2016 has been an eventful, exciting, and exhausting year. We celebrated 50 years of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, and many of you celebrated with us. We created 58 blogs throughout the year, we had numerous events (a VIP reception, 50th party at the lab and in the field, many media articles), and the celebrations will continue for awhile. We are publishing a 64-page book on the 50 years of MLML, which we hope will be completed in early 2017. And we will continue to produce more blogs periodically. But the best thing about this year for me was reconnecting with the MLML family. I hope you have a good holiday season with family and friends, and we will continue to make sure that the MLML family stays together.
MLML graduate students travel many financial paths along their educational odyssey to obtain an advanced degree. Often these endeavors are undesirable, but the key is to balance risk and reward.
Mark Carr introduced me to the world of SCUBA diving for pay. He showed me I could use my diving skills to make money on the side and help pay the bills. Describing Mark as an agent, a promotor, an enabler, or a hustler wouldn’t be far off the mark.
In March 1980, someone from General Fish Company came over to the lab and asked if a diver could cut a net out of the prop of the New Janet Ann II (a drag boat/trawler). The skipper probably backed down on the net and wrapped it several times. Mark and I went over to a Moss Landing harbor slip, donned our gear, jumped in, and started cutting out the net with knives. We could barely see our fingers in the near zero visibility. It was dangerous work since we kept getting our tank valves and regulators tangled in this massive net. After two hours underwater, we got the job done. Mark recalls: We went back to the lab to wash our gear while the owner went to get cash. But when we returned, the boat and the people who hired us had left. We got stiffed!
Having learned my lesson, I demanded $30 just to get in the water for my next job in September of the following year. An electronics shop next to Great Western hired Guy Hoelzer and me to install a sonar unit on an albacore boat from San Diego, the Quicksilver. Knowing nothing about what I was doing, I relied on their topside guidance and it took an hour in the murky Moss Landing harbor water. Guy and I were each paid $100 and we had made it to the big time. Sadly, eight years later the Quicksilver sank while fishing off Vancouver Island and four crew members perished in a storm with 40-50 kt winds and 20 ft seas. A surviving crew member held his dying son in his arms just minutes before the father was rescued. You can read more about the tragedy here:
Four days later, John Heine asked me to help him with a paid diving job for International Shellfish Enterprises. ISE was a mariculture facility with an intake on the west side of the Moss Landing peninsula. It took us three dives to install a very long 3 inch black ABS flexible pipe for their new intake. We were in 15 ft of water and the surge was incredible. At best, the underwater visibility was 5 ft and we were pounded by every six ft swell that passed overhead. We attached concrete parking lot bumpers along the entire length of the pipe to weight it down. We worked from 5 AM to 1 PM and earned $50/hr for our total time, including washing up dive gear.
While Mark Carr was the initiator of my paid diving adventures, John Heine would have to be considered my benevolent pimp. John and I made a total of 12 dives for ISE over two months. We added a dozen more parking lot bumpers to the 3” pipe (which had floated to the surface) and then graduated to deeper dives on ISE’s 6” pipe. We cut the larger diameter pipe at 70 ft to remove clogs and added a giant metal “A” frame to keep the end off the sandy bottom. The money was very good, helping to offset school costs, and allowed me to upgrade some of my dive gear.
On October 5, 1981, John and I made a dive in Moss Landing Harbor on an albacore boat, the Sharron. With the help of their winch, we used a crowbar to free a stabilizing fin. We also changed their zincs* and earned $100 apiece for 30 minutes in the water (1.5 hours total time). But an experience two weeks later almost cost me my life.
*Boats in seawater are susceptible to corrosion when dissimilar metals on their underside act as a battery. Sacrificial zinc anodes are bolted to the hull or trim tabs and dissolve over time. These zinc bars need to be changed periodically and it’s a fairly simple process with a wrench. A diver can swap out zincs in a few minutes compared to the cost of pulling a vessel out in a boat yard.
The goal of the work that Tuesday (10/21/81) was to place a cone on the end of the 6” pipe that was near the submarine canyon in 70 ft of water. The ocean was cooperating with only a 2-3 ft swell and John and I swam the cone out on the surface. We wanted to drop down where we thought we’d find the end of the pipe. Before the advent of GPS, we used a pair of visual shore line-ups to note when a near object was in front of a more distant landmark. That would put us in the vicinity of our desired location. We descended and went to 90 feet without hitting the bottom. We were too deep and started our ascent to try again. Once or twice at 70 feet on the way up, my regulator gave me only half a breath. On the second try we were still too deep and my regulator was still occasionally hard to breathe on every few breaths at about 70 ft. We tried the line-ups again and hit the bottom on our 3rd attempt. The visibility was surprisingly good – an impressive 10-15 ft. The cone had a rope tied to it and we used it to do a circle search to try to find the end of the pipe. It only took us a few minutes to find the pipe after widening our search to a diameter of 20 ft. We worked hard to get the cone on the pipe and tie it off. Meanwhile, my regulator was getting worse and I made sure John was right next to me. After 10 minutes on the bottom, I finally couldn’t get a full breath no matter how hard I sucked. My regulator had essentially quit. I gave John the out of air sign (drawing a finger across your throat) and we began buddy breathing where we shared the second stage of his regulator. We started swimming up together and I was anxious to get to the surface. At 60 feet, John vented my buoyancy compensator so that I wouldn’t rocket out of the water and embolize. I was wearing a 32 lb weight belt because of the strong surge we normally encountered, and now I had to kick even harder to make vertical progress. Normally the donor takes two breaths before passing the regulator to the receiver for his two breaths. But I was honking 4-5 breaths for every 2 John took. I was almost gasping for air because I was so breathless and thought we’d never make it to the surface. At 30 feet, I fought the strong urge to ditch our buddy breathing and just swim for it. I was very close to panicking. Luckily we both stayed under control and the surface air never tasted so good in my lungs. John had just saved my life.
