A second European green crab has been found in Puget Sound, this
one in Padilla Bay — about 30 miles southeast of where the first
one was discovered about three weeks ago.
Green crabs are an invasive species known to devour a variety of
native species and alter habitats where they have become
established. Keeping green crabs out of Puget Sound has been a goal
of state officials for years.
After the first green crab was caught in a volunteer trapping
program three weeks ago, experts mounted an intensive trapping
effort to see if other green crabs were in the area around Westcott
Bay in the San Juan Islands. (Water
Ways, Sept. 3). No live crabs were found, but one cast-off
shell (molt) was discovered nearby (Water
Ways, Sept. 15).
The latest find is a young female crab, 34 millimeters across,
which may have grown from a larva dispersed last winter.
“We were relieved to find very little evidence of a larger
population of invasive European green crab in Westcott Bay,” Emily
Grason of Washington Sea Grant said in a
news release (PDF 371 kb). “But finding an additional crab at a
site more than 30 miles away suggests that ongoing vigilance is
critical across all Puget Sound shorelines. WSG’s Crab Team is
committed to continuing the efforts of volunteer monitoring as
resources allow, but we also rely on beachgoers to keep a watchful
eye out for this invasive species.”
A second rapid-response effort will get underway Monday with
more traps being deployed over a larger area than last time. The
goal is to locate any crabs that may have made a home in the area
and determine where the crabs might be gaining a foothold.
As chunks of the Wahlenbergbreen glacier break off and crash
into the sea next to him, Italian pianist and composer Ludovico
Einaudi plays on, performing a piece he wrote for this moment.
As seen in this video, Einaudi’s piano is situated on a floating
platform surrounded by small pieces of floating ice. He came to
Norway this past June on the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise to make
a statement about the need to protect the Arctic Ocean. The
composition, “Elegy for the Arctic,” fits the time and place.
“The ice is constantly moving and creating,” he told Sara Peach,
a writer for
Yale Climate Connections. “Every hour there is a different
landscape. Walls of ice fall down into the water and they create
Because of global warming, the Arctic is losing its ice,
changing this remote ecosystem. Environmentalists are concerned
about the increasing exploitation of minerals and fish in this
fragile region. Greenpeace is among the groups pushing for
Supporting the cause, Einaudi performed with his grand piano on
an artificial iceberg, 33 feet by 8.5 feet, made of 300 triangles
of wood attached together.
“Being here has been a great experience,” he said in a
Greenpeace news release issued at the time. “I could see the
purity and fragility of this area with my own eyes and interpret a
song I wrote to be played upon the best stage in the world. It is
important that we understand the importance of the Arctic, stop the
process of destruction and protect it.”
“If you haven’t heard the music of Ludovico Einaudi, then it’s
probably because you don’t know it’s by Ludovico Einaudi,” writes
Tim Jonze, music editor for
The Guardian. “For years, his muted piano music has been
stealthily soundtracking TV shows and adverts, seeping into our
collective consciousness while the mild-mannered Italian behind it
stayed out of the limelight.”
He has written songs for numerous soundtracks, including the
trailer for “The Black Swan.” He has collaborated with other
artists in theater, video and dance. Besides a long list of albums,
his credits include multiple television commercials in Europe and
In March, Einaudi released a music video, “Fly,” for Earth Hour
(second video on this page). In my annual story about Earth Hour, I
noted that the event may be losing its appeal in the U.S. but is
still going strong in other countries. See
Water Ways, March 16.
In the third video on this page, Einaudi discusses his latest
project, an album titled “Elements.”
We hear about the “balance of nature,” but it’s not something
that we can truly understand until the balance is thrown out of
whack by something like climate change or invasive species.
Until I began a recent reporting project for Puget
Sound Institute, I never realized that San Francisco Bay was
such a hotbed of invasive species. Beginning with the California
Gold Rush, ships began moving in and out of the bay in unbelievable
numbers, arriving from ports all around the world. Now, more than
200 non-native species are making their permanent home in the bay —
including some species that have thoroughly altered the local
So far, we have been lucky in Puget Sound. Experts say we have
about 75 firmly established non-native species, yet none of them
have created the widespread damage caused in San Francisco Bay by
European green crabs and Asian clams or in the Great Lakes by zebra
mussels. The video on this page does a good job of telling the
Great Lakes story, which has been repeated all over the world.
