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Diving Into Grand Manan

Which dog knows how to swim underwater?... Scuba-doo!


Being a marine biologist isn’t always about spending every day out on the water and looking at cool animals… but sometimes that’s exactly what it is – and those days are the best! During the last week of September, I had the privilege of joining my team in a fieldwork trip to Grand Manan Island, an opportunity to jump right into the heart of the research I’m involved with!


The field team minus Anaïs. Christy Carr, Olivia Reeves, Sandra Jaskowiak (top; left to right), Davide Asnicar, Claire Goodwin, and Tom Trott (bottom; left to right).


As an ocean lover and diver, I was beyond excited to get out in the field and see what it’s like in Canadian waters. The purpose of this trip was to document the coastal habitats of the island and collect specimens for taxonomic identification and DNA barcoding. This required a collaborative team of divers and taxonomists to gather as much information about the habitats and their species as possible. On our first evening with the whole team, we planned the upcoming few days over delicious bowls of Christy’s homemade chilli.


Dive team with boat captain Emily in the back. Davide Asnicar, Sandra Jaskowiak, Anaïs Lacoursière, and Claire Goodwin (left to right). Credit: Davide Asnicar


The dive “dream team” included Claire Goodwin, Anaïs Lacoursière, and Davide Asnicar, all veteran divers with hundreds, even thousands, of dives under their belts. While I wasn’t entirely new to diving, with over a year of experience diving mostly in Australia and Honduras, the cold and murky waters of Atlantic Canada weren’t exactly what I was used to. Just before the trip, I got certified in dry suit diving, which allows you to explore the bottom of the ocean while staying mostly warm and dry in the comfort of your own thermal underlayers. Equipped with a new dry suit certification in hand, I was ready to dive into the mysterious underwater realm of the Canadian Atlantic.


Sandra and Anaïs doing buddy checks before a dive. Credit: Claire Goodwin


One backward roll off our dive boat and the ocean was ours to explore. As we descended through the murk, impossible to see anything beyond 3 m, I couldn’t help but remember the stories of Great White Shark sightings in the area. While these extraordinary apex predators are vital to the ecosystem, the thought of meeting one up close and personal in the open ocean was a bit unnerving. The uneasy thought immediately fell away once we reached the bottom, just below 10 m, exposing an array of life on the seafloor. Bedrock and boulders were covered in algae and kelp. We discovered sponges, sea stars, lobsters, crabs, and my personal favorite, nudibranchs (sea slugs). Each dive was unique, with some areas having muddy bottom and others featuring lots of rock or cobble, each with their own marine life. We collected specimens for later identification and captured photos and videos to document our findings on habitat forms. Initially, I was particularly excited about observing crabs in their natural habitat, later realizing that they weren’t all that uncommon as I had thought. Back on the boat, after diving some sites with mud, we also took grab samples of sediment to collect creatures like polychaete worms living just beneath the surface. As Claire lowered the jaws of the grab sampler down to the substrate, the rest of the team was ready with a sieve and buckets to wash away mud from the grab, revealing some sand and the animals we were after.



The sample handoff. Credit: Sandra Jaskowiak


Jonah Crab (Cancer borealis). Credit: Claire Goodwin


While we explored the waters around the northwest end of the island, the shore team, comprising of taxonomists Christy Carr and Tom Trott, along with algae enthusiast Olivia Reeves, worked away collecting intertidal specimens from shore. They also spent hours at microscopes, identifying and preserving specimens in our makeshift lab.


Christy collecting specimens on shore. Credit: Tom Trott


After long, productive days on the water, setting up gear, filling tanks, and preparing camera equipment, it was always exciting to get home, examine the day's interesting specimens under the microscope, and enjoy a warm meal, be it fajitas, burgers, or homemade pizza. We reviewed the day's footage, filled out dive logs and habitat forms, and then it was off to bed for a good night's rest, preparing for the adventures of the following day.


Two nudibranch specimens (Coryphella verrucosa) from a dive. Credit: Christy Carr


Alderia modesta specimen found in a saltmarsh by the shore team. Credit: Christy Carr


In the end, the trip was a great success! With calm weather on our side, we explored more dive sites than initially planned and new target species were added to the specimen collection. Aside from one mishap – the loss of an anchor – the trip was an achievement that the entire team can be proud of. Future fieldwork is scheduled for Grand Manan Island next year, which I unfortunately won’t be a part of, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity to help kickstart the project here on such a positive note. I’m already missing the team’s company and hoping for another chance to do field work during my time here at Huntsman Marine. Now it’s time for me to go sort through all the data we’ve collected.


Best Fishes,

Sandra


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