I had my regulator serviced and continued to do odd diving jobs. I worked on the New Janet Ann II again and cut a steel-belted tire and rope (from a side bumper) that made six wraps around the propeller and along one foot of the shaft, earning $75. The gravy train of the ISE work finally ended in November, and on December 2nd I shifted to helping Mark Silberstein clean the MLML Seawater Intake with an iron bar and pneumatic gun.
Raising the Sal Boy
A new harbor adventure greeted me on January 15, 1982. Over the holidays, a purse seiner named SalBoy had been tied up to the dock next to the Moss Landing Boat Works (a boat hoist where boats were hauled out). Perhaps because of loose lines, the bow likely caught under the dock with a change in the tide and the boat sank. It sat in the harbor for weeks while the parties argued about who was responsible. Vito Ferrante, the skipper, hired me to help refloat the boat and I asked Gilbert Van Dykhuizen to assist.
Our first attempt to raise the boat involved using two truck tire inner tubes. When we tied the inner tubes to the deck railings and filled them underwater with an air hose, the large tires were sitting at the surface and didn’t provide lift. We needed to attach them lower on the boat, closer to the hull, which was sitting on soft sediment in 15 feet of water. The next idea was to tie the inner tubes to the propeller shaft. Heavy rains since the sinking had packed silt and mud against the hull. I went down near the keel in 1 ft of visibility and tried to tie a line to the shaft, but it was under the mud. I started excavating and kept putting my hands into all kinds of debris including fish bones and other sharp objects. I finally got close to the shaft, but had to wedge myself under the boat. It was a scary and stupid thing to do. If the boat shifted, I would be trapped. I finally got the line around the shaft and we filled the inner tubes. The boat didn’t budge.
Vito’s cousin Tory attempted the next plan of attack by putting a waterbed mattress in the boat’s hold. While it filled with air, the mattress caught on a nail or other sharp object and popped.
Plan number three involved tying a come-a-long winch to the pier and ratcheting the boat up. We raised the bow somewhat, but the vessel was still stuck on the bottom of the harbor. We decided to give up for the night and regroup at 8 AM the next morning.
Idea number four involved using 55 gallon steel drums to provide lift. A crew welded metal eyelets on the ends of the drums where our lines could attach. We tied the drums as close as possible to solid areas of the boat deck, added air, and capped them off. It took most of the day to add 14 drums, and to our surprise, this technique was actually working! The boat came up a lot, but there were three places water could enter before we could start pumping: the hold, the engine room, and the cabin. Gil helped tie the boat to a truck and the vessel was dragged as close to land as possible, but much of the boat was still underwater. We hoped a drop in the tide would help lower the water below the three openings. We sealed off the hold and the engine room was now above water. We succeeded in boarding up the cabin as low tide approached, two hours before midnight. Now the race was on and we started pumping for our lives. Gil and I were afraid we wouldn’t get paid unless we actually floated the boat. We had to keep plugging holes in the port windows and fuel openings on the deck. Progress was slow until the boat suddenly started rising fast. The keel had finally been freed from the mud. It wasn’t until around midnight when the SalBoy had returned to the surface.
The next morning there was only 1 foot of water in the compartments after we had pumped it dry the following night. The SalBoy was hoisted out of the water and our mission was complete. Gil and I were paid a total of $650 for the two days of work. We were exhausted, but felt as rich as kings.
By now, I was an experienced boat refloater and on February 16, 1982, I was called to raise the 35 ft Barbara, another fishing boat that had sunk at B-dock in Moss Landing Harbor that morning. Recall that 1982-1983 was a strong El Niño. Allan Fukuyama and I attached two tractor tire inner tubes to the deck cleats and raised the boat enough to put a line under the keel and around the shaft. We tied two more inner tubes to the line going under the boat and it was enough to float the boat where it could be beached. Allan and I split $250 for two hours of work in zero visibility.
The R/V Cayuse Bow Thruster
On April 6, 1982 the crew of MLML’s R/V Cayuse asked me to dive on their ship to examine the bow thruster and see if it was operating properly. They had been in San Francisco Bay and hit something. Alistair Hamilton and I jumped in the water at Moss Landing Harbor where the Cayuse was docked. The visibility was only 9 inches, but I could see that the bow thruster propeller was completely gone. Three bolts had been sheared off and one was missing. I used Vise-Grip pliers to remove one of the bolts that was sticking out. The other two bolts were snapped off inside and I used a chisel and hammer on the outer edge of the bolts to slowly rotate them. When enough threads were finally sticking out, I was able to grab the bolts with the Vise-Grips. The crew were very thankful and told me I had saved them several thousand dollars in haul-out costs. Then they offered me a six-pack of beer. Needless to say, this was not my usual remuneration and the lab eventually gave me $100.
Rescuing the Seismic Profiler
Around sunset on April 22, 1982, Dave Schwartz came running into the lab and was frantically trying to find help. Hank Mullins and Dave had taken a new seismic profiler out in a Boston whaler to examine the subtidal geologic features near the mouth of Elkhorn Slough. The apparatus was bulky and consisted of several parts kept in the boat and a large uniboom sled towed behind. Compressed air blasts from the uniboom are directed to the ocean floor, hydrophones receive the signals, and a geologic profile is generated through computer processing. On this day, the yellow and blue uniboom sled was trapped below the surface and the large black cable connecting it to the equipment in the boat was hung up on something underwater.