Once people in Washington state realized how disruptive invasive
species can be, the struggle was on to protect Puget Sound from
alien invaders — particularly those found in San Francisco Bay,
which is just a short hop away on the world scale. My series of
stories talks about concerns for Puget Sound and the efforts to
control a possible invasion.
Invasive species range in size from microscopic viruses to
four-foot-long striped bass. In California, the striped bass became
a prized sport fish after it was intentionally introduced in 1879.
But over the past decade concerns have grown for their effects on
the salmon population. The jury is still out on whether high
numbers of stripers should be sustained for anglers or the
population should be fished down rapidly to save salmon and other
species. Check out these stories:
Meanwhile, striped bass have been moving up the West Coast,
possibly because of warmer waters due to climate change. A few
years ago, a 55-pounder was caught in the Columbia River, and I’ve
heard rumors that they have been seen in the Strait of Juan de
On the small side, I report on a tiny crustacean, an invasive
copepod that has almost entirely displaced native copepods in
Samish Bay in northern Puget Sound. Copepods are important prey for
small fish, including herring, which feed the larger salmon. The
invasive copepods are smaller and more difficult for fish to see,
which could have a cascading effect on the entire food web.
A major concern for Puget Sound biologists is the European green
crab, which could move into Puget Sound from San Francisco Bay in
ballast water or with warm ocean currents during an El Niño year,
like the one just past. As I describe in the new series, a major
program involving citizen science volunteers is ongoing in a search
to find the first green crabs before they gain a foothold.
Pacific oysters, another non-native species, were intentionally
brought to the Northwest from Japan in the early 1900s to replace
the native Olympia oyster, which had been decimated by poor water
quality. Pacific oysters soon became a mainstay of the shellfish
industry in the Puget Sound region and are now growing thick in
Similar introductions of Pacific oysters occurred in California
beginning more than 100 years ago, but for some reason the oyster
populations never took hold, according to a report in the
Fish and Game (PDF 1.7 mb). Finally, in the early 2000s, the
invasion began to take off.
“It remains unclear why there should be a successful invasion
now, given the failure of previous attempts to deliberately
introduce the species both locally and throughout California…,” the
“If populations in Southern California waters do continue to
expand and grow, as they have in other areas where they have
invaded, it will undoubtedly bring changes to the way our estuarine
intertidal habitats function as well as in the way we must manage
“Because Pacific oysters rapidly reach large sizes, they could
pose problems related to fouling of maritime equipment,
infrastructure, and vessels,” the report continues. “Pacific
oysters stand out as one of the most transformative invaders of
As Washington state takes steps to keep alien species from
invading Puget Sound from California, California officials may
adopt similar measures to block invaders from coming into that
Please take a look at this package of stories I wrote for Puget
Sound Institute, with editing by Jeff Rice and design by Kris
Puget Sound Partnership continues to struggle in its efforts to
pull everyone together in a unified cause of protecting and
restoring Puget Sound.
This week, the Puget Sound Leadership Council, which oversees
the partnership, adopted the latest Puget Sound Action
Agenda, which spells out the overall strategies as well as the
specific research, education and restoration projects to save Puget
The goal of restoring Puget Sound to health by 2020 — a date
established by former Gov. Chris Gregoire — was never actually
realistic, but nobody has ever wanted to change the date. The
result has been an acknowledgement that restoration work will go on
long after 2020, even though restoration targets remain in place
for that date just four years away.
A letter to be signed by all members of the Leadership Council
begins to acknowledge the need for a new date.
