**This blog entry orginally appeared on the website oceanspaces.org.**/p>

This time last year we conducted remotely operated vehicle (ROV) surveys of several north coast marine protected areas as part of the North Coast MPA Baseline Assessment Program (See 2014 Part II).  Just last week we began our second and final north coast survey (See 2015 Kickoff), to collect a second year of data to not only provide a better picture of the MPAs as a whole, but also to test for differences between the two years.  Our survey began at the Point Saint George Offshore SMCA, where we resampled areas from last year and explored several new parts of the MPA.

At first glance, this year’s video seemed similar to what we saw during the 2014 survey.  There were many lingcod and canary rockfish, not to mention the gardens of white plumed anemones and basket stars.  But, after a few transects, we noticed something was missing.  This year we did not see a single sunflower star (Pycnopodia helianthoides).

Looking back at the imagery captured last year, sunflower stars were observed clinging to the sediment covered rocks.  While many appeared to be healthy stars, others showed active signs of sea star wasting disease.  We have all heard a great deal about this disease over the past several years, but not much has been said about how it has affected the deep subtidal habitats.  This pocket of sunflower stars was the only deep water population we had seen in a couple years.  Prior to the outbreak of wasting disease, it was common for us to see sunflower stars in the deep subtidal all along the California coast.  Their disappearance from the deep appears to be a common tale statewide; the ecological ramifications are yet to be understood.

With Point Saint George Offshore SMCA behind us, we set our sights on Redding rock once again.  Things on the boat are running smoothly and we now have another set of hands to help manage deck operations.  Our deck officer, Steve Holz, has been working closely with our new intern, showing them the ins and outs of running the deck.  It is quite a bit of work to deploy the 500 lb. ROV, 700 lb. depressor weight and tend the most critical part of the whole system: the 800 m long umbilical.  Steve says, “it’s not about having guts, you just have to show some backbone”.  Looking good intern!

 

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Learn more about what we do at: www.maregroup.org