At 7:00 PM, there were few people still at the lab. I was the only diver and didn’t want to do a night dive in the harbor by myself. But Dave pleaded with me saying that Hank needed to be rescued because the tide was coming in and the whaler might sink. They would lose several thousands of dollars of equipment if they had to jettison it. I grabbed my dive gear, loaded it into a lab vehicle, and Dave and I headed over to the Highway 1 bridge. I jumped in the water from a dock at Maloney’s Harbor Inn on the northwest side of the bridge and started swimming parallel to the bridge to get to where the whaler was positioned. But almost as soon as I left the shore, there was a tremendous incoming tidal flow roaring under the bridge. It was so strong that I barely made it to the bridge’s first piling and just clung on. If I had missed that bridge support, who knows how far I would have been swept into the distant reaches of seven-mile Elkhorn Slough – at night!
Meanwhile, back at home in his house at Sunset Beach just north of the lab, Dave Nagel patiently waited for Hank and Dave S. to show up for dinner after their long seismic profiling field day. Dave N. had cooked a nice chicken dinner and became worried when the two researchers were well past their arrival time. Dave N. turned down the oven and headed to Moss Landing. When he drove over the slough, he saw Hank and the whaler hung up near the Highway 1 bridge. Dave N. stopped and walked on the bridge, called out, and saw that I was in the water with my SCUBA gear. Both Daves, now working together, threw me a rope.
Unable to swim against the very strong tidal current, I held onto the rope while my support team dragged me from piling to piling. Each time I let go of a bridge support, I disappeared and was sucked under the bridge until both men pulled me back out to the next piling. Eventually I got to the whaler on the channel side of the bridge. Then, while climbing into the whaler with all my dive gear, I lost my weight belt. Dave S. went back to the lab and got me another one. I then went down the cable attached to the uniboom and the bridle was caught on an old submerged wooden piling about 10 ft below the surface. The cable was also wrapped around a second piling that was deeper. I untangled the cable from both pilings and it floated free. We were now drifting in the current.
Weight belts were expensive and I came back about half an hour later with a dive light and searched underwater trying to find my weight belt while I held onto a line. Thirty minutes into this dive, the current had slackened and I found my belt. Dave Schwartz asked me to take two core samples at a depth of 30 ft under the bridge for his thesis and I obliged. Anything for science!
Eventually word got out about the calamity in the harbor and we had to face the music. John Heine, our Diving Safety Officer, mildly chewed me out for diving solo, but understood that I was in a tough position. Hank probably got the worst of it and received a rather stern dressing down from our director, John Martin. I felt proud that I had rescued the lab’s equipment, but acknowledged it was a dangerous stunt. Many things could have gone wrong, and almost did, but thankfully it all turned out well – except for the charcoal chicken dinner.
Whoring for Food
Money wasn’t the only commodity involved in being a rent-a-diver. Once while we were tied up on the outside edge of the Hopkins kelp forest preparing for a research dive, a fishing boat approached us. The skipper asked if someone could cut kelp from his propeller. I jumped in and spent a couple minutes cutting Macrocystis from under the stern. I was very pleasantly surprised when the captain rewarded me with a bucket of fresh spot prawns (Pandalus platyceros) which I subsequently used as leverage when suggesting a romantic dinner that night. Another time I was again anchored along the outer Hopkins kelp canopy with different dive buddies and I saw the same fishing boat bearing down on us. I quickly began putting on my dive gear and my boatmates became worried, thinking I was abandoning ship. Of course the boat didn’t ram us and made a quick turn at the last minute. On this occasion we were asked to change the zincs on the underside of the hull. I wanted to be sure that I was the first one to provide the services, knowing there would be a sumptuous prawn reward. That bonanza evaporated as I never saw the boat again.
Addendum (Shark Story)
When you tell diving tales, everyone wants to hear a shark story. I’ve got a few, but none occurred while I was underwater at Moss Landing. The one MLML ocean shark story I can share occurred in the early 1980s. I wasn’t that into volleyball and requested SJSU Student Activity funds to buy a lab football. Todd Anderson, John Heine, Mickey Singer, Joel Thompson, Allan Fukuyama, Bruce Welden, Guy Hoelzer, Don Canestro, Mark Carr, Alan Lewitus, and others would go out to the beach next to the old lab and we’d play football on the sand. We used a stick to draw a line in the sand or put kelp or other debris up near the high tide wrack line to mark one of the out of bounds sidelines. The other sideline was simply the water. If you caught a pass and ran into the ocean, you were out of bounds and play stopped. One afternoon, John Heine had the ball and ran into the water. He yelled to us that he saw a shark! We were skeptical and wanted proof. But lo and behold, there was a shark thrashing around in the surf zone. For further validation, John decided to show it to us. He reached into the water, grabbed it by the tail, and tossed it up on the sand. It was a live, 3-4 ft blue shark. After a minute or two, he pitched it back in the water. Later, he lamented not keeping it as a data point for the MLML Shark Aging Research group.
The California Legless Lizard (Anniella pulchra) is by nature an elusive creature and difficult to study because they live underground. Still, early surveys at our new MLML building site indicated that there were legless lizards present and experts thought that we might find a couple of hundred of them in the construction area. These animals are a designated California Species of Special Concern for two reasons; they have very specific habitat requirements meaning that there are very few places where they can live, and their specific coastal dune habitat is subjected to continual human impacts. Under an agreement with the California Department of Fish & Game that included specific permit requirements to mitigate any impacts to the lizards, the labs made plans to remove the lizards and translocate them to the adjacent dunes.
The dunes, which surround the labs on three sides, were to be restored as native habitat, and harmful iceplant, radish, ripgut grass and other weeds were replaced with native bushes. This work began in 1997 on six acres, and continues to provide high quality habitat to a long list of native animals.
