"Diving for Science" - Skin Diver Mag Retype - Paul Meister - Part 2

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Posted by Elaine on September 17, 2006 at 16:30:27:

In Memory of Paul Meister - Part Two

Recreational Divers Making a Difference

Retype of an article that appeared in "Skin Diver" Magazine, the November 1981

I have retyped this article as I couldn't get it to scan very well for publication on the web. Skin Diver Magazine no longer exists. This copy of the article was sent to me by Dodie Meister.

Diving for Science

Sport Divers Serve As The U/W Eyes For The Scientific Community

By Bill Barada

Picture a girl sitting among the rubble and ruin of a once beautiful beach. She measures the blood pressure and pulse rate of four divers prior to their preparations to enter the water. The area they will dive mirrors the ruin of the beach, for in these waters there once resided the largest kelp forest in the world. Now that forest is gone, along with the myriad of life it once harbored. Four other divers are leaving the water and soon she will be measuring their blood pressure and pulse rate. The time is 2:45 am and except for two hours sleep, this girl has been working all night and all the previous day. She is a nurse by profession and a diver by avocation. This time she is not being paid for her nursing efforts. This time her efforts are classified as recreation. She must be crazy.

The four divers who left the water are being helped by a beach crew to remove their gear.

"I found number eight," one of the divers says excitedly. "The critter had crawled under a rock," he adds. Then pointing to a mark on his underwater slate, the diver says, "Right here," while one of the beach crew shines a flashlight on the slate to observe the location of the "critter." The man with the flashlight is in charge of coordinating data. Professionally, he is studying computer programming: he is a diver by avocation.

"Are all the tags secure?" asks the data coordinator.

"Secure? Hell, those sea urchins like their tags so much they're hugging them," exclaims another one of the divers. The group laughs.

"These divers are members of the Ocean Projects Section of the Greater Los Angeles Council of Divers (GLACD) who have just completed their observations of tagged sea urchins during a 24 hour research project. At 1:30 am they had been awakened from their tents so they would be ready to enter the cold Pacific waters at 2:00 am. Like the nurse, these divers are not being paid for their research efforts. Their efforts are recreational. They also must be crazy."

"On the beach, other recreationists go about preparing food, checking tank pressures, and maintaining the logistics of running a safe 24 hour research project - the logistics of putting a team of four divers in the water every hour on the hour over a 24 hour period for the purpose of collecting data. When the project is completed, the over 100 individuals who made the project a success prove they too are crazy by sharing the opinion "That was fun. When will we do it again?"

This is the way Coastal Monitoring is described by Paul T. Meister, administrative director of the GLACD Ocean Projects Section. He is discussing a special, high intensity effort, however. Sea urchins feed on kelp and scientists suspect them of destroying Southern California kelp beds. So, GLACD divers decided to tag some sea urchins and follow their movements over a 24 hour period. Thus, the divers could learn things about these creatures that marine scientists could not learn in the laboratory.

This is the essence of coastal monitoring. It involves the careful observation of the marine environment and its inhabitants in the same area over a long period of time. In most cases the research effort is very similar to other kinds of recreational diving in that the monitoring is conducted at a location in which the divers are interested; dives are usually on weekends or holidays, perhaps once each month, very little, if any, special equipment is required, and research diving can be fun. The big difference, and it is big, between underwater research and haphazard diving is that those engaged in Coastal Monitoring carefully record and document their observations. The result, according to Meister, is that "We learn to really see, instead of just looking, and a whole new world is opened that we had been missing before."

The GLACD became involved in underwater research in 1971 as volunteers during a kelp restoration project at White Point in Palos Verdes. The project was administered by the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation. Money to support the kelp project ran out in 1973 and the Council's Ocean Projects Section was formed to continue the research. I first learned about the program in January, 1980, when Meister sent me their 1979 Project Yearbook. Inside was a note from Meister asking, "Do you think similar programs can be set up in other Councils? It might help establish the recreational diver as a pioneer in protecting the marine environment."

After discussing the program with Meister during my visit to California, I believe the answer to his question will be an emphatic yes; not just because helping to protect and preserve the marine environment is a cause in which sport divers have a vital interest - but because involvement in such a research program will greatly increase our knowledge and understanding of the submarine world and add immeasurably to our dive pleasure.

The GLACD's Ocean Projects Section has already developed a lot of these kinds of data for their area of study at White Point. They know that there is little diversity of marine life; that sea urchins are the dominant organisms, and that the few species of fish in the area are all juveniles. They also know how many abalone exist and that these are virtually all undersized blacks three or four inches in diameter They have documented the reproduction cycle of certain kelp, and recorded mortality rates and primary predators of abalone returned to the area by Fish and Game. They developed a simple, effective method of tagging sea urchins without damaging or disturbing the creatures, and this method was adopted as a thesis by a marine science student. They observed and recorded the spawning habits of a garibaldi as it tended and nourished an underwater garden of red algae during its reproductive cycle. They noted the fish's aggressive behavior in protecting its territory - its subsequent abandonment of the garden after spawning was completed, as well as a repeat of this behavior the following year.

Meister cautions, however, that divers should not utilize their research data to draw conclusions as to the cause of certain phenomenon because, as he points out, this could discredit the data as biased. The purpose is simply to observe and record facts, and to document any changes that take place with evidence that cannot be refuted. The official position of the GLACD Ocean Projects Section is to remain aloof from controversy as to cause and effect and let the data speak for itself.

Thus, Coastal Monitoring should be a natural for recreational divers because it is a form of underwater pioneering for which our sport is famous, and it offers another enjoyable way to increase our knowledge of the submarine world. But, the most important reason is that, if the program is adopted by dive organizations across the nation, the results of our combined efforts will produce badly needed information about the marine environment that does not now exist - and this type of research could develop into recreational diving's most significant contribution to future generations.

Interested divers can obtain more information by contacting: GLACD, Ocean Projects Section. P.O Box 1533 Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

The crying need for such information is evident from the fact that, despite our society's advanced technology and sophisticated electronics, we still know more about the moon than we do about the world beneath the sea. It is ironic that Congress was willing to spend more money studying the Sea of Tranquility on the lifeless planet of the moon than they were willing to spend studying the ocean during the same period. And life on earth is dependent upon maintaining a healthy ocean.

The oceans provide about 70 percent of the earth's oxygen, supply virtually all of our fresh water, and modulate our weather and climate. The sea's wondrous variety of plants and animals are the primary source of food to about two-thirds of the earth's people. Marine life contains gene pools with a potential of enormous importance in medicine, agriculture and other areas. The oceans are also a place for sport and learning that are of indescribable psychological value to humans - an escape hatch that gives refuge from the stress of modern civilization.

The Coastal Monitoring Covenant

Let us not chop down the tree to acquire the apples. Or allow a butterfly's birth to turn our eye from the beauty of the cocoon. Let us value all of Creation not for the purpose that we might use it. But rather let us value Creation simply because it exists. For we are caretakers of this planet, with the power to destroy or protect. We are not spoiled children given toys to break.

Editors Note: The Coastal Monitoring Program evolved through the joint efforts of four agencies. The Greater Los Angeles Council of Divers, Ocean Projects Section; The Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, Underwater Unit; The Los Angeles Chapter of the Oceanic Society; The Los Angeles County Department of Beaches.

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