Category Archives: Invasive Species

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“Ocean Frontiers”: Working together can really work!

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

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.

Express your inner scientist

  • Get home from a day’s labor, crack a beer, sit on the porch and appreciate a butterfly nectaring on a nearby flower and the evening summer sun that makes a dragonfly glow while it hunts with incredible speed and precision, eating on the fly.
  • Is that bush blooming already?
  • You just won a tough case and you’re doing your best Leonardo DiCaprio against the forward fence of the ferry observation deck, a smile on your face, the wind rushing by. You look into the water… SMACK! (no, not sea gull poop to the side of the head or a disgruntled defendant… we’re talkin’ jellies!).

What do these scenarios have in common? Citizen scientists. Elements of science may remain in an ivory tower, but in ever-increasing numbers and in very accessible ways, scientists and managers are harnessing the interests and time of every Tom, Dick and Jane to explore difficult issues like climate change, water quality and habitat loss. We can also add to the understanding of the what, where and when for our favorite groups of critters in ways we were never able to in the past.

All fair game for easy reporting by citizen scientists. Clockwise from top left: lion's mane jelly, hermit thrush, small magpie moth (non-native) and common whitetail dragonfly. Photos: Jeff Adams

There are lots of opportunities out there, but I’ll highlight a few of my favorites. Under the unofficial category of “report what you see, where you see it, when you want to”…

Don’t have experience in identifying critters? No worries. Some programs simply require you to know/report on a single species or, in the case of Sound Citizen, to collect and return a sample. For butterflies, birds, dragonflies and jellies, there are excellent physical and online guides and identification resources available. On top of that, people like me love to get the email with a subject line “what’s this?”.

I recently posted a YouTube video that should help with common jellyfish ID’s. With all the ferry riders, dock and beach visitors, boaters, divers, harvesters, anglers and shoreline homeowners in the Puget Sound and Salish Sea… we should be able to help scientists at jellywatch.org better understand jellies and blooms in our region. It’s an area of increasing interest as our climate and ocean activities evolve.

The opportunistic reporting of the list above can give a scientist valuable information in part by sheer volume of data. Volunteers willing and able to put in more time can get involved in a project that typically includes some form of training and standardized protocols and reporting. Some excellent examples in our region include…

Bainbridge Beach Naturalists (part of the Kitsap Beach Naturalist program) conduct a profile assessment of the beach slope, substrate, plants and animals. Amazing what you see when you look close! Photo: Jeff Adams

Other programs like  Nature Mapping are geared toward schools, but also give individuals an opportunity to report findings. You can even explore lots of potential projects on your own at sites like scienceforcitizens.net and citizensciencecentral.org or like citsci.org for projects geared specifically toward invasive species.

Washington Sea Grant will go live with a Washington-specific citizen science clearinghouse some time in the next year. Or you can just contact local organizations to explore opportunities. In Kitsap you might start with me at Washington Sea Grant (contact info below), or with organizations such WSU Beach Watchers or the Stillwaters Environmental Education Center.

The best of the citizen science networks provide something in return for our efforts. No, not a key chain or a shopping tote (although some provide those as well). We get maps and checklists and image collections and newsletters and data analysis and publications… All of which reflect our contributions to scientific exploration and the greater body of scientific knowledge. None of which would have happened without our participation.

COASST is an excellent example of providing feedback to volunteers. In return for their dead bird surveys, COASST volunteers receive a newsletter explaining some of the trends in the data and featuring natural history information about sea and shoreline birds. … Plus, volunteers get cool bird postcards (pictures tend to be of the live birds and a bit more attractive then the dead ones). A free COASST training will be hosted by Washington Sea Grant and WSU Kitsap Extension in Bremerton on July 28th (RSVP to info@coasst.org). Other dates and opportunities are available on the COASST calendar.

Thanks for your interest in contributing to the body of scientific knowledge that we need to make informed decisions and to effectively care for the Puget Sound, Salish Sea and beyond. … Oh, gotta go… I need to chase down a dragonfly!

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.

