During a weeklong series of dives in OceanGate’s Cyclops 1 submersible, researchers will study the ecosystem of the Salish Sea, the network of U.S.-Canadian coastal waterways that include Washington state’s Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands as well as British Columbia’s Gulf Islands and the Strait of Georgia. Cyclops 1 will take three teams of researchers to depths as great as 650 feet, with OceanGate CEO and founder Stockton Rush in the pilot’s seat.
One project focuses on the feeding strategies for deep-dwelling red urchins, which play an important role in structuring seafloor communities and are also harvested for seafood markets. Kelp is the main food source for red urchins, but the feeding habits of populations that live below the depths where kelp can grow are poorly understood. No human has observed a red urchin below 330 feet (100 meters), except by using remotely operated vehicles.
The University of Oregon’s Aaron Galloway and the University of Washington’s Alexander Lowe will study how deep-dwelling urchins manage to feed at such depths — paying special attention to the role played by drift kelp, which urchins can grab with their long spines as it floats by.
Another project will focus on ocean trawling.
Scientists have trawled the ocean for decades to conduct research, affecting the seafloor environment in the process. Even scientific trawling operations can alter structure, decrease diversity and remove habitat for larger species in the ecosystem.
Three scientists from Friday Harbor Labs — Adam Summers, Mackenzie Gerringer and David Duggins — will conduct a survey of areas that have been trawled for scientific purposes up to 10 times a year for the past 30 years. Through observation and video documentation, the researchers will compare trawled sites to adjacent areas that haven’t been trawled.
The resulting data will be made available to the public with the goal of informing future policy decisions related to the effects of scientific trawling and management of the Salish Sea environment.
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