“As the scope and depth of our undertaking expands along with
our understanding, federal and state funding is on the decline,”
the letter states. “We’re increasingly forced into a position where
we’re not only competing amongst ourselves for a pool of funding
wholly insufficient to accomplish what needs doing, but we are also
feeling the impacts of cuts to programs supporting other societal
priorities as well. If we continue at our historic pace of
recovery, which is significantly underfunded, we cannot expect to
achieve our 2020 recovery targets.”
This is not necessarily an appeal for money to support the Puget
Sound Partnership, although funds for the program have been
slipping. But the partnership has always been a coordinator of
projects by local, state and federal agencies, nonprofit groups and
research institutions — where the on-the-ground work is done. That
much larger pot of money for Puget Sound efforts also is
“These are threats that compel us to action, fueled by our
devotion to place,” the letter continues. “We at the Puget Sound
Partnership, along with our local, tribal and regional partners,
have a vision of a resilient estuary that can help moderate the
increasing pressures of a changing world.
“How we aim to accomplish our vision is found in this updated
Action Agenda. For the next two years, this is the focused,
measurable and scientifically grounded roadmap forming the core of
the region’s work between now and 2020 and beyond.”
The newly approved Action Agenda is the outcome of a greater
effort to reach out to local governments and organizations involved
in the restoration of Puget Sound. Priorities for restoration
projects were developed at the local level with an emphasis on
meeting the priorities and strategies developed in previous Action
The latest document is divided into two sections to separate
overall planning from the work involved parties would like to
accomplish over the next two years. The two parts are called the
“Comprehensive Plan” and the “Implementation Plan.”
As determined several years ago, upcoming efforts known as
“near-term actions” are focused on three strategic initiatives:
Stormwater: Prevent pollution from urban
stormwater runoff, which causes serious problems for marine life
Habitat: Protect and restore habitat needed
for species to survive and thrive.
Shellfish: Protect and recover shellfish beds,
including areas harvested by commercial growers and recreational
Actions are focused on 29 specific strategies and 109
substrategies that support these ideas. Projects, which may be
viewed in a list at the front of the “Implementation Plan,” are
aligned with the substrategies.
“This leaner, scientifically grounded strategic recovery plan is
a call to action,” the letter from the Leadership Council states.
“We know that our restoration efforts are failing to compensate for
the thousands of cuts we continue to inflict on the landscape as
our population grows and habitat gives way to more humans.
“We know that salmon, steelhead and orcas — the magnificent
beings that in many ways define this corner of the world — are
struggling to persist as we alter the land and waters to which
they’re adapted,” the letter concludes. “And we know that warming
temperatures and acidifying seawater are moving us toward a future
that we don’t fully understand and are not entirely prepared for.
Hard decisions are ahead, and we’re past the point where additional
delay is acceptable.”
How high school and college students view climate change shine
through clearly in new video productions submitted in a contest
organized by the University of Washington School of Environmental
and Forest Sciences.
The school is a unit within the UW College of the Environment.
This is the second year for the contest, supported by the Denman
Endowment for Student Excellence in Forest Resources.
Contest rules describe climate change as an issue that unites
all the research interests within the school, topics that include
sustainable forest management, biofuels, wildlife conservation,
landscape ecology and plant microbiology.
“Much of the responsibility for finding sustainable solutions
will fall on the younger generations,” the rules state. “That’s
what inspired us to host this video competition — to spread
awareness and hear your voices on the issue.”
The first video on this page is the 2016 first-place winner in
the high school division. The second video is the 2016 first-place
winner in the college division. The third video is last year’s
first-place winner in the high school division.
Judging was conducted by a panel of climate scientists, artists
and filmmakers. First-place winners received $5,000; second-place,
$1,000; and third-place, $500.
Here are this year’s winning videos, with links to the top three
in each division:
High school students, 2016
Place: Yuna Shin, Henry M. Jackson High School,
Place: Suraj Buddhavarapu, Naveen Sahi, Allison Tran
and Vibha Vadlamani, Tesla STEM High School, Redmond.
Place: Luke Brodersen, Shorewood High School,
Other finalists: Julci Areza, Chloe Birney and
Tanaya Sardesai, Redmond High School in Redmond, and Aria Ching,
Jesselynn Noland, Emily Riley and Emily Weaver, Lynnwood High
School in Bothell.
