November 26, 2009

Diving into the Port of Los Angeles in the Name of Science


By Reef Check California’s Southern California Regional Manager Colleen Wisniewski

Over the past year, Reef Check had the opportunity to work with members of the Port of Los Angeles Police Dive Team in a unique partnership, training them to become Reef Check California divers so they can collect data on their local rocky reefs. The class had eight well-trained divers that are more accustomed to diving in the very challenging waters of the Port and the surrounding area, with their usual goal of maintaining security for a very busy harbor instead of counting rockfish. However, they were all eager to hone some new skills and learn a bit more about the fish and invertebrates found along our coastline.

We did the training in several chunks – the classroom, pool and aquarium sessions took place in October 2008 on Terminal Island and in San Pedro, with a trip to the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. The field training occurred at the west end of Catalina Island over two days in November 2008, with a refresher in the spring of 2009. We took the police boat to the island and were able to take advantage of some amazing conditions. We observed lots of healthy kelp, schooling fish, invertebrates and even horn sharks. It was very beautiful underwater and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. And, it was very interesting to see the difference at Cherry Cove from November to April – a Sargassum filicinum seaweed forest sprung up between our field sessions and completely changed the site, much to the dismay of our budding citizen scientists.

On November 12, 2009 we finally got to perform our first survey in the harbor at Pier 400 – it’s a site full of cranes and trucks, surrounded by giant chunks of quarry rock from Catalina. I’m somewhat familiar with the port and wasn’t expecting much in the way of clear water or marine life – honestly, I was preparing for some very unpleasant diving conditions. However, we were met with 15-25 foot visibility (if you didn’t stir up the very fine sediment on the bottom) and loads of invertebrates including red gorgonians, a variety of sea star species, giant


keyhole limpets, warty sea cucumbers and an octopus, to name just a few. I was even more impressed with the abundance of fish I counted on transect – several species of bass and perch, blacksmith, senoritas, a garibaldi or two, a large cabezon and perhaps most impressive, a quick glimpse at a school of barracuda. I was pleasantly surprised! Of course it was a bit different from our usual sites in that there was a fair bit of noise underwater any time a tugboat or a container ship passed by. It was also a bit eerie with virtually no seaweed of any type, except two species of invasive Sargassum and the odd one or two strands of kelp. But it was very interesting to get a glimpse at what goes on underwater in the port. 


We are excited about this collaboration with the Port of Los Angeles and we are happy to welcome these divers to the Reef Check team. We look forward to seeing the results of future surveys at the other potential Reef Check sites in the Port of Los Angeles in 2010.