SeaDoc Society Partners with the OceanGate Foundation to Explore the Depths of the Salish Sea in a Manned Submersible

Everett, WA - July 25, 2018 – SeaDoc Society and the OceanGate Foundation have partnered in support of deep exploration and research in the Salish Sea. In September 2018 three teams of researchers will dive to depths as great as 200 meters (650 feet) in Cyclops 1, a manned submersible owned and operated by OceanGate Inc.

During the week-long expedition starting September 10, scientists will have the rare opportunity to directly observe two important components of the Salish Sea food chain: the feeding strategies of deep-dwelling red urchins, and the behavior of Pacific sand lance which hide in deep sand wave fields; and collect data to assess the costs/benefits of scientific trawling.

“Just like the space shuttle provided a unique perspective for scientists to understand space, Cyclops 1 provides our only opportunity for direct human observation of these deep-sea environments,” said SeaDoc Science Director, Joe Gaydos.
Cyclops 1 can accommodate a crew of five including the submersible pilot. OceanGate Inc. CEO and Founder Stockton Rush will pilot the submersible in a series of dives throughout the week. “We are truly honored to be a part of this survey” comments Rush, “We support OceanGate Foundation’s mission of “Inspiration through Exploration®” through our manned submersible expeditions which ignite a passion for ocean exploration and the pursuit of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This project is a great opportunity to inspire the next generation to explore.”

Dive time for all three research projects is funded by SeaDoc as part of their annual competitive grants program, with additional funding provided by the OceanGate Foundation. The following research teams will have an opportunity to directly view and collaborate in real-time aboard Cyclops 1 during the dives.

Deep Dwelling Red Urchins

Urchins in the San Juan Islands play an important role in structuring sea-floor communities and they represent a multimillion dollar fishery, but little is known about the populations that live below depths where kelp can survive, especially the ones so deep that they are not accessible to SCUBA divers. No human has ever seen a red urchin below 100 meters, although unmanned cameras have documented them.

Kelp depends on sunlight for survival, but it’s also the main food source for red urchins, which can live to be 150 years old. This study will explore how these deep-dwelling urchins manage to feed at such depths, with a specific eye toward the role played by drift kelp, which urchins can grab with their long spines as it floats by.

Rolling Sand Waves, Pacific Sand Lance Habitat

Sand lance are a small forage fish that play a crucial role in the food chain by converting plankton to fat that other fish, birds and mammals can access. They don’t have a swim bladder, which means they can’t stabilize themselves in the water column. They’re known for plunging their bodies into waves of sand at the seafloor as a mechanism for hiding or resting.

Beyond those basics, little is known about how they use this unique habitat. The sub will give scientists a front-row seat to observe these rolling sand waves, with real-time discussion inside the sub and peripheral vision to test several existing hypotheses and to document a far wider range than the camera alone could document.

Long-Term Impact of Scientific Trawling of the Seafloor

For decades, scientists have trawled the ocean floor for valuable research purposes, but trawling is not without environmental effect. It can alter structure, decrease diversity, and remove habitat for larger animals in the ecosystem.

The submarine will run transects in areas that have been trawled for scientific purposes up to 10 times per year for the past 30 years. Through observation and video documentation, the researchers will compare trawled sites to adjacent un-trawled areas.

As with all SeaDoc-funded science, scientists will make the resulting data available to the public with the goal of informing future policy decisions related to the effects of scientific trawling and the management of our Salish Sea environment.

About SeaDoc Society

The SeaDoc Society conducts and sponsors scientific research in the inland waters of the Pacific Northwest, also known as the Salish Sea. Their mission is to protect the health of marine wildlife and their ecosystems through science and education. SeaDoc strives to find science-based solutions for marine wildlife in the Salish Sea using a multi-species approach, advancing stewardship in at-risk places, responding to emergency ecosystem health issues, educating the community and training current and future leaders.

About OceanGate Foundation

OceanGate Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that leverages the challenge, excitement, and importance of exploring our oceans to inspire students to pursue careers centered on the oceans and educate community leaders to better advocate for our oceans.

Deep Dwelling Red Urchins Rolling Sand Waves, The Create the Pacific Sand Lance Habitat Long-Term Impact of Scientific Trawling of the Seafloor

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