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Scientists in a sub explore the Salish Sea

OceanGate's Cyclops 1 sub
OceanGate’s Cyclops 1 submersible prepares to dive in the waters off San Juan Island as a Washington state ferry passes by in the background. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash. — This week’s Salish Sea Expedition is unfolding amid the heavily trafficked waters off the San Juan Islands, but there’s still plenty of room here for scientific discoveries.

For example, researchers riding a deep-water submersible called Cyclops 1 announced that they discovered a new low for the feeding grounds of a prickly marine species known as the red sea urchin.

“We extended the range of red urchins to 284 meters,” Alex Lowe, a marine biologist at the University of Washington, proudly declared at UW’s Friday Harbor Laboratories, which is serving as the base of operations for this week’s expedition.

The expedition aims to assess the health of the habitats and species in the Salish Sea, a body of water that takes in the coastal waterways around the U.S.-Canadian border, from the Strait of Georgia to Puget Sound. The Salish Sea offers a rich ecosystem as well as a tourist destination and an increasingly busy shipping lane, but its murky waters make it challenging to study in depth — and at depth.

To remedy that, the expedition’s organizers are making use of Cyclops 1, a five-person craft that can descend far deeper than scuba divers go.

The survey expedition is a joint undertaking that involves scientists from the UW and other research institutions, with support from the non-profit SeaDoc Society and the OceanGate Foundation. Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate, which built Cyclops 1, is playing the lead role in getting the researchers to their underwater destinations.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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