JPL Home PageJPL Home Page - EarthJPL Home Page - Solar SystemJPL Home Page - Stars and GalaxiesJPL Home Page - Technology
JPL global navigation bar
NASA logo Ocean Surface Topography from Space Artists concept of TOPEX/Poseidon
JPL logo
Sitemap, FAQ, Links, Glossary Caltech logo





- Stuff for Kids
- Altimeter Basics
- Visit Interactive Exhibits
- Posters, Brochures, CD's and Slides
- Class Activities
- Links and FAQs


EDUCATION - Stuff for Kids
Meet the Oceanographers

Kevin Conley on a kayaking trip along the west coast of Canada.
Iím Kevin Conley and I work with a marine oceanography project called Sidney Pier Artificial Reef Science [Fig.1] in Canada. This is a really fun project for me because I studied biology and I like working with oceans and with people; plus itís great to be doing something for the environment. Itís also an exciting project because it is a non-profit project involving the community and several local organizations as volunteers and fund-raisers participating in ocean science. In 1996, a reef was built from artificial materials and we are monitoring the colonization of animals [Fig. 2] and plants onto the new environment to evaluate improvements in the marine life habitat.

Figure 1. Official logo of Sidney Pier Artificial Reef Science
Our project is located in Sidney which is a small town on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada [Fig. 3]. The Town of Sidney built a pier and wanted to improve the shrimp and crab fishing, as well as have a near-by area for SCUBA divers and for nature viewing. So the town built the reef as habitat - a place for organisms to find food, shelter, and for some, a place to fasten themselves onto - to attract more marine organisms to the area around the pier [Figs. 4]. One of the things that limits fish is habitats; different fish require different habitat; but all fish do well in areas where they can hide and a find a good food source. People discovered the value of reefs as habitat by exploring and fishing on natural rock reefs and coral reefs, finding both more fish and different varieties of fish and other animals and underwater plants (called algae). People in Japan learned about the advantages of artificial reefs centuries ago by observing that they catch more fish in the area of a shipwreck. Since then, Japan has put a lot of work into developing artificial reefs, and the rest of the world has begun to join in. So, to try and increase the richness of the underwater environment in Sidney we built a reef about 10 meters under the surface of the ocean from 270 Reef Balls weighing 170-340 kg and measuring approximately 0.91 x 0.61 meters [Fig. 5].

Figure 2. One of the first inhabitants of the reefs, the sunflower seastar (Pycnopodia helianthoides). P. helianthoides is said to be the largest and fastest seastar, reaching a diameter of over 1 m (with up to about 24 Ďarmsí) and speeds of 1 m per minute (pretty fast in seastar terms).

Figure 3. Map showing Sidneyís location.

The balls are made of environmentally stable concrete mixtures, and provide habitat for fish, crabs, shrimp, and many other marine plants and animals. The water is cold here, about 8 - 12įC in the summer (according to current data). This is why coral reefs do not live here, but there are lots of rocky reefs around Vancouver Island. The cold water is rich in nutrients, and strong currents bring these nutrients (as well as larval plants and animals, mostly in the spring) to the reef. We expect that our reef will be home to a large number of marine organisms.

Figure 4. The SPARS survey area showing relative positions of the Reef Ball reefs (north and south of the pier) and the natural reef we are studying as a control comparison (south of the Reef Ball reef that is south of the pier).

Figure 5. Reef Balls being deployed (November 13, 1996) for the reefs that SPARS monitors. 270 Reef Balls were placed in the water in two strips (one on each side of the pier) by crane off of a floating barge.

Figure 6. One of the ships used to perform acoustic swath (mapping) surveys of the SPARS reefs, called the MV Revisor (a Canadian Hydrographic Service vessel).

Movie of the reef from Mar 6 and May 1, 1997.
Local experts worked together to design the methods for making the observations used in monitoring the colonization of life onto the new reef [Movie]. They also had to decide what organisms we should look for, because even the experts canít identify everything underwater, especially without removing it from the reef. Then we had to teach the volunteer divers how to make the observations needed to find out if the reef is improving marine habitat. SCUBA volunteers, as young as 13, have been diving on the reef recording observations on waterproof paper and taking video along transects (straight sampling lines along the reef) as the plant and animal life have developed this past year. It is very exciting to see the colonization of the environment over such a short length of time.

Figure 7. The instrument (Aanderaa RCM- 4) used to record current, temperature and salinity for the waters adjacent to the SPARS monitored reefs.
Not only are we watching for plants and animals moving onto the reef, but we are also studying the reefís ocean environment. We mapped the reef with an acoustic swath survey which involves several complex computing systems that bounce sound waves off the ocean floor from aboard a boat [Fig. 6]. We then use these data to calculate ocean bottom characteristics, location and water depth information. These acoustic surveys are how nautical charts (maps that show the depth of the ocean and the coastline) are made that allow boaters to navigate safely. Water properties, such as temperature, salinity and currents, are continually being measured by a current meter that is fastened to the reef [Fig. 7]. The properties of the water are important because they help determine what animals and plants can live on the reef. For example, currents act to bring food and nutrients to the reef life, carry in new plants and animals to colonize the reef, and exchange water.

In 1998, International Year of the Oceans, we will continue to make the underwater video movies of the reef so that students in the local schools can watch new species colonize the reef [Fig. 8]. We look forward to watching the reef grow with even more plants and animals, and towards involving more members of the community in the project. Watch for our progress, partners and volunteers on

Copyrighted video footage was used with permission from the Royal British Columbia Museum for this section of the Year of the Oceans CD.

The SPARS project is a volunteer community project and would like to thank all of its volunteers and partners who have made the project a success. For a detailed, up to date list of these people and for more information on the project in general, please browse our web site. SPARS is currently a Science and Technology Youth Internship partnership between World Aquatic Sports Ltd. and the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Much support has also been received from over 40 volunteers as well as our partners at the Royal British Columbia Museum, Eco-Ed Environmental Youth Team, The Town of Sidney, Reef Ball Development Group Ltd., Frank Whiteís Dive Stores, and the Professional Association of Diving Instructors.

Figure 8. A modified version of a picture that a local school girl (Elizabeth Bell, grade 1) drew (the top half) after visiting the Bevan pier. Her picture was added onto at the bottom by picture from another local school girl (Kate, grade 7).

bottom line
Overview  |  Science  |  Technology  |  Missions  |  Newsroom  |  Education  |  Gallery

  Web Curator: Margaret Srinivasan
  Web Developer: Kristy Kawasaki