“I started snorkeling when I was a kid. No wetsuit, nothing. Freezing my butt off. As soon as I was old enough to take the scuba course without a parent, I did, and I have been diving ever since.”
Greg Jensen, the Capstone Coordinator at the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, has always had a passion for diving, despite being surrounded by the frigid waters of Puget Sound. However, it wasn’t until the late eighties that Jensen took up underwater photography and became fascinated with capturing images of life beneath the waves. From that point on, he found it impossible to go in the water without carrying a camera for fear of missing something.
It was that love for diving and photography that led him to publish his first book in 1995: an identification guide on the unique crab, shrimp, and lobster species along the Pacific Coast. Recently expanded, the new edition of Crabs and Shrimps of the Pacific Coast increases the total number of species described from 163 to nearly 300, covering every shallow-water crab and shrimp from the Gulf of Alaska to the Mexican border, with Jensen himself taking about 80% of the photos.
This winter, Jensen is releasing his follow-up book, Beneath Pacific Tides: Subtidal Invertebrates of the West Coast. Like the charismatic crustaceans featured in his debut publication, the colorful and bizarre invertebrates found along the Pacific Coast are explored in this new user-friendly guide, featuring Jensen’s underwater photography.
“People have this misperception of what it’s like around here because they think since it’s cold, and dark things must not be that colorful, yet if you go to a place where there’s a high current and a hard substrate, it’s as colorful as a tropical reef,” says Jensen. “It’s just crazy with brilliant colors. It almost hurts your eyes–hot pinks, yellows, reds—it’s just incredible.”
Additionally, the new book highlights species monitored by REEF’s Volunteer Fish Survey Project to help with identification. The non-profit REEF enlists the aid of the scuba diving community to contribute to the understanding and protection of marine populations by reporting sightings of monitored species across the globe. Every species monitored throughout the Pacific Northwest and California regions is included, along with “look-alike” species with which they might be confused.
“I love the idea of citizen science and getting scuba divers involved because I think it really changes attitudes,” says Jensen. “A lot of people around here get into diving because they want to go spear fish or catch crabs, but once they start learning more about the animals and the environment, they might get interested in something else, like photography. It becomes less of an extractive thing, and they can become more conservation minded.”
The benefits of such reporting can be seen locally in the case of sea star wasting disease which has wreaked havoc on the area’s starfish. Luckily, REEF volunteer divers have been surveying starfish, including the iconic sunflower sea star, for decades, providing valuable historical data for researchers to track which populations have crashed and where the disease has progressed.
Jensen hopes his new book will help REEF volunteers and other interested divers correctly identify species, while also showcasing the amazing array of marine life and diving opportunities in the Pacific Northwest.
“Up here with all these little fingers of water going in every direction, it doesn’t matter how hard the wind is blowing or which way, there is always someplace where you can drive and hop in the water if you want to go diving,” says Jensen. “I don’t think there are a whole lot of places in the world that are like that. This is a great place to be—you just need to have a dry suit to handle the cold water.”
Beneath Pacific Tides: Subtidal Invertebrates of the West Coast is currently available for purchase on Greg Jensen’s website and at the UW bookstore.