DNA SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH EXPEDITION
September 23 – October 5, 2018
Sea of Cortez / Baja & Southern Sea of Cortez
DNA Research Expedition
La Paz to La Paz
$3395 per person, quad occupancy
ABOUT THE TRIP
This is a unique opportunity to be part of an actual scientific research expedition. We will have 10 researchers on board and have only 6 spaces available for divers/guests. Divers will have their own skiff and divemaster and be able to enjoy 3-4 dives a day as well as participate in actual scientific research.
At each diving site, we have four main scientific activities being conducted. Each activity will be performed by a dedicated research team:
1) Collection of fish larvae
Scientists will be collecting small fish larvae (0.3-2 cm length) with underwater light traps that will be set up at a diving depth of ~20-25 m deep during the evening and will be recovered before dawn. Larvae will be attracted by light, enter the trap through small holes and then will be difficult for them to get out. Scientists are mainly interested in collecting larvae from red snapper, a commercially important species for fishers in the Gulf of California, and we will be collecting larvae from many different species as well. The samples will be processed, separated, examined and fixed on the deck of Quino el Guardian.
2) Collection of environmental DNA
During dives, we will be collecting water samples with 1 L Nalgene bottles at different depths (e.g. 25 m, 10 m, etc.) and sediment samples with 50 ml falcon tubes. Back at the boat, we will filter the water from each bottle with a filtering system that includes a vacuum pump to recover all the DNA molecules from all the plant and animal species present in the site of the dive. This technique, known as "environmental DNA", will allow scientists to analyze samples in the laboratory, sequence every DNA molecule present in the sample, and describe the diversity and abundance of animals from their DNA floating in the water. Scientists are especially interested in using this new non-invasive technique to describe the huge diversity of invertebrates and fishes from the Gulf of California, many of which are still unknown to science. In addition, scientists are interested in obtaining data about large endangered species that are scarce and very difficult to study, including large groupers (e.g. Gulf grouper giant sea bass and Pacific goliath grouper), sharks (hammerheads, pilot, dusky, etc.) and manta rays.
3) Collection of zooplankton
At night, scientists will use the zodiacs to drag a net near the surface of the water to collect zooplankton, which includes a wide variety of crustaceans and other invertebrates that many fishes feed on. At the boat, scientists will separate and fix the samples.
4) Survey about marine pollution by plastics
During the transit between one diving site to the next, scientists will be registering the number and types of floating plastics that are encountered in a 20 m radios from the boat's path. Plastic pollution in the ocean is now a global threat to marine biodiversity, and by conducting a survey of how much plastic is present in the isolated areas we will be visiting we will know the extent of the plastic pollution problem in the Gulf of California.
We will depart from La Paz, BCS, and, during 13 days, we will be diving at two seamounts (Bajo San Francisquito, Bajo Catalana), and 8 different islands (Animas, El Farallon, Lobos, San Pedro Nolasco, Isla Tortuga, Isla Santa Ines, Isla San Ildenfonso). We will start on the seamounts north of La Paz, then cross the Gulf of California towards El Farallon (Sinaloa), go north in the mainland side up to San Pedro Nolasco (Sonora), then cross the Gulf back again towards Isla Tortuga (Baja California Sur), and go south along the Peninsula side to finish again in La Paz.
In addition to the 6 divers/guests (aka citizen scientists), the scientific crew includes established researchers (Icthyoligists, geneticists, marine biologists, oceanographers) from research institutions in La Paz (CICIMAR and UABCS) and the University of Arizona (Tucson), in addition to graduate students from academic institutions from La Paz (post-docs, PhD and Master students from CICIMAR, UABCS) that will be collecting data for their thesis and dissertations.
WHAT A TYPICAL DAY MIGHT LOOK LIKE
In a typical day, we will arrive at the diving site before noon or after lunch do a prospective dive to select the site where the light traps for larvae will be anchored, collect water samples for environmental DNA, and take videos and pictures for quickly documenting the species that are present in the site. At the boat we will process the environmental DNA samples. In the afternoon, we will be doing another dive to set up the light traps that will be working overnight. At the boat, we will conduct the collection of zooplankton using the zodiacs and process the samples. Around 4:00-5:00am, before the sun comes up, scientists will dive again to recover the light traps with the larvae. At the boat scientists will start processing the larvae samples and the boat will start moving to the next diving site. During transit, we will be surveying the amount and type of plastics around the boat's path, until reaching the next diving site.
In some days, transit time between distant points will be larger, and there might be a chance to do only a single dive in the evening.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE DIVERS/GUESTS (CITIZENS SCIENTISTS) CAN PARTICIPATE
~ Help collect water and sediment samples during dives for environmental DNA
~ Help take pictures and video of the species present in the site
~ Help collect the zooplankton samples
~ Help process the filtering of water to recover environmental DNA
~ Help surveying plastics while the boat is in transit
~ Look at larvae and zooplankton samples
~ Participate in formal and informal talks with researchers while the boat is in transit
~ Observe how light traps for larvae are set up during evening
22 June 2018
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