Friday, August 1, 2014

Post-field work, Pre-data analysis report

So now that I have left Kent Island, data collection has (obviously) stopped, though I have left all of my plates in the water for a later data collection expedition in September. Where does this leave my project?

The main part of my project was to examine the effect of current on species diversity in settlement communities by looking at racks of plates suspended all around the island. Below is a map showing placement sites (now I realize that all this time I have been referring to places on Kent Island without actually providing a reference map!)

High Flow treatments were in two locations as indicated by green placemarks: the extreme southern end around the giant tide pool exposed to high surf conditions and the extreme north between Kent and Hay Islands where tidal current rips through. One low flow treatment is at West Beach as indicated by yellow placemarks. Red placemarks indicate missing or lost plates as of 07/26/14.

After six or seven weeks (depending on date of original placement), no growth of any target organisms was seen on the plates. A biofilm of alage, diatoms, and ostensibly bacteria was present on all plates, and on several snail or nudibranch eggs were observed.

Pictured above and below are Plate 3 from the Narrows High Flow treatment rack at week 1 and week 7 (above and below respectively). Note extensive algal growth and snail eggs below but no target settlement organism growth. These plates are representative of what I am seeing after 7 weeks, but obviously other trends exist. 

So what does this mean? Why aren't organisms growing? So far I am hypothesizing that water temperatures around Kent Island are too low to trigger spawning and settlement of planktonic young. Temperatures averaged 8 degrees celsius for most of June and only began to approach 11 degrees in July, generated by the cold Nova Scotia current from the north-east. This is not cold enough to disallow growth and spawning overall, however, since I counted at least 28 settlement organism species in my quadrat plots. However, the warmest water temperatures are not reached until late August/early September, when I predict most organisms will spawn (to be confirmed with background research). Furthermore, most of the invasive tunicates I am looking for are actually spawning intolerant below 14 degrees C, indicating that perhaps Kent Island will escape the hordes of invasive solitary and colonial tunicates that are taking over in warmer waters just a few miles west in Eastport and further south as well as the unusually warm waters in the Northumberland Strait by Prince Edward Island. It is very probable that this 14 degrees C threshold will be reached at Kent Island, but the time window would be quite short, limiting the amount of larval recruitment that could actually occur. I would predict, however, that as ocean temperatures rise in the coming decades due to climate change that we will see earlier and earlier spawning-tolerant temperatures around Kent Island, perhaps triggering a sudden invasion around the island. I would hope that some kind of monitoring program could be set up around Kent Island to track this progress.

Preliminary temperature graph at 1m depth at High Flow treatment south pool, Kent Island, for the dates 06/10/14-07/23/14.  Gap in data from 07/01/14-07/08/14 was due to logger removal during a hurricane to prevent logger lost. Title is incorrect in dates, note time shown extends from June 10 to July 22.   

I hope to update this blog with final results as they come in September and October, but overall it has been an incredibly difficult but rewarding time here on Kent Island. My project in its current manifestation is perhaps not too well suited for the Kent Island environment (that is, there exists a major physical barrier preventing my experiment from preceding), but I am quite interested in the advancement of invasive organisms onto Kent Island and I hope students examine this issue in the future.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


   I am writing this from back in Brunswick at Bowdoin, since the last few days we had on island were either too foggy for internet or we were too rushed to bother with computers. I will follow through with another post summarizing my research as it stands, but I'd rather just upload a last batch of pics.

We went on a whale watch a week or two ago, which also proved to be ample opportunity to take photos of the birds following in our wake. 

A herring gull beating up on a common shearwater

A humpback tail-slapping. We saw only finbacks and humpbacks, but we got pretty close.

A herring gull got its foot caught in a slot on the top of a weir pole one day, and had tried to fly off but only succeeded in hanging from its foot. All the other goals were circling and screaming bloody murder as they tried to figure out what was attacking this individual.

Liam rescues the gull. The gull had a broken foot, and it's prospects even off the pole aren't good.

We are constantly given amazing stars on Kent Island

Mating Acanthadoris pilosa

Another Flabellina verrucosa
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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Rainforest Connection

Photo credit: Rainforest Connection

Not exactly related to my project, but I discovered this very cool initiative today called Rainforest Connection which aims to make a fast notification network for deforestation. They have developed a device out of old Android smart phones and solar cells, attached to tress high up in the canopy which records the surrounding rainforest in a 300 hectare (or appx. 1.16 square miles) circular area. A live feed of these recordings are then sent over cellular network (which is apparently strong enough in even the most remote locations) analyzed for the telltale chainsaw sound patterns, which can then be sent to a responsible law enforcement agent with the exact location (within those 300 hectares) of the suspected illegal logging activity, all within 5 minutes of the first chainsaw sound. This is a brilliant solution to the difficult problem of patrolling and enforcing protected areas, since the alternatives of waiting weeks for satellite images (AFTER deforestation has already occurred) or having to employ a massive patrol force (which is costly and inefficient, especially for developing tropical countries where deforestation is most of a problem. A panopticon, of sorts - instead of trying to chase illegal loggers around the forest, make the forest the eye. Other than the problem of the cellular network, a similar model could be utilized in marine protected areas (notoriously difficult to patrol) to check for the sounds of boat engines. You could even develop a roster of approved vessels in an area, and so an alarm would not be set off if an approved boat follows an approved course through the protected area - ideal for research vessels, ecotourist cruises, and for limited amounts of fishermen through a lottery system. Perhaps satellite receivers would be better than cellphone service for a marine application.

