May 31, Wednesday – With harbor work continuing, we chose to dive this morning (noon) at east landing. We have done several dives here to date, but all necessary to check out this area for suitability of future tethering experiments next year along with possible enhancement of blue king crab in the future. Thus, we spent this dive going north into the landing cove, a direction we had yet to take off the landing. We found that our large boulder habitat began to give way to sandy sea floor once into the cove. And interestingly the boulders near the edge were covered in yellow encrusting sponges which are a beautiful sight to see! Later in the afternoon, Carl St. John arrived on the PM flight and was picked up from the airport. He is set to stay and dive with us for just over two weeks. We are glad to add him to the team as a collaborator with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Once together, we attended a Tribe assembled Community orientation meeting at the community center. This was a short presentation to new folks on the island; introducing the who, what, where, why and historical significance of the peoples, animals and resources found on the island.
May 30, Tuesday – After yesterday’s success and a sense of accomplishment, we were OK with the fact the city needed the Lunax to start the small boat harbor dock placement. This is anticipated for 4-5 days. Plus, the seas started to pick up a bit and the Lunax didn’t really have enough remaining fuel to go out today. Thus we chose to try a new shore dive site in the afternoon west of Antone Lake at Zapadini Point. This is outside the established fur seal rookery and seabird nesting sites on the point, but we were glad to check this site out prior to the summer animal rush! All three of us (Alex, Chris, and myself) geared up for a short, but boulder-filled, trek to the shore. Once in the water, we found a bit of a surprise in the near complete bedrock habitat all the way out to about 30ft depths. There was some Laminaria sp. understory kelp, but over all we could just observe the intensity and velocity at which currents move throughout this cove. Very little blue king crab habitat was observed, and our short searches only revealed decorator crabs (Oregonia gracilis) and scale crabs (Dermaturus mandtii).May 29, Monday – After our first day getting things wet yesterday, we set out for a full day on the water with Charles, myself, Chris and Alex. This was our golden opportunity to place our remaining 2/3rds of glaucothoe collectors around the island prior to the city crews placing the small harbor floating docks. Today, we have a number of sites off the Northeast and Northwest sections of St. Paul Island. In total with 7 hours on the water, we placed 5 “shallow” depth transects in dive-able depths and another 6 “deep” sites with 3 moorings a piece. Our transit in the morning was a little bumpy, with 5-7 foot seas, but it calmed down nicely by noon and our first sampling stations. Additionally, after underway, current was very noticeable around the island as many of our buoys were sucked underwater after placement. Most had plenty of slack line, so I guess we’ll just have to be particular about tides and currents when we go to pull these collectors out in August. Almost everything was pulled of without a hitch, minus the loss of one mooring block after the line was sheared going out. At the end of the day, we now have in place 96 collectors bags to test blue and red king crab recruitment to the sea floor.
May 28, Sunday – We got the call! Charles and rest of our crew head to the City Firehouse to finish getting the boat ready for launch. We are so excited (until we started lugging those 62lb cement footing blocks around)! After everything was ready, Frank, our Caterpillar front end loader operator, arrived; we were off down the half mile stretch of road to the boat ramp. The Lunax was in by 12:01, only one minute late off Charles’s estimate. There we put in and started loading our gear. After a quick lunch and final gear gathering trip, we were off to place all of our glaucothoe collectors around Otter Island and one off East Landing near town. For the first time out, we were very happy with the trip! Everything was accomplished that we set out to complete in a half day, and we tested “Sheila” the camera system for the first time!May 27, Saturday – And so we wait… We are glad it’s Saturday and a little bit of a relaxing day. After spending last night helping Captain Charles locate and load all the Lunax safety gear and finishing up our gear prep, we sit tight waiting for the mechanics to finish up the engine annual maintenance… We spent the morning reviewing all of our data sources from our 1983/84 historical data, 2016 Pilot study data, and methodological approach to make final decisions on sampling stations! It was a fun exercise putting our data on to our project iPad for use in the field! After lunch, we received updates from Charles, some of us went for a run, some watched a movie or two, and others made snacks for the boat ride tomorrow!
May 26, Friday – Finishing up the gear preparation was an amazing step today! “Sheila”, our drop camera system is finished and looks amazing. Great job, Alex, over the last several days completing this task! Meanwhile, Chris and I use the morning through mid-afternoon to mark off our eight shallow water transect lines with meter designations. Those include 5 meter marks over our 50 meter transects, three marks for glaucothoe collector bag deployments, and 5 marks for quadrat surveys via scuba. Thereafter, we even were able to clean up the NOAA laboratory areas we have been working in all week. Trust us, it needed cleaning . During the evening, we helped Captain Charles locate and move the survival gear to the Rescue Vessel Lunax sitting in the SNP Firehouse shed.