Two federally protected plant species thrive there now (Chorizanthe pugens pugens and Gilia tenuiflora arenaria.
In 1997-1998 we carefully hand raked every inch of the construction zone. To everyone’s amazement, over 3500 Anniella were recovered.
This project provided a great research opportunity to learn about the longevity, movement, population density, and microhabitat choices of Anniella. Our re-building agreement also included a stipulation that we closely track the health of translocated lizards for a five-year period. We used new technology as a tool for tracking the movements and habits of our population of animals. We placed small microchips called PIT tags (Passive Integrated Transponders) in about 600 lizards, then released them. With a special modified reader that looks a lot like a metal detector, each unique PIT tag can be read to a depth of 11.5 cm below the soil surface. We were able to survey the hill and find lizards in their underground habitat without recapturing or disturbing them. Translocation efforts were very successful and have provided a model for other similar projects.
We are starting to get some of the pictures from the MLML 50th Anniversary celebration, so for the next few blogs I am just going to post pictures from the weekend. All the following photos were taken by David Schmitz. Please comment as needed. I will try and identify people but I will need help.
On Friday afternoon (5 August 2016) we had a VIP Reception, a few photos from that event.
Then on Saturday morning, the MLML clan began to assemble. For most the day people reminisced, caught up, and toured the lab.
And they posed for pictures
All of the labs were photographed although some people missed their allotted time and did not make the lab photo. I have added many lab shots here, but did not list all the people. So if someone wants to make a go of listing all the people in your lab’s photo, I will amend this blog.
More to come in future blogs, including the Geological, Chemical , and Biological Oceanography labs and pictures of folks from the BBQ and dance. Please send us any pictures you want to share with us.
It was an awesome weekend (6 and 7 August 2016), as the MLML alumni, and current and past staff, faculty, and students assembled, talked, laughed, and celebrated. We had 450 people here on Saturday, and given that most of the people attending were probably alumni, that means about 50% of our 640 graduates were here. That’s an amazing turnout. The students made $2,050 via various events that will go to student scholarships. So you have helped the student cause in a big way.
I will be getting a large number of photos from the professional photographer next week, so this week is just a tease of random shots before next week’s photo blog. I hope you enjoy.
We took pictures of each lab. Here is Ichthyology.
We had fun under the tent.
We had grads from the 1960s and early 70s who attended MLML just after the lab began.
And they created their own t-shirts for the occasion.
The Quilt Quild produced three quilts for a raffle to generate funds for the Signe Lundstrom Memorial Scholarship Fund that supports MLML students. They raised $2,000.
We made music under the tent.
And we gathered in the field next to the tent.
It was great seeing everyone, and we missed all of you that could not be here. The whole weekend was a blast. Next week’s blog will be lots more pictures. Way to go MLML!
In the 50 years of its existence MLML has accomplished a great deal. Kenneth Coale calls it the “Little Marine Lab that Could”. John Martin said that its success was due to the MLML “spirit”. It certainly has a lot to do with people working together to achieve individual and institutional goals. It is truly remarkable that ethos is a part of all the people that work here. It does not matter if you are cleaning floors, working on facilities, maintaining and running boats, getting a M.S. degree, shelving books, or mentoring students, everyone seems to like their job and know how important each person is to the greater good.
This is the last blog before the Anniversary weekend, but I hope we can continue to produce blogs into the future. There are still many stories to tell of the past, and innumerable ones starting right now. So anyone that has a blog idea please let me know, we want to continue this saga. But this week’s blog is sort of a summary, or a celebration of the 50 years of MLML and its SPIRIT.
Because the main purpose of MLML is to educate students and specifically to provide a topnotch Masters program in Marine Science, the people that have created this successful model have been the Faculty. Below is the list of the faculty (and some random pictures) and when they were here. It is the best I have right now, so if there are inaccuracies please let me know.
Directors of MLML
1965 – 1971 John Harville
1971 – 1972 Robert Arnal
1972 – 1976 Robert Hurley
1976 – 1993 John Martin
1993 – 1994 Jim Nybakken
1994 – 1998 Gary Greene
1998 – 1998 Jim Nybakken
1998 – 2011 Kenneth Coale
2011 – now Jim Harvey
Faculty of MLML
1973 – 1976 Tom Thompson
1976 – 2002 Mike Foster
2002 – now Mike Graham
1966 – 1998 Jim Nybakken
1976 – 1980 Ann Hurley
1999 – now Jon Geller
1971 – 2011 Greg Cailliet
2011 – now Scott Hamilton
Mammals and Birds
1966 – 1979 G. Victor Morejohn
1981 – 1989 Bernd Wursig
1989 – 2011 Jim Harvey
2015 – now Gitte McDonald
1969 – 2000 Bill Broenkow
2000 – 2014 Erika McPhee-Shaw
2015 – now Tom Connolly
1966 – 1978 Robert Arnal
1978 – 1982 Hank Mullins
1983 – 1992 Mike Ledbetter
1994 – 2004 Gary Greene
2006 – now Ivano Aiello
1988 – 1998 Ken Johnson
1998 – now Kenneth Coale
1971 – 1972 Mary Silver
1972 – 1976 John Martin
1979 – 1986 George Knauer
1989 – now Nick Welschmeyer
19 – 1978 Doris Baron
1978 – 1994 Sheila Baldridge
1995 – 2015 Joan Parker
2016 – now Katie Lage
Diving Safety Officer
1973 – 1976 Tom Thompson
1976 – 1980 Ann Hurley
1976 – 1985 Mike Foster
1985 – 2002 John Heine
2002 – now Diana Steller
We are, of course, most proud of the students that come out of this institution. They have gone on to become professors, Federal and State resource managers, teachers, researchers, and conservationists. I am sure that most have been successful in some small or large part because of their MLML education. The student body at MLML is mostly graduate students, especially recently, but it is constantly changing. The graph below shows the number of graduate and undergraduate students registered at MLML for the past 50 years.