A great project, if you can support their kickstarter to set up a large scale experimental run in Indonesia.

Two weeks left

As of last night, we have two weeks left on Kent Island. Time really does seem to fly by. Everyone is in the final stages of data collecting or panicking because they don't have data. In my case, it's the latter. Nothing has really settled out on my settlement plates, which is concerning since I will be leaving shortly. Not that this is a bad sign - it's still data that I'm getting (that nothing is settling out between late May and late July). I will be coming back to Kent Island in mid-September to do a final look at my plates. It is at this point that I hope to see some growth; I believe that the season for planktonic dispersal and settlement is much, much later than in Casco Bay (where we have another settlement plate in the water) due to colder water swinging around the tip of Nova Scotia west into the Bay of Fundy. Since a lot of organisms seem to need 10-14 degree Celsius water to spawn, we could just not be getting that kind of water here (although they can live in much colder water).

We went on a day trip to Seal Machias Island, a tiny islet southwest of Grand Manan which is disputed between the US and Canada. It is administered, in a way, by Canada since they have two or three people living there year round to operate the light house (last manned one on the eastern seaboard) and to ostensibly prevent the Yanks from coming in and setting up camp. The island is also home to thousands upon thousands of Puffins (largest in the Gulf of Maine), Razorbills, and Murres all congregating around this tiny rock like northern penguins, only capable of flight. I did not have a telephoto lens with me at the time, so a lot of my pics are from a distance but I am including one or two from my friend Jackson ( who had a zoom lens at the time. As a final bonus, we saw an extremely rare accidental species from the Pacific, the Tufted Puffin. It hasn't been seen in the Atlantic since 1830, which has attracted an immigration en masse to Grand Manan to seek it out (apparently news travels among birding circles faster than CNN breaks stories) However, the magnitude of the task of finding a single, slightly larger puffin with a black breast and yellow hair tufts really dawned on me when we got to Seal Machias. But the unwavering eye of one of our birder Kent Islanders found the one puffin amidst thousands.
We are getting some of our lowest tides this summer this week, allowing me to walk out to a ledge which normally appears to be a kilometer or more offshore. While not so dramatic as in the cliff locations on Grand Manan, the tides at Kent Island are extraordinary in the amount of dry land they uncover. When you are down in the intertidal, you look all around to a lunar landscape of undulating hillocks and boulders stretching over acres and acres.

View from same Western ledge. Gannet rock lighthouse out in the distance (about 2-3 nautical miles away)

Gannet rock close up. Note the giant storm wall in front of the light-keepers house, to prevent massive storm surf from destroying the buildings.
An assortment of Murres (narrow-billed) and Razorbills (thick bills with white stripe) on Machias Seal. It's fascinating how they all sit with one another in complete harmony (in contrast the anarchic cacophony of a gull colony).

One of the more amusing things about any of the Alcids (the family of puffins, razorbills, auks, murres, guillemots, etc.) is that while they seem to tolerate a close presence, they clearly begin to get nervous as you penetrate through their comfort perimeter. They will shit around until one individual with less nerves than the others will let out a despairing little squawk and will bodily heave itself into the air. As if they were waiting to see who's more chicken, the rest of the birds will follow quickly afterwards, relieved that they had not caved to this pressure to soon.

A flotilla of razorbills

Only decent photo of puffins I could take.

When in flight, puffins splay their red feet out behind them, making them look completely ridiculous.

The rare, Pacific Tufted Puffin taking off to the left. Photo by Jackson Bloch.
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Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Tempest

I guess it's only appropriate that the day after I finish reading The Tempest that Hurricane Arthur should suddenly decide that the southern edge of Nova Scotia is not the most ideal vacationing spot and swing up northwards to smack right into Grand Manan. Thankfully, these tropical systems lose a bunch of their punch once they hit colder water (in our neck of the woods, a tail of the cold Labrador Current) but we had to deal with up to 60 knot wind gusts (70mph), possible stronger, right on the cusp of a category 1 Hurricane. Waking to the entire outbuilding where I sleep shaking on its cinderblock supports was not a comforting alarm call. The day was spent huddled inside the main building eating, reading, and watching the souterly and easterly winds tear the tops of swells off. One of the more exciting occurrences was a particularly strong wind gust tearing a wall off of another outbuilding (where thankfully I was not staying). You could see people's gear and beds from the outside. So an exciting 45 minutes were spent doing some emergency wall repair - it's not exactly watertight now but at least you could call it a wall. The storm abated and rewarded us with quite a spectacular sunset. And while I lost 8 settlement plates in the storm, bringing my lost total up to 10, I still have 110/120 in the water, so overall damage was minimal. Looking forward to some more sunny skies this week!
Surf on West beach and at the Mustache (our name for the poorly described "Eastern Ledge"). It was much more impressive with the wind howling about. This is at about 3/4 the maximum intensity we had.
The mustache today, tranquil as ever