May 25, Thursday – We appear to be closing in on the end of gear prep! The drop camera is hose clamped together, i.e. we placed the Dungeness pots on top of each other so the GoPros are the recommended distance from the substrate for ideal camera imaging once it hits the sea floor. Alex also clamped down the rebar sections, which will be the ‘substrate’ for our lights, cameras, and lazers in order to keep them inside the pots and outside of harm’s way when touching the sea floor. Chris and I spend the day preparing all of our emergency dive gear, dive equipment including transect lines, quadrats, zooplankton net assembly, and other odds and ends. We do go for our second dive off of the Trident Seafoods dock! Bill Briggs, manager of the plant, was asked to ensure safety within the boat traffic area. The visibility was just about 2 feet, not the most fun of conditions; however Chris did find a single juvenile red king crab inside a lost road tire and I pulled up a number of new tools including gangion clips, stainless C-links, and a blaze orange soft head mallet!May 24, Wednesday – As we continue to work on our gear, we see a light at the end of the tunnel! The collector bags are done, over 120 bags made! We cannot wait to get them in the water. Chris and I spent the day preparing the mooring lines and transect lines for the collector bags. We plan on deploying shallow (10-20 meter) and deep (40-60 meter) collector bags to test depth and habitat associations with blue king crab glaucothoe settlement rates… This seems kind of boring I bet, but the amazing fact of the day was that in cutting and tying up these 16 spools of 600ft of 5/16 leadline, Chris and I walked a total of 6.06 miles within a single 200ft section of the NOAA gravel parking lot!!! If only we had thought to post a camera for a time laps video! Ugh!.. Alex also continues work on the drop camera. It’s starting to come together with the crab pots de-netted and rebar sections bent for tethering to the crab pots. Weather still has not improved much, but the forecast for the weekend seems to be getting better!
May 23, Tuesday – Same story in the lab, different day! Man, we have a lot to do before we hit the water. Collector bags are nearing completion! All the gear associated is starting to come together! Collector bags will be deployed in pairs, one gillnet and the other gillnet with crushed oyster shellhash. We wonder if the shellhash bags will collect more baby king crab due to the natural and complex nature of its substrate.?. That is the hope anyway and how fascinating it will be! Toward the end of the day, Alex started his work on the drop camera set up. We have a basic goal: take video image of the sea floor habitats surrounding St. Paul Island. The tools to accomplish this include: two heavy steel Dungeness crab pots, steel rebar sections, two underwater lazer pointers, several Backscatter Light In Motion Sola underwater lights, two Dual GoPro housings, and two pairs of linked GoPro3 cameras for 3D imaging… We also got in our first dive On Island this evening, even with not-so-great weather! All three of us went off East Dock (Landing) just east of town. Visibility and swell were poor, like a ride in a washing machine, but we were all happy to get in (and out) of the water! It was pretty cold too, water temp 3 degC.May 22, Monday – Up and at it in the laboratory! We continue to work on the collector bags and Alex takes on the task of painting numbers on our mooring blocks. It turns out cement footings are pretty heavy and we certainly get a good feel for how our summer is going to go setting and pulling these things by hand from the boat! Wow, what a task it will be! The collector bags are coming along. If you don’t know what it sounds like to manually crush oyster shells into manageable hash preferred by BKC here it is! The cement block prove their weight in in this operation! Also, we’d like to thank Taylor Shellfish Farms in Washington State for the free shells that were barged up!
May 21, Sunday – And the real work begins… There is so much gear from last year, barged last month, and brought this time by plane that it is hard to know where to start. After some discussion, and mostly the realization that glaucothoe collectors on moorings need to be placed in the water ASAP we decide to begin construction of our collector bags. These course mesh bags, stuffed with gillnet and large shellhash, are designed to catch or promote settlement of young larval crabs. This artificial habitat is enclosed and complex, therefore providing a safe refuge for newly settled baby crab. Weather-wise, a system is starting to move in and prospects for the launching the boat don’t seem good.
May 20, Saturday – Today, we met up with Lauren Divine, our Tribe Ecosystem Conservation Office (ECO) collaborator and we get our keys to their new Connex container. Why is this important you say?!. It contains over 5 pallets of PIBKC gear and food which I (Jared) sent here via Coastal Transportation barge a month ago. Getting the keys was the easy part; finding, unloading, and transporting that much gear across town was the hard part!
May 19, Friday – Here we (Alex, Chris, and Jared) are on St. Paul Island! Without weather delay and receiving all our bags! WOW, that’s no small miracle! After collecting our bags, USGS Scientist David Windby gives a ride to NOAA Staff Quarters, our lodgings for the summer. We settle in to Apartment (Suite ) 1 and look around the adjacent laboratory building.