The MLML student body has changed, from a male dominated group to mostly females. As you can see from the figure below, when MLML started in the mid-1960s it was nearly 80% males in the program, and now females represent nearly 80% of our graduate students.
During its existence MLML also has built a worldwide reputation in science, public service, and outreach. We estimate that MLML has generated in excess of $400 million in research funding. Much of this funding is the result of a burgeoning research community that assists with some of the educational goals (these are the Research Faculty) or are purely soft-money researchers that are an integral part of the MLML success (there are the Research Affiliates). These Research Faculty and Affiliates train and hire MLML students, add diversity to the research endeavors, and greatly expand our research capacity. Below is a graph of the recent history of MLML research funding.
MLML has grown, evolved, and thrived because everyone that comes here works hard, is dedicated, works together, and has fun. It has been a wonderful ride.
Along those lines we also want to get copies of photos. Many of you took pictures when you were at MLML or have spectacular ocean-themed shots. We would like to use them for a variety of purposes if you are willing so send us your photos, we can scan pictures or 35mm slides, then we will return them. Or bring them to the 50th celebration.
Popular science magazines and documentaries depict marine scientists as sea going adventurers equipped with a pair of binoculars or a fish net, or explorers who dive in the abyss using SCUBA or with submersibles to observe the ‘big’ things that populate the oceans.
Although it is true that there are some marine biologists that track the movements of humpback whales or great white sharks, and oceanographers that explore submarine canyons and other geological features which often surpass in size and majesty similar land features, not all marine biologists and oceanographers study the big things: it is quite the opposite.
The development of modern marine science in the last century has demonstrated that it is only by fully understanding the small-scale processes and features that we improve our knowledge of the vastness and complexity of the ocean’s habitats. In a sense, the small (the ‘micro’) is the new frontier to understand the big (the ‘macro’).
The numbers speak for themselves. According to recent estimates, about ½ of the global biomass (the weight of all living things) could be made of single celled microbes most of which live in or underneath the oceans. Big living things are at the top of very complex food webs while foundations are made of often very small organisms: for instance a whale can consume as much as 40 million krill per day. Big geologic features like mid-ocean ridges (the largest mountain chains on earth) are made of minerals invisible to the naked eye. And much of the sediments that fill up the ocean basins are made of the hard remains of tiny planktonic organisms that populated the oceans thousands to millions of years ago.
To study the small world of the oceans, classic tools of marine science are not enough to observe and collect valid scientific data. The observation of the microscopic features of marine organisms such as corals, foraminifera, diatoms or sponges or the interior structures of organic cells (nucleus, mitochondria…etc.) requires very high magnifications, 10,000 and larger, more powerful than the optical microscopes, limited by the physics of light can yield.
The invention of the first electron microscope by Max Knoll and Ernst Ruska and the production of the earliest scanning-transmission electron microscope (SEM) by Manfred Von Ardenne in Berlin in the 1930s allowed scientists to finally observe the microscopic world to magnifications before unthinkable. The introduction of the first commercial scanning electron microscopes (SEMs) in 1965 opened up a new world of analysis for materials scientists.
Electron microscopes are scientific instruments that use a beam of energy electrons that allow us to ‘see’ objects on a very fine scale. The electrons are accelerated by a high voltage electron gun in a cathode ray tube (yes like the one used in the old school televisions) and condensed in a beam that scans and interacts with the specimen: the interactions produces new (secondary) electrons or backscattered (primary) electrons that are captured by a detector and turned into an electrical signal. A computer analyzes the signal and based on the location of the beam and intensity of the signal converts it into an image.
Moss Landing Marine Laboratories has been at the forefront of scanning electron microscopy to study of the ultrasmall world in marine science since the very beginning of this technology. In the early 1970s, the lab acquired a Topcon SEM. It was the work of MLML’s first faculty member Dr. James Nybakken used the SEM to explore the world of marine invertebrates (James Nybakken: the first faculty member of MLML; https://anniversary.mlml.calstate.edu/2016/06/james-nybakken-the-first-faculty-member-of-mlml/). Signe Amanda Lundstrum a lab technician for Dr. Nybakken in the early 1970s served as the first SEM technician until 1989 the year when the Loma Prieta 1989 earthquake destroyed the old building.
After the earthquake the SEM was setup in the Salinas trailers with the help of Signe. Guillermo Moreno then replaced her for a few years and finally Sara Tanner has been the main SEM technician until 2015. While MLML was in Salinas, Sara operated an ISI SX30 SEM from 1994 until the lab moved to its present location at Moss Landing, when we purchased a Hitachi S520 in 2000.
Sara Tanner’s specialty has been to distinguish and define fine structures necessary for phytoplankton identification, and she has numerous collaborations including important studies on iron fertilization with Kenneth Coale.
In 2009, through an institutional grant supported by the NSF Major Research Instrumentation Program, MLML acquired a Hitachi S-3400N-II, a modern low-vacuum SEM, equipped with an X-ray spectrometer EDX. These state of the art instruments and the large sample holder (10cm) of the new SEM have significantly increased the ability of faculty, research and scientists from nearby institutions to conduct microanalysis of biological material, sediments, rocks, hard skeletal parts, and other materials.
