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“Ocean Frontiers”: Working together can really work!

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Ocean Frontiers doesn’t have a dragonfly inspired alien or a mutant invasive snakehead fish (I love that stuff!), but it is an opportunity to see some inspiring examples of how stakeholders with very different interests can address issues in ocean conservation… to mutual benefit.

Ocean Frontiers logo courtesy of ocean-frontiers.org.

After a brief introduction, the case studies begin with an amazing effort in Boston Harbor to understand why ships and whales are having unfortunate encounters. Really cool whale research follows that then informs decision making by shipping and energy companies. The results and the process are a model for better, more informed management of our marine environments.

Protection efforts in the Florida keys and off the Oregon Coast follow, but in the middle is an example that really came home to me. I grew up on a small farm along the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River Delta faces a number of ecological challenges, which in turn impact important fishery opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico. Who comes to the rescue? Iowa farmers.

I was really struck by the image of a bunch of Iowa farmers (could have easily been my childhood neighbors and friends) on a fishing charter in the Delta, 1000+ miles from their crops and cows. They were reeling in something other than bass, crappie and catfish while learning about the connections between their agricultural choices and the distant fisheries in the Gulf.

There are so many perspectives that come into play as we engage in efforts to rehabilitate and protect the Puget Sound (and all of the Salish Sea), while maintaining an economy, culture and lifestyle that is dependent on estuary’s watershed and resources. Ocean Frontiers provides examples of ocean management that can embolden us to imagine how our perspectives can work together to mutually beneficial ends.

If you missed the Bainbridge Island screening in early February and the Seattle screening last week, opportunities to catch the film (and ensuing discussions) remain. The Ocean Frontiers’ website’s find a screening page indicates a showing in Bellingham April 25 (umm, that would be shortly after I post this). Also looks like it will be screened in Olympia June 9th. Click on the pin drop for more details on that showing.

Tomorrow evening (April 26 @ 6:30PM) a Port Orchard screening is sponsored by Kitsap County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido and held at the Dragonfly Cinema in downtown Port Orchard at 822 Bay Street. A discussion will follow, lead by Washington Sea Grant’s Marine Habitat Specialist, Jim Brennan. Cost is only a suggested donation. I hope you can take advantage and join in an atmosphere of collaboration that can lead us into a future of healthy oceans and prosperous societies.

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets, FaceBook and video posts, send email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.


Thingy Thursday: Catch cards and a confounding crab

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Few of us get a chance to see the full diversity of the Salish Sea’s crabs. Many species never venture onto the beaches. Others are small and hide well. Some even remain tucked away inside a large clam or mussel. For all the wonder, economic benefit and gastronomical pleasure crabs provide, there are several species that we don’t want to see in our waters, including the invasive European green crab, Chinese mitten crab and Asian shore crab.

European green crab (Carcinus maenas), notice the five large points on either side of the front of the carapace. Photo: Jeff Adams

Such invasive species can have dramatic economic and ecological consequences. That’s why I’m always very appreciative of folks who send notes or pictures or specimens of something unusual. Controlling the spread of marine invasive species is difficult at best, but the earlier they’re detected, the better chance we have.

I received images of a potential green crab in late August from an informed individual who had found an unusual crab at Birch Bay State Park (near Blaine and the Canadian border).

The European green crab has been present on the outer coast of Washington and up the Pacific side of Vancouver Island since the late 1990′s, but the populations have not been highly successful to date and have not found their way into the Salish Sea. Hopefully, that arrangement will continue since these buggers consume shellfish and outcompete Dungeness crab of similar size, for both food and habitat. Red rock crab on the other hand, tend to give the green crabs a serious abdomen whooping.

Green crab??? Thankfully not. Photo: Len Vandervelden

Fortunately, this is a helmet crab. It has the few large points on the front of its carapace like a green crab, and was probably a similar size (~3″ across the carapace), but helmet crabs are covered in stiff hairs and have points all the way around the back side of the carapace.

Helmet crab (Telmessus cheiragonus), a hairy or even bristly crab with several large points on either side of the front of its carapace and a couple more on the back side. Photo: Jeff Adams

The helmet crab is probably the species most commonly mistaken for a green crab. The individual in question is particularly tricky to identify since it has so many barnacles on it.

Live helmet crabs and even molts may seem unusual even to experienced beach goers. I see scores of them while snorkeling over eelgrass that’s exposed at low tide, but I rarely see them alive on the beach when the tide is out. I guess it’s no surprise that as one of the fastest Pacific Northwest crabs, a helmet crab would rather retreat with the tide than try its luck hiding from gulls in the eelgrass and algae.

Back to the European green crab… Fortunately, it isn’t living up to the initial concern in our state, but there are a lot of unknowns if it gets into the Salish Sea or if conditions change in our waters. It’s certainly important to keep a watchful eye.

Always feel free to send observations, pictures or thoughts of things extraordinary or out of the ordinary. If I can’t share part of its story, I enjoy looking for someone who can and learning together.

Oh, and just a reminder for all you crabbers… Whether you caught Dungeness or not, don’t forget to put your Puget Sound crab catch cards in the mail or enter the data online by October 1 to avoid a $10 penalty and to help managers determine how much crab should be harvested in the winter season. Happy autumn!

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.


Last chance for a close shave

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Happy razor clammers! Kim Pham

The last opportunity of the season to collect our outer coast’s famous razor clams (Siliqua patula – Latin for Pod open since it looks like a newly germinated seed pod) is today (5/18) through Sunday (5/22). The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has a whole series of pages devoted to razor clams, including how to dig them and their relationship with domoic acid, a toxin that causes amnesic shellfish poisoning and is produced by the group of diatoms called Pseudo-nitzschia. So far, the razor clam beaches have the Department of Health OK for harvesting razors this week.

