Seastar Wasting Syndrome SurveyAugust 1 2014
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Proof of concept... #360 TRIDENT as seastar survey tool!
Before embarking on any adventure, I like to complete a proof of concept for whatever shenanigan I am up to. In this case, it is testing the OpenROV TRIDENT as filmmakers assistant and #360video survey tool.
This Monday I got to do something i've been dreaming of for over a year now! I got to test out shooting 360 video with a TRIDENT ROV!
In preparation for the coral bleaching and restoration portion of the film, Cloudbreak, it became clear that being able to survey larger areas of the reef before jumping in with the 360 cameras would be super helpful. So I figured, why not do double duty and do a quick Seastar wasting syndrome survey while we were at it!
Last time we surveyed the Passenger ferry pier at Cove 2, we noted basically zero seastars and a multitude of tiny urchins. This time... No stars, and no urchins.
I'd chatted with Zack from OpenROV about catching up when he was in town, but we hadn't really nailed down and exact date until last week. I'd been wracking my brain about 'optimal' set up for a 360 flying ROV. Would it be pole out front, would it be the 3 camera array mounted on top, the options were numerous.
In the interest of efficiency and utilizing stuff I already had sitting around the house (and limited options on hand for mounting brackets etc) i figured why not give the method that Kodak Pixpro already uses for flying on aerial drones. With the original OpenROV that wouldn't be a real option due to shape, but with the new TRIDENT, its slim and trim design could work.
So we opted to use the standard mounts (luckily I found two in my random accessories drawer) one on top, one on the bottom and hope for the best. I knew going into it that the stitch would be a bit of a challenge, considering loss of FOV with the small dome ports and parallax from the distance between cameras (less of an issue on a drone because everything is so far away) but figured if this is just for surveys and not for client footage, that what the heck, why not do a proof of concept!
With Zach and Dominic in town, there was no better time than the present! We met up at Cove 2 as the passenger ferry was fortuitously not running, and got started! Introductions to the Trident were made, if you are familiar with the earlier generation OpenROV, this is basically worlds apart. The TRIDENT really is what the Phantom Drone was for aerial, it is stunning. The build quality is top shelf, it is robust and magnificently easy to master the controls. This immediately boosted my confidence.
Once the cameras were securely mounted on the TRIDENT we removed the saltwater weights as the Kodak Pixpro's are a little negative and got started!
The trim compensation worked well to level the TRIDENT out, even though she was nose heavy from the cameras, in future tests I'll probably make some little syntactic foam floats for the top camera, as although trim compensation worked well, I'd like to keep her floating in trim comfortably as that makes for more stable footage which is necessary for a good 360 viewing experience.
We flew the TRIDENT #360 around for a good half an hour which was a blast. Again, if you have only experienced the earlier models of OpenROV, you REALLY need to give this a try, seriously night and day. Sadly my lenses fogged up on the Kodak housings (humidity and all can be a bear in the summer) but luckily I still managed to get a fair bit of usable footage which will be uploaded shortly.
While you are waiting, here are a few pictures!
SSWS is still active in Mid Puget Sound. Leather stars are prevalent (they are more resistant to the virus) and there are small sunflower stars but no medium or large. When small sunflowers reach a bit larger than hand size they seem to contract the disease and waste away as seen at the end of this video. The mystery six armed star makes another appearance :)
Continuing to explore new ways to communicate the underwater world of the Emerald Sea, we had the opportunity (huge thanks to http://www.scubaboard.com) to test out a www.360heros.com 360VR system to film a recent storm drain excursion and seastar survey. I have not completed stitching the 360 footage together yet but in the meantime here is a short "making of" video for your enjoyment. You will see a couple of Pisaster in the video, but for the most part, we are not seeing recovery of Pisaster or Pycnopodia at my survey sites :(
If you are a scuba diver or OpenROV pilot and notice urchins with their spines falling off, please #sickstarfish #sickurchin or #urchinwasting (any of these will work) to an instagram picture of the beach where you observed it and note in the comments what you observed. Make sure location services is on so that your post will be geotagged.
Please continue to report on seastar wasting disease as well, as with summer coming we are expecting to see an uptick in the disease.
Visited the Alki Junkyard in West Seattle spent a fair bit of time investigating a set of pilings from an old pier that used to be covered in Sea Stars. No sea stars on the pilings and no sunflower stars or mottled stars in the eelgrass bed or on the top of the shelf before the slope. There was a fair bit of current and i had almost all my cable out which had a bit of drag. Looking forward to getting back out during or closer to slack.
Seastar wasting disease has hit Constellation Park (Alki Point) in West Seattle very hard. In 2011 beach naturalists counted >600 pisaster in a set transect within the park boundaries down to a -2 tide. This fall their counts were showing all time low at 28 pisaster counted within the park boundaries.