The low-vacuum capability of the new SEM together with the X-ray spectrometer combine the power of back-scattered electron imaging with the ability to display the distribution and quantification of elements therefore the stoichiometry of the targeted material. This technique, based on the characteristic X-ray radiation produced by a substance bombarded by an accelerated beam of electrons, is fundamental to determine the composition of unknown minerals and other biological and non-biological materials at the nanno-scale.
Since 2009, there have been many examples of multidisciplinary studies done by faculty and students in many labs within and outside MLML.
Undoubtedly this relatively new instrument with its incredible imagining and compositional capabilities will give further opportunities to investigate the micro-world of marine sciences and will inspire future generation of MLML’s students.
Special thanks to Sara Tanner and Lynn McMasters for helping with pictures and stories for this blog!
The Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary in geologic stratigraphy marks a seminal time in geologic history, a time when dinosaurs and other organisms were extinguished from the surface of the earth and the rise of new genera and species occurred. A similar type of evolution can be said to have occurred at the Moss Landing Marine Labs, a time line marked by the earthquake of 1989.
Earthquakes are not unusual along active plate boundaries such as the one that MLML sits on, but they are always a surprise when they occur. This of course is what makes MLML such an attractive place to study marine geology and has attracted faculty and students to the place in the past 50 years. Situated on the Pacific-North American plate boundary at the continents’ edge and overlying a block of Cretaceous granite known as the Salinian Block, the Labs’ geographic location has been transported from where Santa Barbara is located today to its present position since the mid-Tertiary time, in the past 27 million years.
The dynamic edge of the continent is expressed in many faults mapped both onshore and offshore. In the Monterey Bay region the San Andreas is the master plate boundary fault, rupture along which produced the 1989 earthquake, but just offshore of MLML in Monterey Bay are several other active faults, faults of the San Gregorio and Monterey Bay fault zones that control the geomorphology of Monterey Canyon and part of the San Andreas fault system.
Monterey submarine canyon, eroded deeply into the granitic rocks of the Salinian Block, sits just offshore of Moss Landing and is the largest such feature along the contiguous U.S. It is the size of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River and its active heads are a stone throw from the beach. Here the canyon heads intercept sand transported along the coastal nearshore areas and sends the sediment down to the abyss. Cold nutrient waters upwell in its heads inviting in marine fauna including whales that feed and frolic in its waters. Fran Shepard, the father of Marine Geology, recognized the geological significance of this canyon in the 1930s and it has been intensively studied ever since, being the most studied canyon in the world. Scientific contributions from students, faculty, and researches at MLML often in cooperation with colleagues at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute have furthered the understanding of submarine canyon processes.
From 1966, when I first came to the Labs to study marine geology, to 1989, MLML resided in a converted cannery and the former Beaudette Foundation’s marine laboratory on the Moss Landing Spit, with the ocean waves lapping at its backside. The library, hosting wood paneling, a fire place, and windows to the sea was a warm, ideal, and inviting snug place in which to learn, and was lovingly overseen by one of the most gracious and welcoming librarians I have ever known, Sheila Baldridge. After the Labs were expanded in the 1980s, the library was moved to an upstairs location in the old cannery building, again overseen by Sheila, where Director John Martin provided the first USGS Pacific Marine Geology field office, which I was able to occupy until the earthquake hit and pulled the Labs apart.
The earthquake, of course, destroyed this quiet, bucolic setting, but it had fostered a hidden strength in its students, faculty and staff, and the community that rose to tackle the rebuilding of the Labs. From the dust, or should I say from the sand boils and liquefaction, was born the: “Friends of Moss Landing Marine Labs,” “Back-to-the Bay” movement, “Save the Water Tower,” and the fight to build a new laboratory, despite “Sally,” Noel Mapstead, and Native American objections to rebuilding the Labs on “The Hill.”
After the earthquake, faculty, staff and students moved to a temporary trailer campus in Salinas, far from the sea and where chocolate permeated the air rather than salt spray. It is a wonder that anyone teaching, studying or working at the Salinas facilities can eat chocolate today. Nevertheless, all persevered with each and everyone connected to, or in support of, the Labs (far too many people to list here), in good faith and selflessly, sometimes on conflicting courses, undertook personal and team efforts to return the Labs to Monterey Bay and to build a lasting institution for the coming generations of students.
It was my privilege to come to the Salinas Labs in 1994 as Director to assist in guiding through the hurdles in the path to the sea. Cloaked in the likes of a larvacean house, a fitting costume for any of the Labs’ Halloween parties at Elkhorn Yacht Club, I appeared on the scene with the intent to filter out the bull s___ (B.S.) that falls from above and pave a smooth path forward. I was pleased to receive considerable support and with this support we were able to turn back opposition. In spite of finding Native American midden remains, and a multitude of legless lizards on the hill, the Labs received the funding necessary for reconstruction (thanks at least partially to the David and Lucile Packard Foundation). The new MLML facility was completed after nearly a decade of struggle.
The time line (MLML’s K-T boundary) was transcended once the new facilities were in place. The faculty had designed a magnificent building, well laid out for teaching and research. It now stands as the window into the ocean and from its expansive backside overlooks the Pacific and the head parts to Monterey Canyon, where geological processes and active marine mammal and bird activity can be observed first hand. Survival of the fittest occurred and new generations of faculty, students and staff are carrying the Labs across its K-T boundary and into a future with great promise. Being on the MLML scene 50 years ago seems like yesterday, but I am a geologist and 50 years is the blink of the eyelid in geologic time.
Sharks are sexy, sure – but skates and chimaeras are sexy too. You want proof? Well, good (or too bad, because here it comes). This week’s blog is about MLML’s Pacific Shark Research Center, an extremely productive program that was initiated in 2002 and has graduated 25 students and produced > 250 conference presentations, 180 peer-reviewed publications, and 22 books.
