Location: Broomtail Reef, Pt. Loma
Times: 3:30 pm/5:30 pm [approx.]
Max Depth: 45 ft.
Purpose of Dive: Reef Check Site Surveys
Boat: Commercial Charter
Marine Life Seen: large schools of both adult and baby Senoritas, Black Surfperch, Kelp Surfperch, Blacksmith, 1 Bat Ray, Macrocystis, Pterygophera, Purple and Red Sea Urchins
Since the Scuba Do is in a ‘boat hospital’ having some minor surgery on her engine done, Reef Check Program Director Colleen was able to get us some spots on the local dive boat Marissa, in the capable hands of Capt. Carl and DM Anita, which some of you may be familiar with from your trips down to San Diego.
Unfortunately, the only charter available was the late afternoon one, which didn’t even return to dock from the morning dive until 2:30 pm, so we got a late start for such a busy day.
Tyler and his ‘re-breather crowd’ were getting off, having made successful dive to on the Avenger at 250 ft.
We anchored at Broomtail Reef, the other local favorite survey spot and Capt Carl dropped anchor and we were all pretty much rarin’ to go.
We had a pretty full team, so knocking out this site in one day was not going to be a problem. Colleen and I would do the standard 6 Fish Counts, the first dive, will the other teams did the two Cores and that would be it. We’d be done, with only the Urchin Count left for the second dive.
Dive #1: Fish Counts
The only concern was the visibility, which to put it politely, has been atrocious lately, here in Pt Loma, causing us to abort at least one survey due to poor conditions.
We needn’t have worried: as soon as we got down to the bottom, Colleen and I did an official Visibility Check and it measured 7 meters and change on the Transect Line, so we were good to go.
As always, Colleen was all business, knocking out the 6 Fish Counts one-by-one, Bam-Bam-Bam, steady as she goes and we were done within 50 mins.
Since a recent change in RCCA Fish Count Protocols, the Fish Counter’s dive buddy is just that: along for the ride, so I got to check out the beauty of the kelp forest and the 7 meter viz while she did all the hard work.
Along the flat bottom of Broomtail Reef I could see the periodic massive holdfasts of Macrocystis scattered about the floor, at intervals of about every 12 feet or so and the massive stipes reaching up to the surface and the schools of Senoritas and Surfperch gliding gracefully between them.
I kept noticing one odd thing: the fronds of the kelp appeared to be ‘drooping’ until I realized that it was due to the fact that we had literally ZERO current, which was what gave them that appearance, because we are so used to seeing them floating horizontally in the current.
At one point, I noticed Colleen pointing downwards, unusual during a Fish Count, and puzzled, I craned my neck down to see what she was pointing at, only to see a juvenile Bat Ray shoot up in front of us, like a bullet, scaring the bejesus out of me.
After finishing up the Fish Counts, we surfaced and took a pleasant break onboard the Marissa, whose crew had thoughtfully laid out sandwiches and snacks for us.
Now, all that remained was the bi-annual Urchin Count.
Dive #2: Night Time Urchin Count
As we prepared to go back down for the Urchin Count, it quickly became obvious that it was going to end up being a night dive, because we didn’t get back into the water until the sun was setting as a bright orange globe on the horizon.
I was paired up with Karl, so we suited up, got our slates and calipers ready and jumped in the water: we each had been assigned a quota of 60 urchins a piece, with Red and Purple to be divvied up as we saw fit. I took Purple.
A word about measuring equipment underwater: make sure it is ‘tied off’ somehow, because I had a devil of a time trying to coordinate writing on the slate with keep track of my calipers, which kept trying to float away. We had been in such a rush to get in the water and start the survey before dark that I had simply grabbed a set and jumped in—without securing them to anything.
During the dive, I actually ‘lost’ my calipers twice, and was able to ‘backtrack’ twice and find them—how lucky is that?
Adding to this, was the fact that the underwater world was rapidly becoming dark and transiting to the ‘night word’ in the Kelp Forest, which was a fascinating transition to watch, but made tracking lost gear that much more difficult.
Luckily, I was using a Nite-Rider light, which strap to your wrist, so, unlike my dive buddy, didn’t have to worry about juggling writing slate, calipers AND a free-floating light!
Nonetheless, it was no mean feat, reaching into the holes which Purple Sea Urchins tend to bury themselves into [unlike the Reds, which tend to be more out in the open], trying to measure them with the calipers and then recording the data for over a dozen urchins on your slate and then—damn! Where did my calipers go? Oh, they’re over there, back track a couple meters, retrieve caliipers……..well, you get the picture.
This went on for about 30 mins, before I was satisfied that I had met my Purple Urchin Quota [I actually over shot it by 15] and made my way over to where I had left Karl, busy with his Red Urchin count.
I was lucky that I had pursued a straight 180 degree compass course, to avoid backtracking and recounting the same urchins, because it made it that much easier to backtrack and find Karl again.
Finally, after about 40 mins., we were done with our counts and signaled ‘up’ to each other and that was it.
Broomtail Reef was done for the year.
It was a great day of surveying with Reef Check and my first survey ever in a Kelp Forest at night.
Everyone did a great job and we look forward to Spring being just as productive!
Dive safe, everone…..