East Beach looking south to huge rolling waves being torn up in the wind

Gulls not looking particularly happy

Calm after the storm

Canada Day

  July 1 is Canada day, and since we've all been residents of the great nation for approximately a month, Canadian patriotic fervor was running high (although quickly waxed by the patriotism that came out for our on-island fireworks celebration for July 4th). We traveled around the island seeing all the great sites Grand Manan has to offer and a few of us competed in the Greasy Pole competition, wherein one straddles a barrel that is slid along a soaped up piling pole and tries to grab a Canadian flag affixed to the end of the pole. The three of us that tried it had no success but enjoyed the thorough soaking that is inevitable in the competition whether you can grab the flag or not. Those that succeed in the competition are usually quite tall and heavy, and none of us really had the requisite qualities. Also, about half the population of Grand Manan seemed to be watching which was a little unnerving, especially since they know immediately that we're not from Grand Manan (One of those three islandahs up theyah...).

Southern head of Grand Manan. These cliffs are absolutely huge, made of basalt. Grand Manan has two distinct geographical parts - the flat eastern edge of Precambrian rock where almost the entire population lives and the rugged central and western portion of Jurassic basalt where only a small hamlet, Dark Harbor, lies

For your viewing pleasure a failed attempt at the greasy pole

The famous hole-in-the-wall on the northern end of Grand Manan

Pretty much the entire Bowdoin/Kenyon/Guelph/Queens crew minus 2

It's been a couple days since I've been able to access the internet, with a couple days of thick fog, Canada day, and Tropical Storm/Hurricane Arthur interrupting our radio signal from an island a few nautical miles away that provides our internet service. So I'll do a couple posts to catch up.

I helped (or just scribed) for my friend Jackson in the field one day banding Yellow Warbler nestlings. In the pictures you are seeing the nestlings are three or four days old and growing fast. If you want to see more great bird pictures I recommend checking out Jackson's blog

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Grand Manan

My project is progressing forward, albeit slowly. Damon and I had concerns about my sample size, which is 2 for each treatment (2 racks in each low, high, and no current) and not 16 (since each rack has 8 plates). So I've been feverishly making some "rapid" assessment plates - basically I've just placed two plates on a length of line and made 30 of them. My goal is to only count species on these plates, and only check them once in September or October. This will prevent me from spending too much time checking plates every week. In order to anchor these lines, I've had to make rock anchors using zip ties which is a maddening task, especially when I have to carry 10 or so 15lb rocks to each site. But I can happily say that all of these extra plates are out in the water and I can forget about them until later this summer. Of course, since the plates are only anchored with rocks, there is a potential for them to be swept away, especially on the southern end which is exposed to some extremely strong surf. I just have to cross my fingers and hope at least 5 are left at each site.

We reached the halfway point of our time on Kent Island yesterday, which is sobering for many of us as we realize our time here is much more limited than we realized. There is still reams of data to collect, but at least we still have a month left. Almost in celebration of this halfway point, we have several off-island activities this week. Two days ago we went on a lobstering trip with a local lobsterman and his son who gather mail for us and serve as our Grand Manan contacts. We got to size and band lobsters as they came out of the traps, no doubt slowing down the normally extremely efficient operation. Aside from some unfortunate sea sickness brought about by a rather hurriedly eaten protein bar breakfast, the fishing trip was a success. We got to bring back a few lobsters for ourselves - pretty much the only option for locavore food on Kent Island. We also got to take a quick jaunt onto Grand Manan, the first time in a month any of us had set foot off Kent Island. Ice Cream and fried food was duly purchased in alarming quantities, and showers were taken (in someone's house and not in a bucket for once!). Tomorrow we head back to Grand Manan to participate in Canada Day festivities, to once again stuff ourselves with food and attempt the Greasy Pole competition (pictures will be forthcoming!).
Looking south through the fog

The keepers house at Swallowtail lighthouse, Grand Manan

Swallowtail Lighthouse

Half the Kent Islanders - the other half are recovering from waking up at 4AM by napping

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday Photography

Coronula diadema, the Humpback Whale Barnacle. We found several of these on the beach on Sheep Island by the dead juvenile whale. I'm astonished as to the size these crustaceans have been able to grow within the short (1-2 year) lifespan of the juvenile whale.

Looking down the cavity of the whale barnacle with my hand for size
A Yellow Warbler hatchling in a nest that is part of Jackson's project on juvenile-parent vocalisation interactions.

A very cool Thomisidae Crab Spider feeding on a Noctulid moth on a Mountain Ash flower cluster

 Long Horn beetle, Evodinus monticola, on another Mountain Ash flower cluster

Gulls aren't supposed to perch in trees. They do on Kent Island.

An accurate representation of what it's like to be harassed by gulls. Almost no zoom was used here.

A cocky male Savannah Sparrow

Lazy Sundays justify some photog sessions to get my mind off of my project. Just a few of the pics I snapped on the northern end of the island.