By Nathaniel Kinsey
Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com
Note: By the time this posts the USC Dornsife students, staff and faculty will be in Guam. Immediately before the launch of the expedition the group spent a week at the USC Catalina Campus learning the basics of collecting data along transects as well as intermediate diving skills such as working in two-foot visibility and deeper depths of 65 fsw. The students also attended a lecture and lab on a more advanced science diving topic – collecting fish for aquarium exhibits. Labs in this course can be a bit beyond the ordinary …
There I was floating just above the bottom of Big Fishermans Cove helping to untangle a fish from a barrier net. A minute later I successfully hand-netted a juvenile ray and was in the process of untangling him. I released the ray back into the cove to continue on his day; if this was not a practice run he would become the newest exhibit at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.
While many recent college graduates are off searching for jobs and stressing about the future, I find myself actively engaged in an activity and learning a skill that a day earlier I had not even knew existed. That is what Environmental Studies 480 has quickly become for me; a new and exciting experience every day.
After a morning dive that consisted of lying transects and doing species surveying with fellow classmate Katie Graves, it was off to a pre-lunch lecture. This lecture was by science diver Chris Plante, Assistant Curator for the Aquarium of the Pacific and an expert in species collection for aquarium exhibit. His lecture was on the basics of fish and invertebrate collection.
This crash course included the what, where, why and who of collection, and equipment used. The main focus of the lecture was centered on fish collection because each species of fish presents its own challenge. The various techniques used for collection of fish included: hook and line fishing, hand nets, beach seines, and barrier nets.
Chris argued that the preferred means of collection was generally a combination of hand nets and barrier. Hand nets come in two forms: monofilament and nylon. Monofilament nets are less visible to the highly aware fish, and quicker in the water. Nylon nets come in various colors that can be helpful for camouflage, but are significantly slower than monofilaments.
Barrier nets are large nets that range in size from a few feet up to twenty feet that are suspended in the water for fish to become entangled in. This information was all new to me and I thoroughly enjoyed the lecture. The best part came at the end of lecture when Chris, along with my professors, confirmed that we would be practicing these techniques in an afternoon dive.
After lunch it was time to try my hand at fish collection. The plan was for groups of eight divers each, all with hand nets, to drive fish into a set-up barrier net. Placed into group two, I had to wait for the opportunity to net my own fish. Group two’s turn came, I quickly kicked out to the drop down location.
Descending under the surface, I dropped into a forest of kelp then proceeded to drive fish forward into the barrier net. Coming around to the other side I saw that a few small fish had become entangled in the net.
Watching Chris untangle a few other fish I had an opportunity of my own. The experience was extremely rewarding, and I cannot imagine that this sort of laboratory is available in many other universities. With this only being day three of a three-week Maymester program I cannot wait for my next teachable moment.
About the Author: Nathaniel Kinsey just graduated from USC with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies. He is accepted into the USC Progressive Degree for fall of 2012 where he will be pursuing his Master of Arts in Environmental Studies. He hopes to pursue a career in either watershed management or sustainable cities.
Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.
Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg,, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.