Back at the turn of the century, three prominent shark research programs at Mote Marine Laboratory, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and the University of Florida were working to secure federal funds to conduct biological research on elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, and rays) with direct applications for fishery management. East coast populations of several shark species were in trouble, mirroring a global trend of severe declines in many species – especially those that are extremely k-selected and/or subject to intense exploitation – and shifts in the composition of skate assemblages. The greatest federal advocates of the program, however, were congressional representatives from California. This was fortuitous for Greg Cailliet, who had a long professional and personal history with the major players from each of the east coast institutions and had carved out his own prominent elasmobranch research program at MLML. Phone calls were made, many long emails were surely exchanged (this is Greg we’re talking about), and behold. In 2001, Congress approved $1.5 million in funding to the National Shark Research Consortium through the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) Highly Migratory Species program. With this award the only west coast representative, the Pacific Shark Research Center (PSRC), was born.
At establishment, the PSRC consisted of three staff members in addition to Greg, who served as the Program Director: David Ebert, who acted as Program Manager, and Project Managers Joe Bizzarro and Wade Smith. For the first few years, Joe and Wade were still toiling on their MS degrees while also working for the PSRC. The influx of funding also helped to support MS research for Greg’s ichthyology students who were interested in elasmobranchs, and the targeting of new students whose interests aligned with the goals of the program. These goals were to conduct basic and applied biological research on chondrichthyan fishes (elasmobranchs plus chimaeras, a poorly known sister group to the sharks, skates, and rays), establish the PSRC as a resource center for scientific information on chondrichthyans to public policy makers, provide scientific expertise to NMFS and state management agencies to help better monitor and manage chondrichthyan fisheries off the U.S. Pacific Coast and in Alaskan waters, and participate in collaborative research on national and international issues involving shark, ray, and chimaera biology. Research was focused on addressing major gaps in our understanding of the life history (age, growth, reproduction, and demography), stock structure, ecology, and fishery biology of commercially and recreationally important chondrichthyan species.
“Shark” is a great buzz word – appealing to funding agencies – but in practice, the PSRC could have been dubbed the Pacific Skate Research Center, as the majority of the research has focused on this group of batoids (skates and rays). Skates are exploited in commercial groundfish fisheries throughout the world’s temperate and boreal regions, primarily as bycatch in other fisheries. Despite this incidental take, fishery mortality has altered species composition of skates and caused substantial declines in the populations of many large, nearshore species. Skates were afforded little scientific or management attention in the past because they have not supported lucrative or sustained fisheries. However, this situation is changing because skates are predators and competitors of other commercially important groundfishes, and because dramatic changes in the population sizes of exploited species have occurred. In the water off the U.S. Pacific Coast and in Alaska, management regulations either have curtailed or severely reduced commercial shark landings, but skate bycatch remains a major problem throughout the region, and skate management is therefore a primary concern.
Skates are represented by nearly 300 species of benthic, egg-laying cartilaginous fishes that constitute one-quarter of all extant chondrichthyans. Although they are extremely speciose, skates have conservative morphology, consisting of a dorso-ventrally flattened body and a limited color pallet that includes shades of brown, grey, and black. Skate identification therefore is difficult, and skate species have been historically misidentified or grouped into generalized categories by fishery scientists and managers for convenience. Describing new skate species and addressing current identification problems therefore has been a research priority of the PSRC.
Although species-specific identification has been problematic, some general characteristics of skate biology have emerged. Skates are extremely widespread, ranging throughout the globe from intertidal regions to the abyssal plain. They typically have k-selected life histories, a trait that is especially pronounced in species that attain relatively large sizes and those that inhabit deep-water. The ecological interactions of skates are not well understood, but they historically have been considered to be generalist predators that occur mainly on soft-bottom regions. PSRC research has helped to advance our knowledge of these aspects of skate biology, and more publications on skates have been produced since 2002 by PSRC personnel than by any other group in the world.
The salad days of the PSRC stretched from 2002–2009. During that time, federal funding was consistent and ranged from 1.5 to 2.0/year, split roughly equally among the four NSRC institutions. Federal funding was, however, terminated in 2009, and coincided with substantial change in the composition and focus of the PSRC. In 2008, Wade left to pursue a PhD at Oregon State University. Joe hung around until the funding ran out in the summer of 2009, then matriculated at the University of Washington during the 2009 to conduct his own PhD. In addition, Greg retired at the end of the 2009 academic year.
Since 2009, the PSRC has mainly functioned under the direction of Dave Ebert on shoestring budgets, as no steady or substantial source of direct funding has been available. The main objectives of the program remain the same, but Dave began to focus more effort on discovering “Lost Sharks,” poorly known or unidentified/misidentified species and especially those that are exploited in commercial fisheries. This focus builds on some of the major misconceptions of chondrichthyan fishes. The public’s perception of sharks often conjures up images of a large, fearsome, toothy predator, with its large dorsal fin cutting its way through the waters’ surface. However, the reality is that sharks come in a variety of sizes and shapes, from the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), the world’s largest fish, to the dwarf pygmy sharks (Squaliolus spp.). In addition, the batoids and chimaeras have historically received considerably less scientific attention than sharks, but are similarly exploited directly as fishery targets, or indirectly as bycatch.
Our awareness of the diversity of sharks and their relatives has increased substantially in contemporary times, with more than 240 new species described over the past 15 years. This represents nearly 20% of all shark species that have been described throughout human history. Most of these new discoveries have come from the Indo-Australian region, followed by the Western Indian Ocean and western North Pacific regions. However, despite such a rich and diverse fauna, the majority of sharks and their relatives have largely been “lost” in a hyper-driven media age whereby a few large charismatic shark mega-stars overshadow the majority of shark species. While these mega-star’s, such the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), receive much media adulation and are the focus of numerous conservation and “scientific” efforts the “Lost Sharks” remains largely unknown not only to the public, but also to the scientific and conservation communities.