College undergraduates, 2016
Place: Audrey Seda and Tommy Tang, Eastern Washington
University and University of Washington – Bothell.
Place: Ben Jensen, Charles Johnson and Anthony
Whitfield, University of Washington.
Our native Olympia oyster may seem small and meek, but its
slow-growing nature may serve it well under future conditions of
ocean acidification, according to a new study.
In fact, the tiny Olympia oysters appear to reproduce
successfully in waters that can kill the offspring of Pacific
oysters — a species that grows much larger and provides the bulk of
the commercial oyster trade in Washington state.
Unlike Pacific oysters, Olympias don’t begin forming their
shells until two or three days after fertilization, and the
formation progresses slowly, helping to counteract the effects of
corrosive water, according to the author of the new study, George
Waldbusser of Oregon State University.
Betsy Peabody of Puget Sound Restoration Fund said people who
work with Olympia oysters have long suspected that they may have
some advantages over Pacific oysters. Olympia oysters keep their
fertilized eggs in a brood chamber inside the shell until the
larvae are released into the water about two weeks later.
In contrast, the eggs of Pacific oysters are fertilized in the
open water and the resulting larvae must fend for themselves right
While the brood chamber may protect the larvae from predators,
the new study showed that the brood chamber does not protect
against ocean acidification. Corrosive water still circulates
through the mother’s shell, exposing the larvae.
To test how Olympia oysters would do in open waters, the
researchers grew baby oysters outside the brood chamber where they
were exposed to acidified water, noted Matthew Gray, a former
doctoral student in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. He
is now conducting research at the University of Maine.
“Brooding was thought to provide several advantages to
developing young, but we found it does not provide any
physiological advantage to the larvae,” Gray said in an
OSU news release. “They did just as well outside the brood
chamber as inside.”
It appears that a major difference in the development of Pacific
and Olympia oysters lies in their reproductive strategies,
including differences in managing their energetics.
“Pacific oysters churn out tens of millions of eggs, and those
eggs are much smaller than those of native oysters, even though
they eventually become much larger as adults,” Waldbusser said.
“Pacific oysters have less energy invested in each offspring.
Olympia oysters have more of an initial energy investment from Mom
and can spend more time developing their shells and dealing with
The research team found that energy stores in young Pacific
oysters declined by 38.6 percent per hour, compared to 0.9 percent
in Olympia oysters. Pacific oysters put their energy into building
their shells seven times faster than Olympia oysters. The exposure
to acidified water affects shell development. While the larval
oysters may get through the shell-building stage, they often don’t
have enough energy left to survive, Waldbusser said.
Restoration Fund has been working for nearly 20 years to
restore Olympia oysters at 19 priority locations throughout Puget
Sound. The new study lends credence to the effort and support for a
recommendation by the 2012 Blue
Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification. The panel called for
restoring the native oyster to Puget Sound to build resilience into
the ecosystem, according to Betsy Peabody.
“It was a recommendation that came out before we had the
critical science to support it,” Betsy told me. “He (Waldbusser)
has just given us the underlying research that supports that
recommendation. Our grandchildren may be cultivating Olympia
oysters rather than Pacific oysters.”
The panel, appointed by former Gov. Chris Gregoire, called for
maintaining the genetic diversity of native shellfish to provide
the species a fighting chance against ecological changes brought on
by climate change.
Benefits of the Olympia oyster, including so-called ecosystem
services, are described in an article by Eric Wagner in the
of Puget Sound. Healthy oyster reefs offer benefits such as
cleaning up the water, protecting shorelines from erosion and
increasing habitat complexity, which can expand the diversity of
So far, Puget Sound Restoration Fund has restored 50 acres of
shellfish to Puget Sound, working toward a goal of restoring 100
acres by 2020.