It is no wonder that I found zero Pisaster on the intertidal rocks on my first exploration of this site with my OpenROV.
After a long week or two of freezing weather and a big bad norwester storm passing through I finally got out to survey a new site! Because we have topside data on Constellation park, I decided to survey the large rocks and boulders in the near shore. I knew I wouldn't find much, but I was more interested in "could I find the boulders and investigate them" to which the answer was a resounding YES! With the repairs completed I was able to hold a steady course today which helped when running a grid pattern. I was able to find large rocks and descend on them and visualize a lack of sea stars, where there once would have been numerous individuals.
I deployed at the base of the ramp that leads to the beach. I did not make it over to the rocky reef to the left (which leads to the opening of a large pipeline) but still was able to visit a nice rocky area approx 200' off shore and to a max depth of about 15'.
On my last outing with the OpenROV, I noted that steering seemed a bit wonky. I attributed it to my poor piloting skills but as luck would have it, it seems it was not my fault (this time).
After attempting to re-callibrate and re-program the starboard ESC I noted it acting glitchy. Even my minimal knowledge of electronic-y type stuff knows that glitchy acting stuff can mean a wire that has a bad connection, or too much connection to something it shouldn't.
Luckily I have an iFixit set which has exactly the right size driver for the ESC, and i had it open in no time flat. What to my wondering eyes should appear but two of the wires had bare spots. I pulled out the liquid electrical tape and sealed them up and voila! all better!
Of course now my servo is giving me a bit of grief but I'll leave that for another day :)
To help my steering and also in the case of letting kids drive I picked up a Logitech F310 gamepad. So far its been plug and play, i spent a bit of time after the fixing of the wiring to sort out this new fangled accessory. Talk about gamification!
For comparison we went out later in the day on scuba with our cameras, here is same sea star. Its not a fair comparison really, as I shoot with a Sony EX1 in a Gates housing with a Fathom dome port, and my OpenROV was a bit fogged up.
In general though, the ROV did a good job. I found one other large Pisaster on scuba that i did not manage to see with the ROV, but that is due to some steering problems I encountered due to a wire short in my starboard ESC. (problem now fixed)
#sickstarfish is still working it's magic. Last night after our Whale Trail monthly Guest Speaker Series, one of the long time volunteers who has been doing sea star counts out at Constellation park in West Seattle for many years gave me an update.
The news wasn't so good, there are fewer and fewer pisaster and they are still showing signs of wasting disease even though the weather and water has cooled off dramatically. There are some sunflower star and mottled star recruits but they still don't seem to be maturing past about 4-5 inches in diameter.
On the bright side, when I sent the data in to Dr. Harvell not only was she very grateful for the observations, but she said that the paper we've all been waiting on with baited breath should be published next week!!! Finally, some answers are coming... I don't expect we'll have solutions, but answers will help...
I'm hoping to get out to the same site and investigate with my OpenROV in the next few days to investigate the sub-tidal. Then will compare with scuba at same site to judge efficacy of sea star surveys with OpenROV.
Glued some bits of syntactic foam to my @OpenROV to help counteract the slightly larger, denser batteries... (went with NiMH's vs LiPO)
two of the StiX's arm floats work perfectly and the inner inserts (for my ultralight arms that hold them in place seem to make the difference between salt and fresh (or I can stuff a couple corks in the holes) :)
Our voices have been heard in Washington D.C.!!!
For Immediate Release
September 18, 2014
Puget Sound Recovery Caucus proposes bill to find solutions to sea star wasting syndrome and other marine disease emergencies
Congressman Denny Heck unveils Marine Disease Emergency Act to establish official emergency process through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
WASHINGTON, D.C. – To address the sea star wasting syndrome and other major marine disease emergencies, this week Representative Denny Heck (WA-10) and the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus introduced the Marine Disease Emergency Act. The proposed legislation would establish a framework for declaring and responding to a marine disease emergency, and to provide the science community with the resources to proactively protect marine ecosystems from being irreparably damaged by cascading epidemics.
The Marine Disease Emergency Act establishes a declaration process for the Secretary of Commerce, acting through the Administrator of NOAA, to declare a marine disease emergency. The proposed bill outlines the factors needed for a 120-day rapid response plan, including the necessary engagement of individuals and entities at federal, regional, state and local levels to assist in a coordinated and effective response aimed at minimizing the impacts and preventing further transmission. The legislation also requires a post-emergency report detailing current disease status and providing recommendations for improving responses to future marine disease emergencies.
The Marine Disease Emergency Act establishes a national data repository to facilitate research and link different datasets from across the country, as well as a “Marine Disease Emergency Fund” under Treasury in order to accept donations from the public and the industry.
