Author Archive

A Beam Reach First

As all the 112 Beam Reach students (Sharon, Laura, Hayley, and Charla) can recall the phrase we heard the most was “this never happens” or “this is a first”.  After hearing it a few times we decided to keep track of all the so called “firsts” for Beam Reach.

  1. Seeing a fire truck and an ambulance zooming through campus – “This never happens at Friday Harbor Labs!”
  2. First year observing at Lime Kiln – “You are the first Beam Reach class to be able to use the Lime Kiln as a research base… so now you get to clean the acoustic shed, YEAH!”
  3. Residing in T2 (with carpet) compared to S1 – “This is a first, we have only had S1 in the past…and there is carpet!”
  4. Most organized and clean group of students – “Your dishes are so organized all the time; this is a first for Beam Reach.”
  5. Most whale days – “You guys are so lucky this never happens.”

    Breaching Southern Resident

  6. Most Dall’s porpoise off the bow – “It’s rare to NOT see Dall’s but never this much.”
  7. First Canadian – “Charla is the first Canadian to be a part of Beam Reach – CONGRATS!”
  8. First conference (Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference) – “This is the first time Beam Reach is going to a conference and presenting posters”
  9. Lunch with John Ford – “I bet this is a first for Beam Reach, lunch with a science celebrity… John Ford!”
  10. Most rainbows (single and double) – “Want another Beam Reach first… the most rainbows!”

Students collecting data at Lime Kiln








After an eventful quarter at sea collecting data we finally had the opportunity to analyze it and see our results.  We presented posters at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, Canada.  We, the students, presented posters, talked with many scientists, and sat in on 3 days of presentations.  We were all extremely blessed to have received this opportunity as it has helped in networking and giving us a glimpse in the scientific world.  We will now all go our separate ways, but we will never forget the Beam Reach experience!

Sharon with poster at Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference



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Sailing Around Cape Kellett Bluff

Ahoy...Captain Todd

Beam Reach is a program that provides extensive learning opportunities and self discovery for every participating individual.  Each person has their own personal experience, however different from another, and helps to broaden minds and mold a more rounded individual.  Among the many educational opportunities students were educated in sailing around Haro Strait was one of the most enjoyable.  The captain of the beautiful Gato Verde, Todd Shuster taught us the in’s and out’s of sailing.  To understand how “easy” Beam Reachers had it with only 3 sails (screecher, jib, and main sail) we watched an educational video on sailing “Around Cape Horn” made and narrated by Irving Johnson, which inspired the following video.  Once the basics were taught we put our knowledge to the test…

42' catamaran - Gato Verde

On October 10, 2011 each student had a round at being the helmsperson at the Gato Verde.  The helmsperson practiced calling jibes and crashing through the stormy waters off the coast of Kellett Bluff.  Students not driving the catamaran had to focus their concentration on helping the boat jibe.  One student on port and another on starboard when the helmsperson yelled “READY TO JIBE?” they respond “READY”.  The helmsperson, knowing the students were ready yelled “JIBING” and one student would release the jib sheet while the other would pull in the slack on the opposite side of the catamaran.  After jibing the Gato the working crew got to relax and enjoy the experience of sailing around “Cape Kellett Bluff”.  It was safe to say the 30 knot wind gusts made for an eventful and wet sailing experience.  Although the crew was chilled and soaked to the bone, the cargo did arrive safe and dry into Garrison Bay!

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CO2: A Fish Drug

Isn’t it great having it warmer longer and being able to soak up the sun longer once summer is over?!  Maybe you know the reasons from various classes or the news.  Besides hearing how high CO2 levels are do you actually know how CO2 levels are affecting organisms physically?  CO2 is like a fish drug that is affecting their olfactory systems and desensitizing fish to instinctive behaviors.

A brief background – Ocean inhabitants, especially coral reef inhabitants, are sensitive to changes whether it is temperature, CO2 concentrations, or pH.  If CO2 levels continue to increase as they are, by the end of the century, there would be about 1,020ppm of atmospheric CO2 (more than enough to dramatically affect multiple marine organisms). Atmospheric and dissolved CO2 levels are linearly correlated.  If atmospheric CO2 increases, dissolved CO2 in the ocean increases simultaneously.  CO2 and pH levels are indirectly correlated.  If dissolved CO2 increases, pH decreases.  If maintaining down the current path, oceanic pH would decline up to 0.4 units, making the ocean even more acidic.

Munday et al. conducted a study to see the effects CO2 levels have on fish populations.  This study was looking at clownfish and damsel fish larvae and how they respond to three different levels of CO2.  The control was current CO2 levels (390ppm), 550ppm, 700ppm, and 850ppm.  Behavioral responses and olfactory cues from predators were noted and it was noticed how drastic the effects of CO2 levels really were.  With each increasing dosage the results were more significant.  Natural and instinctive behaviors are thrown off due to the destructive influences CO2 has on the olfactory system.  Instead of smelling predator cues and hiding, the increased CO2 levels cause clownfish and damsel fish to be less sensitized and alert.  The fish participated in increasingly risky behavior such as spending more time where predator cues were present, swimming farther from the protections of the reef, and being more active but less alert to predator cues.

The longer a fish is exposed the worse the symptoms.  Age also increased the severity of the symptoms.  Noting the same change in behaviors another experiment was conducted with predator encounters.  The more frequent, careless, and risky behaviors became the higher mortality rate climbed.

Not only do rising CO2 levels cause concern for species, but trying to sustain the species at risk becomes more complex.  Protecting an ecosystem may no longer be enough if fish are being easily preyed upon due to the severe behavioral effects of increasing CO2 levels.  Assuming other marine species will exhibit similar responses, the effects of rising CO2 on biodiversity of marine ecosystems could be significant and the effects irreversible.

Chinook salmon are already endangered and, if the hypothesis is correct, the increasing dissolved CO2 levels could be an additional threat.  Chinook, being the Southern Residents primary food source, may have a crucial impact on the killer whales if they cannot handle the added stress from rising CO2 levels.  Will the Southern Residents adapt to the CO2 levels or will they suffer as much as the Chinook and other marine organisms?

The 4 students in the Fall 2011 session, along with past and future students, will study the environment and see how different factors affect the killer whales.  Students are looking at relationships between the whales and salmon, human influences, and natural influences.  We all start our first expedition Sunday (18th) to start collecting data for our final projects. Watch for our final projects as time moves forward!

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Coral Reef – Case Study

Once discussing sustainability science with the class and writing the previous blog about what sustainability science is I found a case study, which encompasses the sustainability of coral reefs and marine ecosystems.

People love to view the beautiful and rare ecosystems around the world, the mystery of a rainforest or the beauty of marine reefs.  However, the constant tourism and destruction is destroying these rare ecosystems; but I’m focusing on the Abore Reef reserve in New Caledonia.  Doyen et al. researched how over exploited marine ecosystems can be sustained by being transformed into a protected area (2007).  In summary, reserves are very beneficial because they restore fisheries, ecosystems, and conserve biodiversity.

According to the National Research Council (NRC) and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) the last 10 years spent developing ideas about sustainable science have been influenced more by political rather than scientific perceptions (1999).  The economical benefits tend to cause complications for scientific purposes.  However, marking a location a protected area shows a positive effect with results of increased fish size, abundances of spawning, and surrounding the reserve having increased spillover of recruited stages and larval dispersion (Doyen et al. 2007).  The coral reef ecosystem is one where many organisms use the coral for shelter and sanctuary from predators so when the reef is negatively affected the whole ecosystem suffers.

Major constrains to marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, are over exploitation and harsh weather, such as cyclones.  Cyclones increase oscillations of coral and trophic densities in relation to the refuge effect.  Increased cyclone frequencies cause concerns with organism interactions which could lead to trophic cascades.  The effects of various cyclone frequencies are demonstrated in figure 1 below.

Figure 1

Time in this figure is for the next 30 years if there were no fishing efforts.  The top graph (a) is if no cyclones occur, middle graph (b) a cyclone every 6 years, and the bottom graph (c) a cyclone every 4 years.  The black line indicating piscivores, dark blue-carnivores, green-herbivores, light blue-small prey, red-coral state.

When looking at reefs under current cyclonic frequencies (1 cyclone every 6 years) with 20% harvesting efforts and a reef that is not protected results are similar showing carnivores and herbivores will flat line.  However, with a protected coral reef there is a much higher recovery rate because the biodiversity is significantly better.  If the cyclone frequency was to increase (1 cyclone every 4 years) with 20% harvesting efforts and a coral reef is not protected carnivores and herbivores would be over exploited leading to a significant decrease in recovery rate due to a drop in biodiversity. If a coral reef is under protection the biodiversity would be good and the ecosystem would have a higher recovery rate.

After discussing case studies the class took a trip to Lopez Island to assist with some research being conducted on juvenile Chinook salmon.  Beam Reach students along with local volunteers congregated to assist in bringing in the net once it was filled with fish.  We collected sand lance, juvenile Chinook, and herring.  The Chinook were sedated and then underwent a process called a lavage.  Measurements of individual fish were taken, stomach contents preserved, quantity of each species noted, and tail clips for future fin biopsies.  This picture shows the group of us picking out the desired fish from the second haul (3 hauls are allowed in one day’s efforts).  The continued research conducted on Lopez Island and surrounding areas helps to sustain the endangered Chinook salmon population along with the organisms below (sand lance) and above (killer whales) in the food chain.

The data in the case study and ongoing research on Lopez clearly demonstrate how key sustainability science is to preserving life in various ecosystems.  It is not only about one organism or species, but the pressures people put on ecosystems as well as how different organisms interact with one another.  Between the case study and research on Lopez people are discovering new information that brings us that much closer to understanding the various levels of the food chain and the ecosystem (shown in the picture to the left).

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What is Sustainability Science?

Have you ever had to define a word you use everyday and struggle to give a simple explanation?  The Fall 2011 Beam Reach class was asked to simply define sustainability science prior to the first lecture of sustainability science.  We all looked with blank stares as we collectively appeared to be at a loss of words.  However, it was a bit comforting knowing participating professors were struggling just as much as the students.

So what is sustainability science? My definition was the study of how to maintain/ sustain populations and its ecosystem.  After pooling various definitions we confidently said there is no specific definition of sustainability science.  Some said the definition had to do with how research was carried out, others what yours studying, yet further more how it effects the ecosystems.  Sustainability science is such a broad category and encompasses many things that we cannot pin point a specific explanation.

According to Clark et al. the questions we need to ask ourselves when looking at sustainability science are: What is to be sustained? For how long? What is to be developed? (2005).  Clark and Dickson state sustainability science is taking science and technology and focusing on interactions between nature and society (2003).  However, it also encompasses seeing how social alternations shape the environment and how the environment alters society.  Knowing these two factors effect each other Turner et al. diagrammed (below) how various elements are dependent on one another (2003).  The study of sustainability science is not studying one element but how many outside factors can influence each other.  If we are careless our actions can alter ecosystems in ways that make it impossible to recover.

After talking about sustainability science I started thinking more about the definition and how much of an impact these factors have on one another.  Since the words sustainability science are so hard to describe, because it umbrellas an extremely wide range of studies, everyone has a different explanation.  After further discussion and reading, to me, sustainability science meas using research and technology to study how ecosystems and populations effect each other while focusing on how to sustain/ maintain them using the least invasive methods as possible.  If someone comes up to you and asks what is sustainability science can you define it?

Later on in during this program the Fall 2011 class will be doing a sustainability project to help the various ecosystems and organisms here on and around the San Juan Islands (ie. Southern Residents).  We have not completely decided on our project yet, however, I’m sure more will be posted when the time comes.

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