Oyster hatcheries in Washington state underwent a temporary
crisis a few years ago when Pacific oyster larvae were dying from
acidified seawater pumped into the hatcheries. The water still
becomes hazardous at times, but careful monitoring of pH levels has
allowed hatchery operators to overcome the problem. When the water
in an oyster hatchery moves beyond an acceptable pH level,
operators add calcium carbonate to alter the pH and support the
oyster larvae with shell-building material.
Bill Dewey of Taylor Shellfish Farms said older oysters might be
affected in the future as ocean acidification progresses. “We know
things are going to get worse,” he told me.
Because of their small size and high cost of production, Olympia
oysters will never overtake the Pacific oyster in terms of market
share, Bill said, but they are in high demand among people who
appreciate the history of our only native oyster and its unique
The new research by Waldbusser raises the question of whether
the highly commercial Pacific oysters could be bred so that their
larvae grow slower and perhaps overcome the effects of ocean
Joth Davis, senior scientist for Puget Sound Restoration Fund
and senior researcher for Taylor Shellfish, said the market is
strong for a smaller Pacific oyster, so most growers would not
object to one that grows more slowly with greater survival.
Meanwhile, efforts are underway to maintain the genetic
diversity of Olympia oysters and other native species, as growers
begin to think about cultivating more natives. Transplanting
species from one area to another and boosting their populations
with hatcheries creates a potential to override local populations
and weaken overall genetic diversity, Joth said.
Geoduck clams, which can be started in hatcheries and grown on a
large scale, don’t appear to be genetically distinct from one place
to another in Puget Sound, Joth said.
Researchers have found some evidence that Olympia oysters may be
genetically distinct when comparing one area of Puget Sound to
another. But finding genetic differences does not always mean the
population is uniquely adapted to that area, Joth said. Variations
might relate to a random population that settles in a specific
location. Sometimes it takes careful study to make sense of the
Rich Childers, Puget Sound shellfish manager for the Washington
Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the state currently has no
firm rules for transferring native species from one place to
another. With growing interest in cultivating Olympia oysters, sea
cucumbers and other native species, the agency is opening
discussions about what kind of controls might be needed.
“We’ve learned lessons from salmon that you can’t spread
everything from hell and gone,” Rich said. “Should we be looking at
some management or hatchery guidelines that would help maintain
genetic diversity? Should we have laws or policies? These are the
questions that are just starting to surface.”
After warmer-than-average temperatures for much of the past
year, May suddenly turned cooler across the nation — except for the
Northwest, which remained warmer than normal.
Although it seemed cool recently, at least compared to April,
Western Washington had the greatest deviation with temperatures
between 3 and 5 degrees higher than the 30-year average. See first
It seems ironic to write about cooler temperatures after last
month’s teaser headline at the top of the Kitsap Sun’s front page:
“Earth getting HOT, HOT, HOTTER!”
The big story earlier this month was that worldwide temperatures
had broken all-time heat records for 12 months in a row, and
April’s record-high temperature was a full half-degree higher than
the previous record.
The average temperature hasn’t been below the 20th century
average since December 1984, and the last time the Earth broke a
monthly cold record was nearly a century ago, in December 1916,
according to NOAA records.
“These kinds of records may not be that interesting, but so many
in a row that break the previous records by so much indicates that
we’re entering uncharted climatic territory (for modern human
society),” Texas A&M University climate scientist Andrew
Dessler wrote in an email to Seth Borenstein of the
El Niño, which is now fading, was blamed in part for the
unprecedented heat worldwide. But climatologists say the onward
march of global warming lies in the background. Last year turned
out to be the hottest year on record, easily beating 2014, which
was also a record year.
The first four months of this year were so much hotter than 2015
that 2016 is still likely to set another record. NOOA’s
Climate Prediction Center says La Niña conditions are on the
way, with a 50 percent chance of La Niña by summer and a 75 percent
chance by fall.
Summer temperatures are expected to be above average except in
the Central U.S., while both coasts are expected to be the most
likely to exceed normal temperatures. Check out the second map on
Speaking of the onward march of climate change, computer
graphics developers keep coming up with new ways to show how global
temperatures are increasing in concert with rising greenhouse gases
in the atmosphere.
