**This blog entry orginally appeared on the website oceanspaces.org.**/p>
It was a cold and foggy morning just off Crescent City California, as we prepared to launch the ROV Beagle into the dark and murky waters within the Point Saint George Offshore SMCA. Having just recently mobilized our equipment onto the research vessel (see Part I), we were anxious about any issues that might arise as we descended toward the bottom. Waiting for a break in the swells, Steve Holz called out the launch sequence. As the ROV was flown away from the ship, we all were excited about our first dive into this north coast MPA.
Dropping down onto our first survey location, several canary and a yelloweye rockfish, two overfished species, swam up to greet us. We continued our journey at just over 65 meters below the surface and encountered many lingcod, quillback rockfish and tiger rockfish dispersed among the many colorful (and not so colorful) invertebrates within the rocky reef. A garden of white metridum anemones and basket stars aligned themselves into the prevailing current, while large sea cucumbers fed upon the built up detritus.
Working our way into the heart of the MPA’s rocky reef, we spotted a giant Pacific octopus on the hunt for its next meal. Dropping back to observe it’s behavior, we were surprised to see it pounce on some unexpected prey. Using the webbing between its arms, the octopus enveloped the prey and began to use its arms to move the meal towards its beak (see video).
As we approached the edge of the rocky reef, groups of canary rockfish began to dart past, signaling that we were now leaving the rocky reef and entering the soft bottom habitats. Small red octopus and several species of flatfish were observed among the occasional sea whip. Lingcod also patrol these waters and they are always on the lookout for a quick bite.
With the year one survey of Point Saint George Offshore SMCA behind us, we move to our next survey location, Reading Rock SMR. This location holds a special interest to me as I have always wanted to explore this offshore reef.