Virginia’s First Fish Count with Lynnhaven Dive Center- Video and Blog –
Virginia’s First Fish Count with Lynnhaven Dive Center
By Kathy O’hara & Lindsey Hillier Hotchkiss
On August 2, 2016 LDC made history when eight women became the first Virginia divers to participate in the Great Annual Fish Count. Our mission was to count as many fish and invertebrates as we could identify at the Chesapeake Light Tower, located 14 miles off the Virginia oceanfront. And while our contribution to ‘citizen science’ was noteworthy, our day was full of laughs and the type of camaraderie we share whenever and wherever these ladies dive for fun.
Days leading up to the count, we practiced identifying some of the more common fish even creating our own guide (with pictures.) There were also a lot of jokes about each other’s ability to count despite the fact that career titles among our group included an ‘engineer,’ ‘school administrator,’ ‘business owner,’ ‘boat captain,’ and even ‘marine biologist.’
Counting was one thing, but writing on a slate wearing gloves in 60 degree waters was quite another. And then there was our plan on how to count while navigating the tower–would it really work? The idea was to meet at the bottom and split into four teams of two (one counter/recorder and one photographer). Each team took a transect and counted to the surface. Fortunately with flat calm seas and incredible visibility it all came together!
While our slates are still being compiled, we recorded at least 18 species of fish and invertebrates including a Great Barracuda and juvenile Sergeant Major. Our final results will be entered into REEF ‘s international database. REEF stands for Reef Environmental Education Foundation (see REEF.org for more information).
We’re hoping that fish counting will catch on at LDC. It’s actually a lot of of fun and adds a new dimension to diving in our usual spots. And since there’s not a lot of information out there about what divers are seeing in the Mid-Atlantic region (particularly Delmarva) we really are contributing to science as citizens, it ‘citizen science.’ The tower will be especially interesting to monitor in years to come as most of the mussels once abundant on the tower were recently removed. Future counts by our divers will help document the types and quantities of marine life on the rebound.
The prototype fish identification guide that we developed for this single count turned out to be an awesome tool! We hope to turn it into Virginia’s first official fish photo guide available at LDC. All we need now is pictures taken by LDC divers. Contact Lindsey if you are interested in sharing your recent pictures for the guide.
And stay tuned….LDC will soon become an official REEF Field Station. More information will be posted on how you can become involved will be posted soon.
As you can see from the video our day of fish counting was perfect in every way! From the dolphin escort on the way out, to an impromptu ocean cleanup (i.e. Scoop a Balloon=Save a Sea Turtle), no laughs allowed as we squeezed into our 3-5 mls, gloves and hoods, braving the 60 degree bottom temp (umm nobody mentioned bottom temps!) and finally celebrating our accomplishment with a pirate cup of bubbly and enough dips to last a month at sea (ladies come prepared), we had a BLAST and can’t wait to count again!!
And yes, even though this count was ladies only, rumor has it men can count too!