Zostera marina is a seagrass species, commonly known as eelgrass, that is found on both coasts of the United States, as well as in Europe. Unfortunately, Zostera is disappearing all over the place, including right here in New York. This could have devastating impacts on animals that rely on eelgrass as foraging grounds, or, as is the case with scallops, use it as a refuge from predation. This is its story, as seen through the eyes of an aspiring graduate student...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Scallop surveys!

So I went diving on Monday to do some more of the benthic surveys. During the summer, from June through November, we have our spat collectors in the water to track larval settlement. In November and December, we do benthic surveys at our collector sites so we can see if what comes up in the collectors is translating to the bottom. Then, in the spring, we go back to the same sites to determine the over winter mortality. These dives are exciting, because in the last year we are seeing more scallops here than we have seen in previous years, which indicates the restoration effort is probably working. But aside from the scallops, I often see a lot of other cool things. Every dive I observe spider crabs, mud crabs and whelks, those are fairly common. Some commonly seen fish include gobies and cunner. But occasionally I come across cool things, like this fluke, Paralichthys dentatus:

I also saw this skate, which I believe to be a little skate:

And some sort of mud shrimp:

And finally, these two crabs teaming up to try to eat the whelk:

Some sort of comb jelly (in the bottom of the photo)
And, as always, lots of scallops!!!!

Scallops make comeback

"RANDEE DADDONA PHOTO These well-fed Peconic Bay scallops were raised in a hatchery on Cedar Beach in Southold. The work of local biologists to boost populations of the delectable shellfish, devastated by brown tide in the mid-1990s, is paying off. "

this article was just highlighted in the Suffolk Times. Yes it is a local paper, but this is pretty big news - the best scallop year in the Peconics since 1995. That's nothing to laugh at. We are keeping our fingers crossed, but so far, the results are looking good!
The highlights:
-The largest bay scallop sanctuary in the world
- 500.000 scallops
- Commercial landings from last November and December in the Peconics were the highest they have been since 1995
- Scallop stocks in some local waters are 13 times higher than they were 5 years ago

Sunday, May 17, 2009


WATCH OUT, INVASIVE OF THE JELLIES!!!!! Good thing I am immune to stinging cells!

Its the most wonderful time of the year!

Well, maybe not the most wonderful. But it's close. I've been diving a couple times now, and it is so much better than sitting in the lab. Plus an added benefit is that the water is still pretty clear this time of year. So we have been diving to monitor the spawner sanctuary sites - the 2 bottom planting sites and the long lines. Basically we do quadrat counts of the scallops on the bottom to get an idea of the mortality from time point to time point, and we sample a set of scallops to look at growth, gonad index and condition index. For the long lines we sample scallops from the end lines and the center line to look at growth, GI and CI.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Nature Conservancy Awarded $500,000 for Seagrass Restoration Research in Long Island and Connecticut Waters

Research to Assess and Tackle Issues of Seagrass Die-Off in Local Waters

Cold Spring Harbor, NY — May 1, 2009 — Seagrass has received a significant boost thanks to a $500,000 research grant (H.R. 1105, the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009) co-sponsored by Congressman Timothy Bishop (NY-01) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-03). These overlooked, but essential underwater flowering plants, form dense stands in shallow salt-water bays and harbors, and provide critical habitat for local fish and other marine life.

Read the rest here.

We all know the story here, at least if you have been following my blog, but seagrasses are vital ecosystems that serve important nursery and foraging habitats for many fin and shellfish. Many of the species are also of economic importance, which is garnering eelgrass more attention. This is big news for Long Island, since there are numerous critical gaps in the information necessary to successfully manage and restore eelgrass. And, while there may be other suitable habitats in the Peconics for my study organism, the bay scallop, eelgrass is the preferred habitat.

To learn more about seagrasses, and eelgrass in particular, check out Seagrass.LI. Also, check out this new blog by a marine biologist from Canada.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Of all days to forget my camera...

So, no, that picture isn't from my first day of diving this year (which was yesterday). Unfortunately, I didn't bring a camera with me, but we dove on one of our free plant spawner sanctuaries and the above photo is a picture from last October when we planted the scallops. Of course on the day I didn't have a camera, I saw a juvenile hake of some sort as I was moving aside some macroalgae to look for scallops. If I had to guess, I would say it was a red hake, Urophycis chuss, but without the camera and a snapshot, I can't say for sure. That may not sound very exciting, but its not something I have seen in the field, only collected in trawls. While counting scallops, I also observed a scallop trying to swim with a oyster drill attached to its shell. It was unable to swim properly, and upon further inspection, the drill had already drilled a clean hole into the shell, which means it was likely attached for a while. There was also a grass shrimp eating some sort of annelid worm. It was funny, because as I dropped my quadrat, I saw this yellowish thing moving around. When I got a closer look, I saw the shrimp holding the worm and the worm was still wriggling around. It reminded me of when I was younger and we kept African clawed frogs in our fishtank and fed them earthworms. The frogs would shove them into their mouths with their front legs and the worms would try to wiggle out. Very entertaining. So, yeah, I wish I had my camera.
But now for the good news. Last fall we planted approximately 170,000 scallops in Hallock Bay, on the North Fork of Long Island, near Orient Point. The year before, we planted similar densities of scallops in Hallock Bay, but they experienced extremely high over winter mortality, likely due to dense macroalgae and associated low dissolved oxygen under the canopy. We weren't sure what to expect this year, since last spring, we only observed about a 2-3% survival. Last fall we chose a new site, slightly deeper, solid bottom, more current, and less algae cover. Well it seems at first glance like the new site has paid off. By my quadrat counts alone, I would guess that we are seeing between 30-50% survival of the scallops we planted last fall. That exceeds our expectations. Overwinter mortality is usually a large source of natural mortality, however, the scallops are still small - between 28-40mm, so they are not yet above the size threshold for predation. In fact, at the site we observed many cluckers and cracked cluckers, broken shells, and predators including mud crabs and spider crabs. Luckily, the water is already warming up (it was 13.5 C yesterday) so they should start growing. In another planting site we checked, with less water exchange and slightly warmer temperatures (15.5 C), we observed approximately 3-5mm growth on the scallops already (we can tell the new shell growth due to the growth ring laid down during the winter). This bodes well for the scallops planted in Hallock, because they should start growing pretty soon!
On a final note, we went over to my grass mat site. All the buoys were gone, probably because Hallock was covered with ice this winter (in fact, it is a popular ice boating site). I was concerned with the ice ruining my mats, but on a quick inspection, the grass mats all seemed to be ok. I'll be getting in the water at my site in 2 weeks for a more in depth inspection, as well as to remark my site with new buoys. But so far, so good!