By Reid Brewer, Associate Professor,
University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF),
Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program agent in Dutch Harbor
NOAA Ocean Science Blogger sat down with Reid Brewer of University of Alaska Fairbanks, giving readers a glimpse into the intersection of ocean science and diving in some of the the coldest waters in the U.S. off the coast of Alaska.
This is part 2 of a 2-part blog series on science dive training at NCCOS’ Kasitsna Bay Laboratory in Homer, Alaska . To read NCCOS lab director Kris Holdereid’s overview of science dive training at the lab, click here.
Thanks for sitting down with us, Reid.
Please describe yourself, where you live and what you do.
As part of Alaska Sea Grant (ASG), I have lived and worked in the community of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, Alaska for the last nine years. As the ASG agent in Unalaska, I work as one of the island’s only marine biologists, so my experiences range from teaching young kids tidepool science, to performing a necropsy on a 60 foot Humpback whale. In addition to marine science, I also teach commercial fishing safety, SCUBA diving, and university credit classes. I have been happily married for five years and have a one year old son, Finnegan, that keeps me on the go. When not sampling mussels for Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) toxins or sampling docks for invasive tunicates, I also enjoy kiteboarding, distance swimming in local lakes (temp 45 C), and back country snowboarding.
What do you see as the role of diving as it relates to science?
Diving is an opportunity for researchers to see marine organisms in their natural environment. Though shipboard and laboratory studies are important platforms to answer questions about our oceans, diving offers the unique perspective of putting animals in the context of their habitats. Seeing a Red King crab on the deck of a fishing vessel is a completely different perspective from watching a King crab shuttle across sandy bottoms and rearing their claws up at would-be predators.
Please describe your science diving experience at NCCOS’ Kasitsna Bay Lab.
I have completed over 500 dives at NCCOS’ Kasitsna Bay lab, from taking Scientific Diving classes, certifications (Open Water Diver through Dive Master), and field research for my M.S. degree. From 2001 to 2004, I spent three summers at the lab working on my M.S. project as well as helping other graduate students with their projects. After completing both the Scientific Diving and the Advanced Scientific Diving courses, I also became a teaching assistant for the course.
What did you learn from the course that’s being offered this week at NCCOS’ Kasitsna Bay Laboratory, and how did it inform the way you view field work now?
The Scientific Diving course offered at NCCOS’ Kasitsna Bay laboratory is a great opportunity to gain experience in diving, while also learning the concepts of performing research while diving. During the course you not only learn different scientific diving techniques like using RPC (Random Point Contact) bars and quadrats, but you also learn about the logistics of dive planning, gear requirements, planning for environmental factors like tide changes. For me, these courses were ground school for the rest of my diving career.
Since these classes, I have applied these same scientific diving techniques to numerous research projects like the 60-day baseline assessment of the Aleutian Islands nearshore called Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP). In this two-year study we performed over 400 dives in 50 locations spanning 1,200 miles of coastline from Attu to Amila Islands. As a result of this study, in addition to the baseline information collected on invertebrates, fish and habitats, over 50 new species have been identified. University of Alaska scientific divers can get certified as American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) divers, which requires at least 12 dives per year. Though this can be difficult for researchers from Fairbanks as they are located in the middle of the state of Alaska, in Unalaska, we do as many as four dives per week.
What other types of diving opportunities have you had as a results of this skill?
As a result of completing the Scientific Diving courses at Kasitsna Bay laboratory and receiving my AAUS certification, I have worked on several projects to include: collecting jellyfish for diet analyses, fish diversity associated with different types and degrees of kelp cover, kelp growth under different salinity and turbidity conditions, fish and invertebrate diversity among different species of kelp, baseline invertebrate taxonomy, monitoring seasonal patterns in octopus denning habits, and many more. Over the last 10 years I have dove in Seward, Juneau, Kodiak, Ketchikan, Valdez, Homer, Fairbanks (in a pond), and throughout the Aleutian Islands.
Where do you see future of cold water science diving going?
As a result of the work the Brenda Konar (UAF) and Katrin Iken (UAF) have put into this program, it seems that scientific diving in Alaska could only continue to grow. There are many applications for cold water science diving and the students are guaranteed a challenging yet fulfilling experience. As one of the first students to come out of the Kasitsna Bay laboratory’s Scientific Diving class, I am continually amazed at where graduates from this program end up. Some are teaching scientific diving programs themselves, some are doing research diving in Antarctica, and others are working with fisheries management programs to better understand the dynamics or marine populations.
What steps you do you recommend readers interested in pursuing science diving take to learn about the subject?
Over the last several years, many people have asked me how to get involved in research diving in Alaska. To begin with, get a basic SCUBA certification (for the PADI the certification is called Open Water Diver). At UAF, once you have your basic certification, you can take Scientific Diving as an introduction to science diving techniques and local marine flora and fauna. After you have completed the basic course, you can take the Advanced Scientific Diving course where you propose and complete a diving project using the skills you learned in the previous class. Upon completing the Scientific Diving course, you will have the opportunity to take the Kelp Forest Ecology class or to get certified as a AAUS diver to work on actual research projects. Gaining knowledge and experience will open new opportunities for diving on other projects in other areas.
Where can readers find out more about your work and organization?
For more information readers can visit the Alaska Sea Grant Website, or my website. To see some videos of my research diving, you can visit our YouTube channel.
When Reid isn’t diving for science, he sometimes dives for dinner. Shown are two Red King crab weighing approximately 10 pounds each”
When Reid isn’t diving for science, he sometimes dives for dinner. Above: Reid holds two Red King crab, each weighing 10lbs. Photo credit: Reid Brewer
Guest Blogger Biography:
Reid Brewer is an Associate Professor with the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program (ASG) as part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). Reid is ASG agent in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor where he has worked to serve the needs of Aleutian Island communities for the past nine years. Reid is a Marine Biologist, holding a B.S. in Systems/ Environmental Engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point, an M.S. in Marine Biology from UAF, and is currently working to complete his Ph.D. in Marine Biology from UAF. Reid is also a PADI Master SCUBA Diver Trainer with over 1,500 Alaska dives and has certified 130 students in the last five years.