ROV in the inter tidal is to add fishing bobbers to the tether! Craggy rocks love to snag the tether and cause entanglements or breaks in the line. If you have the budget, I recommend adding a fault finder to your toolbox. Fixing a break in the tether is simple, finding it something takes a bit of time. A tool like this one: will tell you exactly how many feet away the fault in the cable is from either end. It's rad, I love it.

Thanks for the tips Erika! the area we'll be looking for the remains of a wreck is very rocky and can have rough surf. The tether getting snagged was a concern of ours. You're right, a fault finder would come in handy. I'll start shopping for one so we'll have it on hand long before we encounter any issues.

@Erikabergman We haven't had the budget yet, but we're working on getting a powerprobe, it has a fault finder integrated in it! The boat is a utility boat which usually shuttles supplies, we have an inflatable and a kayak to launch from, as well as a pier on the island.

@Michael Girad, we would be happy to share what we do with you! We don't have a 2.7 which I know has a MUCH stronger chassis, but since we have the 2.6 we opted to make a PVC body because with triangulation they're pretty strong, and also cheap and easy to replace pieces in the field.

The team returned again to the Santa Rosa Research station. After the last trip being mostly for scouting, the team performed a more rigorous setup of the new proposed intertidal monitoring site.

Unfortunately on this trip, the majority of the time spent was on set up of the main monitoring site, the first deployment of the ROV was hindered by a VERY large grouping of sea grass, which became wound in our thrusters. One of the forward bearings popped out and we found out the hard way that we didn't have the Allen head wrench to repair the problem. We attempted a field fix that night, but it ended up in a downward spiral of a test dive!

Video to come soon!


Sea grass is a constant struggle in the intertidal. We faced the same issue on . Out students attempted to screen the props with produce bags, to some success. The tether seems to be the biggest issue. So much drag. Perhaps if you attached a number of fishing floats at regular intervals, the tether would stay above the anchors of the seagrass. Other ideas are welcome! It's a common struggle.

That's very similar to what we did! We used drywall tape and made a grill for the entire back and top. It worked out alright except that the damaged thruster sidelined us. We do have a tether float system where we use air filled balls every few meters and then leave a "leash" at the end.

We're thinking of launching from an inflatable boat to get past the initial accumulation of sea grass.

Preparation Stage

The two OpenROVs, "Bucket" and "Scoop" went out to beautiful Santa Rosa Island in Channel Islands National Park this weekend with the intertidal research team and visited the new Santa Rosa Island Research Station. The team is attempting to incorporate looking at the subtidal zone as well as intertidal monitoring. Due to gale force winds all weekend, the team experienced choppy conditions making for poor visibility in the water, and the trip was mostly to scout the sites.

Read more at our blog or facebook at:

Expedition Background

The Intertidal Ecology research team at CSU Channel Islands is a multi-disciplinary group which has members in Biology and Environmental Science. The AARR is working with the Intertidal Ecology team to utilize Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) in adding subtidal in with the intertidal transects. These surveys will be looking at sea stars, muscles, limpets, marine plant life and more. The sea stars are of particular interest because of the Sea Star Wasting Syndrome which has decimated the population. (

National Park Service (NPS) scientists have developed an intertidal ecological assessment protocol over the past 20 years which they use to sample dozens of sites across the island chain to document the health of our island ecosystem. Our Intertidal Ecology team is currently establishing and surveying two new monitoring sites on Santa Rosa Island (SRI) and they will eventually be proposed to be incorporated in the existing network.

An ecosystem is various biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) factors of an area. Ecology is the study of these factors and their interactions. Ecology researchers will make sites which are fully surveyed in topography, elevation, GPS location, grid measurements, (called transects using large tape measurers) and type of ground. The different levels of the intertidal zone are categorized by the following levels: splash zone(little water exposure), high, mid and low tide zones, and finally subtidal.

After the site is fully surveyed the team uses randomly set rectangles within each part of the zone known as "plots" or "quadrats". A picture is taken of each plot, and then later examined for how many and of what types of different species. With the plots being random, they can be used to use a mathematical equation to estimate the population sizes, how much diversity and with repeated surveying, changes can be seen over time, and can help identify key changes in the ecosystem.

The subtidal area is a difficult place to monitor because it is very rocky and often has a lot of waves, which makes it dangerous for divers to go there. Also a lot of the sites on the Channel Islands are very remote and often require long hikes. Our team is working on strengthening and modifying our ROVs to handle these rigors. As seen in the previous video, the OpenROV is small enough to fit in a backpack, which is very important as one our sites is a 7 mile hike, and after we're dropped off by boat, we are limited to where we can walk to.

Read more at our blog or facebook at: