Monthly Archives: September 2012

[de] Construction at Ukumehame

Niko scopes the sediment plume at Ukumehame

One of my favorite sites to dive/snorkel in Maui is Ukumehame.  Despite the 300m swim to get out there, the reef rewards divers & swimmers with large fish, numerous turtles, beautiful & complex coral formations, clear water, and manta rays. In addition, it’s proven to be a great surf spot & now hosts an array of my experimental tiles.

Manta Ray at Ukumehame, Maui,

The magnificent reefs at Ukumehame are magnificent and should stay that way.

It has been a real bummer to find the reef, now, completely silted due to recent & on-going shoreline construction activities.  Maui transportation has built the highway directly on the water; and though a nice drive, the highway is regularly damaged by swell events, necessitating significant construction activities seaward of the road.  With the tractors clawing at the earth & the waves simultaneously pounding the shoreline, huge plumes of sediment are mobilized and descend upon the reef.  Human-caused spikes in sedimentation rates is one of the main killers of coral reefs around the world.


It’s hard to imagine how much sediment has been delivered to Maui’s reefs over the last century of construction and development, and how much degradation such activities have caused Maui’s reefs.  Previously we did not know the impacts, or know to care about the impacts, so perhaps an ‘oops’ was appropriate. But now we do know; and perhaps, this should no longer be acceptable.

Niko scopes the sediment plume at Ukumehame

Smith Lab Volunteer Niko scopes the sediment plume.

If you want to see what else Levi is up to check out his blog!

6 AM: Not Just for Sleeping


Like most kids growing up, I envisioned a scientist as someone sitting behind a microscope or pouring colorful liquids into a flask to make some kind of potion.

During my internship I have seen the variety of work researchers do every day. An average day might include sitting behind a computer doing a literature review, taking water samples in the lab, extracting enzymes from specimens and going to a meeting based entirely on statistical analyses. These tasks have all been incredible learning experiences, but recently I got a taste of my new favorite activity in research: going into the field.

We certainly weren’t the only ones in need of a pick-me-up for a 6 am collecting session.

Our first day of collecting crustose coralline algae (CCA) began promptly at 6 am at Sunset Cliffs in San Diego with Emily Dohmon (Masters student from Moss Landing), Susan Kram, Molly Gleason and myself. Since CCA are common in the intertidal pools at Sunset Cliffs, we had to be sure to collect on a low low tide, and it just so happens that this week those low tides were much earlier than would have been preferred. Caffeinated beverages in hand, our small team trekked to the shore and discussed distinctive features of the species we were looking for. Many species of CCA look similar and multiple species can inhabit the same small cobble. We split up and waded through the low tide, searching beds of sea grass and small rock crevices for any stones with a distinctive layer of red algae. After about an hour we had found enough samples to run our experiments and we headed back to the lab to take a closer look at the CCA.

The sun rises over low tide at Sunset Cliffs as the team makes their way to the collecting site.

The following day we were out in the brisk morning air of Sunset Cliffs once again, this time searching for an articulated species of coralline algae .We found ourselves, again, searching the warm water of the seagrass beds to collect healthy samples with a delicate touch. As the sun rose over the cliffs we started on our way back to the lab with the treasures of the day to begin our experiment. The samples we collected from Sunset Cliffs are now part of an ongoing ocean acidification experiment in the Smith Lab. Being a part of an experiment from the very beginning and knowing exactly where each of your samples come from makes a project just a little more special and is something you can be a little more proud of when it has run its course.


When is a Marine Biologist like a Geometry Student?

Geometry in action

In a few days I leave for a research trip to Palmyra Atoll, a tiny coral reef island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This is my first trip back there since the expedition in 2010 (which I wrote about here). I am travelling with 7 other scientists from Scripps, plus some of our colleagues from other universities.

So, how do I get ready for a research trip like this? Besides stocking up on sunscreen and giving the cats one last snuggle, I had a lot of scientific equipment to pack.

Palmyra is in the middle of nowhere. While it has a very comfortable field station complete with rope swing, ping pong table, and great food, there is no hardware store nearby. We can’t just run out and get any  items that we may have forgotten in the lab. So, over many months, we plan our experiments, make lists of supplies, check everything twice, and pack extras, just in case. However, getting to Palmyra is a lengthy and expensive process, so we also can’t overcompensate by bringing along everything we could possibly need. There is a “sweet spot” of expedition preparedness: bring exactly what you need, no more, no less.

Geometry in action

To hit that Sweet Spot of Preparedness, this week I brushed up on my geometry skills to calculate exactly how much (expensive, bulky, heavy) mesh I need to bring for one of my underwater experiments. I made several models incorrectly, then started using computer paper and paper towels instead. My lab bench looked more like a middle school classroom than a powerhouse lab at a research university … but sometimes, being a marine biologist isn’t all that glamorous.

Let’s hope that I calculated correctly!


scripps oceanography uc san diego