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Humboldt MPA Collaborative: Tracking Sea Star & Kelp Abundance at Trinidad, California

March 30 2018

One project that the Humboldt MPA (Marine Protected Area) Community Collaborative will use their Trident mini-ROV for is working with students to monitor the abundance of sea stars and bull kelp off Trinidad, California.

Sea Star Wasting Syndrome (SSWS) has caused a huge decline in the populations of sea stars on the U.S. West Coast. Trinidad, California was one of the first locations where SSWS was noted.

Bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) is another important and conspicuous species that has declined along much of the North Coast in recent years. Kelp provides vital structure as well as food for many species including fish and abalone. Fortunately, the kelp around Trinidad has not declined as much as it has further south off of Mendocino.

We will use the Trident mini-ROV to record video of the same underwater transect repeatedly over time. The videos will be reviewed to obtain data on sea star and kelp abundance. This will provide data, as well as a video record of the change in sea star abundance over time – which will provide insight into the status of bull kelp and whether sea star populations are recovering.

March 30 2018


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Expedition Background

The goal of this project is to track the change in sea star and bull kelp abundance over time from the pier at Trinidad, California. This is important because both are ecologically important but have recently declined in abundance. The populations of many sea star species (which are important predators on rocky reefs) have plummeted along much of the West Coast as a result of Sea Star Wasting Syndrome (SSWS). Trinidad was one of the first places where SSWS was seen.

Bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) has recently declined in abundance along much of California's North Coast, particularly along Mendocino County. Kelp provides habitat and food for a broad range of species including fish, abalone, and urchins. The kelp around Trinidad has not declined as much as the Mendocino area, but monitoring its abundance will be valuable.

We will use the Trident mini-ROV to repeatedly collect video along an underwater transect. Data on sea star and kelp abundance will be collected by carefully reviewing each video. This project will provide a hands-on learning experience for high school and college students who will get to pilot the Trident and then review the video they've taken to gather data from it.

The initial steps in this project will be:

1) Receive the Trident mini-ROV and then project leaders practicing and getting used to running it.

2) Refine sampling plan based on experience with ROV and its capabilities.

3) Research divers set up an underwater transect for the ROV to follow.

4) Start working with students to conduct research with the ROV!