Ongoing Projects and Training
AAUS Scientific Diver Training
Since its beginnings, SCUBAnauts’ first focus is providing youth with a safe learning environment. Thus, we devote a great deal of time training our divers in safe diving techniques. All members participate in rigorous training upon first joining in order to qualify as American Academy of Underwater Sciences’ Scientific Divers, and are required to renew their status each year through participation in a swim test, SCUBA skills and diver rescue evaluation, and CPR and diving first aid training. This training also builds the rescue diving skills of our members, like buddy tows, underwater mask clearing, loss of regulator and underwater navigation. Additionally one must have excellent spacial awareness as a scientific diver, so we also work to perfect finning and buoyancy for working divers. It is vital that exercises like these become second nature so that adding a clipboard, pencil, fish identification sheets, and the tasks to observe and record data do not become overwhelming or dangerous.
Coral Restoration and Reef Monitoring
SCUBAnauts has been actively involved in coral restoration efforts since 2011, when a partnership with MOTE Marine Laboratory was first established. Each year, nauts help transplant hundreds of corals within MOTE’s coral nursery and back out to local reefs. The scope of work with MOTE has continued to expand to include multiple trips per year, dry construction of monofilament loops, hammering coral tree anchors underwater, and monitoring the spread of a wide-scale disease outbreak that has devastated the Florida Reef tract. Nauts in North Carolina also participate in coral restoration of additional coral species, experimenting with three different types of nursery structures, outplanting coral fragments, and monitoring outplant reefs to determine the impact of coral restoration on the full ecosystem. Finally, in 2019, senior nauts assisted with collection of coral fragments used to establish a coral nursery in Cayos Cochinos, Honduras with the assistance of La Foundacion, the marine protected area management group. Plans are underway to return annually and assist with the growth of this restoration effort.
Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge
Since 2011, SCUBAnauts have collaborated with Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge (CWVC) and MOTE Marine Laboratory each summer. The Nauts buddy up with wounded or injured United States veterans and head to their mission: transplant corals and save our reefs! Each year, more than 500 coral fragments are replanted on Hero’s Reef near Summerland Key, FL, and hundreds more are fragmented and hung in the nursery for future planting. In 2018, following significant damage to the coral nursery by Hurricane Irma, buddy teams competed to hammer in the most underwater anchors used to secure future coral trees. Continuing the competition each year, Nauts and Vets study and practice for a SCUBA navigation challenge involving a 500-yard underwater swim. The team closest to the bullseye enjoys serious bragging rights. Each year, the Nauts rank their CWVC experience as their favorite part of the week, finding inspiration in every interaction.
Seagrass are an important piece of any marine ecosystem, but the Tampa Bay region in particular depends on these areas for shoreline stabilization, habitat creation, and improving water quality. Using a grant from Tampa Bay Estuaries Program, nauts collect data on both natural and mitigated seagrass sites near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge at least twice a year. Comparing data of seagrass species and percent coverage as well as from sediment cores and snorkeling surveys for mollusks will help determine the efficacy of the mitigation process and potentially assist with future seagrass site selection. Two SCUBAnauts began work at this site in summer of 2018 to work toward their Masternaut rank. To do so, they each must determine exactly how to effectively conduct research and lead teams of SCUBAnauts to correctly complete each step of the process to support or negate their hypotheses. Once data is collected and analyzed, each Masternaut candidate must present to his or her peers and in an academic setting.
Reef Ball Monitoring
In 2014 and 2018, SNI secured funding from a new artificial reef project in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Hernando County. The Nauts helped build these reef balls in late 2017 and have monitored them since for changes in coral, sponge, fish and algal recruitment on the new reefs. Despite the colder temperatures of the Gulf waters in the winter, the Nauts will continue to collect data all winter long. So far, the Nauts have been happily surprised to find hardy growth in a very short time. This dive continues to be one of the favorite local dive sites for our SCUBAnauts.
Artificial Reef Monitoring
Morehead City SCUBAnauts are working in collaboration with research scientists to characterize the invertebrate and fish communities along 3 artificial reefs. These reefs are at various stages, from newly created (sunk in 2016) to well established (sunk in 1989). This data is being used by researchers to determine effective radii of artificial reefs. Nauts have also participated in research studies about the effectiveness of different types of traps for collecting lionfish offshore.
One important aspect of the SCUBAnauts program is the opportunity to educate our community about marine science. SCUBAnauts demonstrate data collection methodologies employed during their coral reef monitoring activities to the public each year at the St. Petersburg Science Festival in conjunction with Marine Quest each fall. Additionally, you will find SCUBAnauts SHARKcon and other marine and youth events surrounding Tampa Bay including the Gasp! Our Beads clean up held annual each spring after the Gasparilla Parade.
Coastal and Wilderness Survival Training
SCUBAnauts conduct underwater navigation training operations with America’s elite Army Special Forces and Navy SEALS, but those who want to take fun (and training) to the next level, hone their survival skills on land as well as at sea. Each trip involves some of our highest-trained military personnel specializing in different aspects of living outdoors. Our brave leaders choose our curriculum based on the items at hand. Among the things we have learned are star and compass navigation, wilderness eating, wilderness first aid and fire starting techniques.
Long Term Algal Distribution Study
SCUBAnauts are continuing a 10 year algal and invertebrate study of the communities at Radio Island Rock Jetty in Morehead City, NC. This was initially started by a graduate student at UNC-Institute of Marine Sciences and carried on by science divers on a yearly basis. This long-term study is being used to characterize the longitudinal and vertical distribution of algal and invertebrates yearly, but also through this long-term monitoring study.
Underwater and Beach Cleanups
SCUBAnauts participate in multiple cleanup dives in Florida and North Carolina each year, pulling hundreds of pounds of trash from the ocean. One of the most notable annual cleanups in Florida follows the Tampa Gasparilla parade, during which hundreds of plastic beads find their way from parade floats and boats into the Bay. Morehead City nauts assist with at least 2 Dive Against Debris events at Radio Island Rock Jetty each May and September. This local dive training area is well utilized by local fisherman, paddleboarders, and beach goers. During each event, divers collect 300-500 pounds of trash and recycle fishing line, lures, weights, and other boating items.