Currently, Dave advises 11 graduate students that comprise the PSRC. Joe is back from UW, working with Mary Yoklavich at the NMFS facility in Santa Cruz, and Greg is enjoying his retirement and no longer directly involved in the day-to-day operations of the PSRC. Greg and Joe do, however, collaborate regularly with Dave and his students and have several research projects in progress on chrondrichthyans. The hope is that Dave’s Lost Sharks program will garner the attention of an interested funding agency, restoring a much needed financial infusion to the program. Regardless though, in true MLML fashion, Dave continues to work (gratis) for the PSRC in order to educate MLML students and continue to build our knowledge base about chondrichthyans. The accomplishments and productivity of the PSRC are considerable (see below) and speak to the dedication of the staff and students involved, and their love of these ancient cartilaginous fishes.
25 MLML/PSRC graduate students completed their degrees; 13 of these students have gone on and enrolled into Ph.D. programs with 5 having completed their Ph.D.
Since inception the PSRC has conducted >100 research projects, mostly in the California Current, Gulf of Alaska, and Eastern Bering Sea large marine ecosystems, but also in collaboration with colleagues in Canada and Mexico.
During this project period we have produced approximately 700 publications (average 56/year) including those that have been published, are in press, or are currently in review; this includes 22 books.
PSRC Students were lead or co-authors on approximately 350 of these publications.
PSRC students averaged 10 publications each of all kinds including book chapters, IUCN Red List Assessments, popular articles and electronic on-line publications.
PSRC staff and students published 180 papers (average 14.4/year) in peer-reviewed professional journals.
Individual PSRC graduate students averaged 3 peer-reviewed publications each.
The PSRC has contributed to about 130 IUCN Red List Assessments.
The National Shark Research Consortium received $11,088,174 in Federal funding from 2002-09.
$1,400,000 in extramural funding was additionally secured by PSRC personnel, which helped support graduate students at MLML and provided additional support for field work and travel.
25 MLML Graduate students were partially or fully supported.
PSRC staff and students attended over 80 professional conferences and gave 250 presentations.
PSRC personnel delivered the keynote address at 10 International Conferences.
Six PSRC students won individual conference presentation awards for best student presentation.
The PSRC has named 30 new species of chondrichthyans, making us the 2nd leading institution globally for discovering and naming new species.
The PSRC has discovered 5 chondrichthyan species from off the California coast that had not previously been known.
Being a MLML student during the post-earthquake 90s meant learning, working, studying, and maybe living (caretakers) in the Salinas trailers (Fig. 1). Sitting in the middle of agriculture fields may have made a student question their recent arrival and admission to the lab. However, the Salinas office staff (including Gail Johnston and Sandy Yarbrough) made students feel welcome and connected to their home campuses. The Librarians, Sheila Baldridge and Sandy O’Neill, took great interest in the students and their projects; and could always retrieve the most obscure, needed references. And the faculty had an energetic quality that inspired, united, and promoted the student body.
As a first-year student, you may have attended a core class (or two) in the triple-wide trailer on the island in Moss Landing (neighbors to the bait & tackle shop, and the original Phil’s Fish Market (Fig. 2); land now occupied by the MLML aquaculture facility). Also on the island was (is) the MLML Small Boat and Diving Operations building (Fig. 3); a student’s gateway to small boat usage in Elkhorn Slough or SCUBA diving field work (Fig. 4).
Although the temporary MLML campuses were separated by ~16 miles, the MLML community was tight-knit, and chock-full of camaraderie and can-do attitudes. There was nothing we couldn’t do (or at least try). Close-quarters in the trailer labs may have aided our tight-knit community, as shown in the Ichthyology Lab (Fig. 5).
Class projects and thesis work brought students together. Students were always willing to lend a hand; near or far. It could have been an ecology class project collecting rocky intertidal fishes, manipulative experiments in Stillwater Cove, class cruises aboard the R/V Point Sur and R/V Ricketts (Figs. 6, 7), or convincing excuses to conduct field work in Baja California, Mexico (Fig. 8).
Graduate school kept us busy days, nights, weekdays, and weekends. But those who worked hard also found time to let off steam at house parties, local watering holes, extracurricular sports, poker games, bus rides to a SF baseball/football game, ski trips, etc. The Blue House (Fig. 9) was a good place to start or end an evening; and typically involved a crooked stroll to, and from, Ray’s (aka The Moss Landing Inn). House parties may have had a live band, and there was almost always dancing involved. Monterey hot spots included Doc Ricketts, Players, Planet Gemini, Blue Fin Billiards, karaoke at the Marriott, Mucky Duck, and $2-Tuesdays at the Dream Theater (Fig. 10). The annual Bowling Tournament among faculty, staff, and students was always a big hit (Figs. 11, 12). And occasionally, faculty would host a their own lab party (Fig. 13).
During the 90s, there was a constant effort to rebuild the lab; especially for the faculty and staff. But the students were involved, too. It was part of our psyche. There were awareness campaigns; Open House events to let the public know we were still part of the community and that we’d return to Moss Landing; visits to the Salinas courthouse for hearings; and finally celebratory events on the hill (Fig. 14). The new lab opened in January 2000. Many of the students during the trailer years would never occupy the new lab. But, I think many would agree, the 90s weren’t about the lack of a permanent lab structure; they were about the MLML spirit, quality of education, and long-lasting friendships that were made during our Salinas years.