“Sea stars do not function underwater in a vacuum,” said Representative Denny Heck, who represents the South Puget Sound area. “They are in fact a keystone species vital to the ecosystem. When these species face an epidemic, we must engage the scientific community in an organized, rapid-response approach to determine what can be done to halt the damage to our oceans. This could be a sign of a deeper problem.”
Professor Drew Harvell of Cornell University, who studies the ecology and evolution of coral resistance to disease, expressed support for the new policy, saying "Disease outbreaks of marine organisms are predicted to increase with warming oceans and so it’s very welcome to see legislation like the Marine Disease Emergency Act introduced."
"When you pierce the surface of our picturesque water vistas, what's underneath is not OK. We have sea stars that are wasting away, pulling themselves apart and limbs disappearing from their bodies. That is not OK. And it's only getting worse," said Sheida Sahandy, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership. "We need the ability to respond to these kinds of emergencies as quickly as we would an earthquake or a hurricane. This action creates the support for the kind of nimble response that is required in order to react to fast-acting threats to our ecosystem."
Representatives Heck and Kilmer co-founded the Congressional Puget Sound Caucus last year to reflect their commitment to preserving the Puget Sound. The caucus is the only Congressional working group devoted exclusively to promoting Puget Sound cleanup efforts, and builds on the legacy left by former Congressman Norm Dicks, a longtime advocate for the health of the Puget Sound. The caucus continues to be focused on promoting the three region-wide Puget Sound recovery priorities: preventing pollution from urban stormwater runoff, protecting and restoring habitat, and restoring and re-opening shellfish beds.
Kati Rutherford, 202-226-4013
Tomorrow I will be meeting up with Erika Bergman and Christine Spiten to see how an ROV survey compares to a diver survey.
Additionally i'm very excited to shoot some video of the OpenROV's underwater whilst they run transects.
We will be meeting at the site i've been documenting for the past year (Seacrest Cove 1) which as of the last couple weeks has been showing an uptick in wasting disease in the mottled sea star recruits.
An article I co-authored with the AMAZING Dr. Drew Harvell last year about sick sea stars and starless nights.
My ROV is SO CLOSE to being done. Just doing pressure testing to the e-chassis and battery tubes over the weekend. Ordered some sweet NiMH cells (and made battery tubes to fit them) so just waiting for them to arrive and then we can commence with Sea Star Wasting Syndrome Surveys.
Went out on Scuba a couple days ago and noticed that although there were lots of baby mottled stars, that they are dying before they reach full size. :(
The sea star wasting syndrome has now been observed all the way out to Neah Bay. Waiting to hear back of Tatoosh is impacted. Tatoosh island is where Dr. Paine's original keystone species work was carried out.
Read more about that here:
Yesterday I persevered soldering the ESC's to the board. My mentor and electronics teacher decided that the wire used in them was not ideal and the solder actually needs to be on the top of the board as opposed to underside, as the connection to the circuit is what needs to be soldered. These little motors are high draw so having best connection possible is ideal. So I get to do more soldering today :). I'm not complaining mind you, I'm delighted for opportunity to learn and improve...
Here is the latest update... I'm heading back over in a bit to resolder..
The craptastic wiring on all three ESC's has been replaced with Mil-Spec. silver/copper Teflon coated wire and low temperature (normal 60/40) solder.
They used a low lead solder witch raises the melt temps. to very high levels, which is very bad for electronics. Good for home water pipes.......
In addition to that the little PCB's are thick copper for high heat transmission, so they were a handful to rework.
The three units are ready to be soldered back on to the main board.
We started first round of testing electronics today... servo motor, check! lights, check! motor controller, Check!
Also looking at some ways to improve the design and potential longevity of the system.
1) brass adaptors for prop <-> shaft interface
2) removed the steel ball bearings and replaced with brass bushings (puget sound is saltwater)
3) treating the motors with light coat of varnish to help environmentally seal them a bit more
4) making some centering plugs instead of using the syringe bits
5) plugging one end of the e-chassis by swiveling some of the parts around, no need for potting the second hole
6) making an actual pressure relief plug that is o-ring sealed (tomorrow's project)
photo album of work so far here: diverlaura.smugmug.com/OpenROV-26-build
Note in the image, counter-rotating props FTW!
Up and down the Pacific Coast, starfish are dying by the tens of thousands and no one knows why. Special correspondent Katie Campbell reports from Seattle on how researchers and citizen scientists are investigating the spread of the mysterious and distressing syndrome.
Citizen Scientists in Seattle are exploring the benefits of doing video transect surveys with the help of OpenROV. By doing this, we believe that citizen scientists can be even more useful in helping the scientists studying the syndrome.
Currently the data reported is either via scuba divers or beach walkers. We envision an army of ROV's in the hands of curious citizen scientists no longer limited by the barriers of entry to scuba diving, no longer limited by the dividing line between land and sea. Now the citizen scientist can follow their interest beyond the intertidal range and collect relevant data beneath the surface.