by Pamela Reynolds (ZEN Coordinator)
As a small token of our appreciation for the hard work of all of the ZEN partners (past, present and future!), we present:
“GRAZER”. Turn up the volume and enjoy!
This film is, as everything in ZEN, a collaborative production and we very much appreciate the contributions of all of the ZEN participants. Lyrics were written by Paul Richardson, editing by undergraduate Conor MacDonnell, and lyrics by undergraduate Nick Penthorne. The film features cameos by Emmett Duffy and others in the Marine Biodiversity Lab at VIMS, as well as chorus refrains from many of the ZEN sites (watch the film all the way to the end so you don’t miss this!). The film premiered along with a select few other films on the big screen at the Beneath the Waves Film Festival at the Benthic Ecology Meeting last week in Savannah, GA. Enjoy!
by Paul Richardson (VIMS lab technician)
The Experimental Site
Just barely over my jet lag, we recently set up the main ZEN experiment at the Fårö Island eelgrass meadow in about 3 -4 meters of water a one hour boat ride from the field station in Korpoström. Unlike the warm shallow waters of the Virginia grass beds, all of the work was done in SCUBA with dry suits by Camilla, Anna and Christoffer. I assisted from the boat or in my 7mm wetsuit with snorkel gear.
The plots were staked out with short galvanized rebar rods instead of the PVC poles that make up our “pole gardens” in Virginia. For marking tags they ingeniously employed cut squares of linoleum flooring tabs. The site perimeter is marked by small buoys. Because the water is so deep at the field site, there is no worrying that a small boat will run over the plots.
Witnessing the huge addition of logistical effort to conduct the ZEN work in deeper water with SCUBA and especially dry suits gives me a new appreciation for what the ZEN partners working at deeper subtidal sites have to do to get the job done. Everything takes at least twice as long. The work and general communication is more difficult. Work is limited by the air in the tanks, bottom time, and general fatigue. Once the work is done and everyone is out of their dry suits, they can’t just jump back in the water and fix something if needed. It usually takes another planned trip.
Further complicating matters is the fact that the usually clear waters of the field site (see pictures from the 2011 experiment) have been clouded by a senescing blue green algae bloom that leaves the water full of chunks of a green, snot-like substance that you don’t want to swallow – apparently it is hazardous to your health. Also, the eelgrass beds are covered with a matrix of algae that are dominated by the frilly Ectocarpus. Otherwise, the eelgrass blades themselves are beautiful, green and covered with very few epiphytes. But these Ectocarpus mats are so thick that in places they go completely anoxic and turn white. We see similar effects during certain times of the year in Virginia where large blooms of the green algae Ulva and red Gracilaria drift in and smother the eelgrass in the Chesapeake. Here in Finland there is the danger that if you disturb these mats you can get a shot of hydrogen sulfide that can penetrate right through your skin.
Also, since the Fårö Island site is about 24 km away it requires an hour long boat ride. With fuel costing 1.63E/L (that’s $6,71/gal) and SCUBA setup and breakdown time, every field trip is a significantly greater investment of time and money than what I’m used to. Field days are usually 15 hour days. But once it’s all done I know it will all have been worth it.
According to the locals and everything that I’ve read, the Archipelago Sea has over 30000 islands! Being the experienced boat captain that I am back in the States, I can say that I won’t even attempt to navigate a boat around here. The gauntlet of islands on the way to the field site is mind boggling. I’ll leave the navigating and boat driving to Camilla, Marie, and Christoffer, who have the local knowledge and skills to safely transport us to and from the field site at Fårö Island.
Finnish News Media!
On top of everything else, we also had a visit from the Finnish news media. Christoffer brought them by boat to our remote field site shortly after the beginning of the work on the 13th. We were each interviewed for the national T.V. news, the radio, and the magazine, Suomen Luonto, which literally translated, means “Finnish Nature.”
It went pretty well, except that I gave the reporter some footage of us working in the grass beds of Virginia and I neglected to delete the audio which I didn’t think would be included, but it was. Also, in my jetlagged state, I mentioned that prior to the human perturbations in the Chesapeake Bay, “there was 90 % more (sea) grass in the Bay,” which, if taken out of context is not exactly correct. The seagrass coverage that we have now is 10% of historic levels. In other words, seagrass coverage in the Bay was historically 900% of current levels! Either way you look at it, that’s a huge and worrisome decline given all the important ecosystem services and functions that seagrasses provide. Media exposure can be good for your cause, but I’m finding it can also be difficult. Anyhow, overall, I think we got the message across that eelgrass meadows are important systems all over the northern hemisphere and that they need to be protected. Check out the ZENscience news page for a link to this story.
by Pamela Reynolds (ZEN coordinator)
We introduced the Zostera Experimental Network to the public of Virginia at the tenth annual Marine Science Day (MSD) event at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) in May, 2012. Over 2,000 people visited the VIMS campus in Gloucester Point, VA for a full day of behind-the-scenes learning about marine science and the Chesapeake Bay.
Our Marine Biodiversity Lab ran an touch tank exhibit titled “Secretive Seagrass Creatures” where kids and adults had up close encounters with mesograzers and the fish, crabs and shrimp that live in local seagrass habitats. We even hooked up a high definition video camera to one of our microscopes so everyone could watch an amphipod graze on algae and make a mucus tube.
The public was very receptive and inquisitive, especially regarding the ZEN.
Questions we were frequently asked:
Q. What do you mean everyone at the different ZEN field sites did the same experiment?
A. We shipped boxes of experimental materials and sent copies of a detailed protocol (a “how to” guide book), along with instructional videos, to all of the other scientists to ensure that everyone used the same methods. The videos were great as not all of the participating students from the other countries spoke fluent English.
Q. How can you compare the Chesapeake to somewhere like Norway or Alaska? Isn’t it colder up there?
A. Yes, it most definitely is! And this variability, or differences in environmental conditions such as temperature and salinity, is very important. By having a range of environmental conditions, we have more power to understand how these factors such as being in a colder or warmer place can affect the important seagrass communities we are studying.
Q. How do you know these mesograzers are important? They’re really small. Don’t turtles, herbivorous fish and other larger marine animals eat more?
A. Although mesograzers such as amphipods are small, they can eat a lot of algae, especially the algae that grows on the leaves of seagrass and competes with the seagrass for light and nutrients. We have conducted many experiments in tanks and have found that mesograzers can do a good job at keeping the seagrass clean and promoting its growth. While turtles and fish may have larger mouths and take bigger bites of algae, they aren’t necessarily eating the same types of algae or the algae growing on the seagrass, and these larger herbivores aren’t found all over the world. Mesograzers, however, are everywhere and can be very abundant. If you grab a big handful of seagrass in the Chesapeake you can catch hundreds of amphipods!
Q. I live near the Chesapeake. Why should I care about seagrass in Japan or Sweden?
A. By studying other places we can understand how regional and global issues such as pollution, overfishing and seawater warming can threaten our local systems. Oceans make up about 70% of the Earth, and most of them are connected. If we only study the Chesapeake, we loose a valuable opportunity to help understand and predict future challenges.
Our one shortcoming from this year’s Marine Science Day – no one dressed up like an amphipod or other mesograzer for the annual Parade of Marine Life, although while cleaning up our lab we did find a child-sized Idotea (a type of marine isopod) costume from years past. Next time!