Emperors of the air, stuck in the mud

Albatross in flight off Washington coast. Photo: Jeff Adam

Albatrosses are birds that few of us ever get to see or fully appreciate. They avoid the mainland, nesting on remote islands, and foraging in the open ocean. We certainly don’t find them in the Salish Sea. A Puget Sounder’s best bet is to head out to the Washington coast, jump on a boat (Westport has a great pelagic birding charter) and ride the waves for a few dozen miles out to sea. Once out of sight of land, you may be in sight of albatrosses.

These unique birds are build for long trips at sea, soaring so efficiently that their hearts beat about the same when they’re soaring for hundreds or thousands of miles as when they’re resting. And these are big birds! Wingspans of North Pacific albatross are between 6 and 7′.

Ironically, the wings that makes them soaring superstars also makes them pretty poor flapping fliers. Relatively stiff wings aren’t very effective when winds that are essential to their flight are calm. While we sit out a storm, albatrosses sit out the calm, floating on the sea’s surface until the wind picks up.

Amid the devastating human tragedy of Japan’s recent earthquake and tsunami, albatrosses and other island nesting birds in the Pacific have also faced challenges. I thank John Williams of Still Hope Productions for turning me onto Midway Atoll wildlife biologist Pete Leary’s blog. In a March 12, 2011 posting Pete shared experiences and dramatic images of the tsunami displaced birds he and many others rescued from debris, mud and open water. It’s amazing that the birds captured in his images were the survivors, some buried with only their head above the debris. Unfortunately, Pete suggested 10′s of thousands of albatross chicks were washed out to sea.

Albatross species, most of which are considered threatened, face a number of other, more chronic threats.

  • Albatrosses see an easy meal as bait in longline fisheries sinks slowly behind a boat. The result is 10′s of thousands of albatross bycatch deaths each year. Washington Sea Grant staff and others are working with longline fisheries to reduce seabird bycatch. Just distracting birds until the bait sinks below their diving depth can reduce seabird contact with the bait by 70%.
  • Invasive rats and cats prey easily on eggs and chicks and may attack adults. These birds evolved to breed on islands without terrestrial mammals and lack the necessary defenses. Invasive plants and overgrazing have impacted habitat for some species.
  • Plastic garbage is a problem of deepening concern. Plastic debris is now a prominent component of the oceans’ surface water. Mistaking these materials for food, albatrosses pack their gizzard and stomach with the undigestible plastic, creating blockages or reducing the space that should be taken up by food. They also regurgitate plastics for their own chicks, likely causing the chicks to feel full and increasing physiological stress. Steps to reduce plastic consumption and increase proper disposal are worth taking.

When even the emperors of the air are unable to avoid the crushing force of runaway water, the consequences of a tsunami for those held firm by gravity become all the more sobering. My heart and hopes for recovery go out to all. 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, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Thingy Thursday: Suitable for a plate but has no place in the Salish Sea

Thanks to Jim Aho of Illahee for sharing a report of an Atlantic or Maine lobster caught from the community dock. It’s third hand information, but wouldn’t be the first time an Atlantic lobster has been found in the Puget Sound – 1999, 2008. The 2008 discovery lead to some interesting exchanges between divers who liked the idea of seeing something unusual on their dives, and those who understood the risk non-native species pose.

People with good intentions buy and release lobsters. Someone even wrote about their dilemma to buy and release lobsters and in the end how they did the right thing. But the fact that someone is putting that much thought into it means that it’s on the minds of many. The presence of lobsters in the our marine waters clearly shows that some follow through with their thoughts. Maybe well intentioned, but a horribly dangerous habit to get into.

Releasing one may help that individual live a little longer, but just one can cause direct harm by eating and out-competing our native species (they’re opportunists eating fish, crabs, clams, mussels, sea urchins…) and can have even greater impact by spreading disease. I don’t know if conditions are suitable here for lobsters to successfully reproduce, but it’s just not worth the risk.

Should you ever find an Atlantic/Maine lobster, please snap a photo and send a message with location and date to me (jaws@uw.edu) and/or to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Aquatic Nuisance Species Coordinator, or call 877-9-INFEST. We may just continue to catch these odd individuals here and there, but should we start to see reports clustered in an area, this may be a species we would have a chance to eradicate. Thanks for keeping your eyes peeled and reporting the unusual! 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, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Thingy Thursday: The Blob

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.