If you’re looking for a spur-of-the-moment staycation you might give this some thought. Our Salish Sea clams generally stay in one place while you rake/dig them near the surface or chase their neck down deep. Razor clams take a different approach on their beaches of deep sand. They have a specialized foot that can rapidly extend, long and pointed, straight down into the sand. Once extended, the end of the foot expands to act as an anchor. Muscles then contract and pull the entire clam deeper into the sand. You shovel, they plunge, you shovel, they plunge… the chase is on!

Jackknife clam from Foulweather Bluff preserve. Jeff Adams

You might imagine, such an approach wouldn’t work well in many Salish Sea beaches because of the mix of sand gravel and cobble that are often dominant. Hence, we fjord-folk have to travel to the open coast and bravely face the Pacific expanse to forage for these delicacies.

On the other hand, we do have a very similar-looking species, called the jackknife clam or blunt razor clam (Solen sicarius, meaning something like Pipe dagger-man, ouch!). Its shiny, oblong, beige to brown shell is similar to the razor clam, but certainly unique among Salish Sea clams. The shell of a jackknife, however, is relatively narrow and more squared off on the ends. Also, the hinge, where the two shells connect, is at one end of the shell instead of near the middle. That’s pretty unusual to see among our clams.

Partially buried jackknife clam shell, from Foulweather Bluff preserve. Jeff Adams

The jackknife clam is not often seen alive since it prefers sand and mud from the very lowest tides down to about 180′. Jackknife clams (up to 5″ long) also dig a more permanent burrow than a razor clam, whose burrow fills and empties of sand more regularly. The jackknife burrow may be 15″ deep or more and can be relatively smooth lined, particularly in substrate that’s more of a hard mud. The clam can zip quickly to the bottom when threatened. It can then dig deeper if necessary… but it’s no longer so zippy.

Summer clamming is a great time with nutritious benefits. Just keep your eyes on your regulations and limits, refill your holes and don’t forget to check the Department of Health’s marine biotoxin pages and alerts. If you head out to the Coast this week/weekend… enjoy, feel great about supporting the local economy… and may your skills be sharper than a razor. JEff

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.


Thingy Thursday: The Blob

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

You know how images and thoughts evoke emotions or sensations? Well, considering La Nina’s recent fury and the approaching dark of the winter solstice, I figured I’d share a creature that takes me back to the heat and sun of August.

Football-sized Pectinatella magnifica bryozoan colony. Photo: Jeff Adams

One of the more common summertime unknowns (often presented with concern or disgust!) is a freshwater colonial invertebrate called Pectinatella magnifica, the magnificent bryozoan. Magnificent is part of its scientific name, but dragon boogers seemed more appropriate to my 5 year old.

These gelatinous blobs feel kind of like a jellyfish, can grow larger than a basketball and are made up of thousands of tiny individuals living on the surface. At their healthiest, they tend to be a beautiful purple color with hundreds of white-speckled groups of living individual called zooids. These clusters look like snowflakes or rosettes.

Like a jellyfish, much of the blob’s mass is water. In this case, that mass is a non-living part of the colony in which the living zooids are embedded and contribute to its formation. The tiny individual zooids are ecologically similar to corals or hydra, in that in that they have delicate tentacles that they expose to the water and use to capture fine, drifting organic material (the hydra are after tiny animals). They can also pull those tentacles into the protective, non-living body of the colony when disturbed.

Close up of Pectinatella colony and clusters of individuals. Photo: Jeff Adams

These large gelatinous blobs form in warm (>16°C or 60°F) slow or still water (the images to the right and below are from the Columbia Slough in Portland, OR).  Smaller blobs may be free floating, but larger ones usually grow on branches and vegetation. Those growing on plants may also float when plants begin to die off and drift in the late summer and fall. Sometimes, the blobs become so numerous they clog water intakes and requiring 24 hour attention.

By the time vegetation starts breaking down, the colony is probably dying off as well.  However, they leave behind an unusual reproductive structure that can withstand cold, heat, drying, and time. These seed-like statoblasts are a collection of cells inside a protective shell, and they carry on the lineage of the parent colony. The statoblast is formed out of a connection to the parent zooid’s gut and can either cling to the colony or drop to the sediments or be transported to new locations by other wildlife. Each little survival pod can start a new colony whenever and wherever conditions are favorable.

Microscope photo of Pectinatella statoblasts. Each is only slightly larger than the thickness of a dime, but can produce an entire colony. Photo: Jeff Adams

Statoblasts are a specialized characteristic of freshwater bryozoan species. Marine waters are where bryozoans are truly diverse with thousands of ocean dwelling species, while there are only a couple dozen species known in freshwaters of North America. The magnificent bryozoan is certainly the most… magnificent among them.

The magnificent brozoan is classified by the USGS Non-indigenious Aquatic Animal database as a native transplant – native to the warmer water east of the Mississippi and transplanted out west. Though it may have just been widespread and no one gave it much attention. Maybe climate change will allow it to be happier in our usually colder waters?

Now when you take a break from your winter labors, close your eyes and imagine yourself floating on the surface of a warm lake or down a slow river… Please forgive me for the slimey blobs that start bumping up against your imagination, leaving you speckled with statoblasts, and cursing me for having wrecked your perfectly good escape. Happy daydreaming!

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.


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