Climate Central has combined data sets from NOAA to produce the
orange graph,which shows the advance of a trailing 30-year
temperature average from 1980 through 2015. To put it simply, we
continue to adjust to a new normal.
Others have used animation to depict temperature change. One
graphic (below) received a lot of attention this month. Temperature
change is represented as the distance from a “zero” circle starting
in 1850. Each month, a line moves one-twelfth of the way around the
circle, completing 360 degrees each year. The line gets farther and
farther from the center and really jumps outward in 2015.
Ed Hawkins, professor of meteorology at the University of
Reading near London, created the animation. He credited an
associate, Jan Fuglestvedt, with the idea of a spiral.
Jason Samenow, chief meteorologist for the Washington Post’s
Capital Weather Gang, called it “the most compelling global
warming visualization ever made.” His blog post also includes some
other visual depictions of climate change.
Another animated graph, by Tom Randall and Blacki Migliozzi of
show similar data depicted as a moving line graph.
Visualizations plotted temperature differences at various
locations on a world map. Over time, it is easy to see how the
Earth has gotten generally warmer, accelerating in recent
One of the most intriguing graphics, in my opinion, is one that
purports to show the various factors that affect global temperature
— from volcanic activity to man-made aerosols to greenhouse gases.
The designers, Eric Roston and Blacki Migliozzi of Bloomberg,
ask viewers to judge which factor they believe leads to global
Since this is a blog about water issues, I would probably be
remiss if I didn’t point out that the consequences of rising
greenhouse gases is not just an increase in the Earth’s
temperature. We can’t forget that a major portion of the carbon
dioxide is being absorbed into the ocean, causing effects on marine
life that are far from fully understood.
“Still no babies,” commented Peg Tillery, as we arrived at the
Lofall dock in North Kitsap in search of sea stars clinging to
pilings under the dock.
“They say there’s a comeback of the little ones,” noted Barb
Erickson, “but I’m not seeing any of them.”
Peg and Barb are two of three retired volunteers who first
brought me to this site two years ago to explain their ongoing
investigation into the mysterious “sea star wasting disease.” Since
our first trip, researchers have identified the virus that attacks
sea stars, causes their arms to fall off and turns their bodies to
a gooey mush.
I first witnessed the devastation in June of 2014, when starfish
were dying by the millions up and down the West Coast (Water
Ways, June 17, 2014). Lofall, a community on Hood Canal, was
just one location where the stars seemed to be barely clinging to
life. Now, just a fraction of the population still survives in many
Bruce Menge of Oregon State University recently reported an
upsurge in the number of baby starfish on the Oregon Coast,
something not seen since the beginning of the epidemic.
“When we looked at the settlement of the larval sea stars on
rocks in 2014 during the epidemic, it was the same or maybe even a
bit lower than previous years,” said Menge in a
news release from OSU. “But a few months later, the number of
juveniles was off the charts — higher than we’d ever seen — as much
as 300 times normal.”
As Peg and Barb pointed out, the recovery at Lofall has been hit
or miss during more than two years of monitoring the site. I became
hopeful on my return trip to the dock in January of 2015, when I
noticed a mix of healthy adult and juvenile sea stars (Water
Ways, Jan. 20,2015).
This week, the young ones were nowhere in sight. Clusters of
healthy adult ochre stars were piled on top of each other at the
bottom of the piers, waiting for the tide to come back in. I was
not sure what to make of it.
“it could be worse,” Barb said. “I think it is neutral news.”
Peg agreed, saying, “It could be totally worse.”
Summer has been the period of reckoning in past years, and we
should soon know if we are in for another round of disease, which
could kill off more of the surviving sea stars, or if the disease
is finally on the wane.
Linda Martin, who normally compiles the data, was not along on
this week’s trip to Lofall, but other volunteers filled in for
“It is an interesting ride,” Barb told me, referring to her
experience as a so-called citizen scientist. “It connects you to
the larger picture, and you realize that everything is
It is nice for people in the community to know that this
volunteer work is taking place, Barb said, and that someone is
watching for changes in the environment.
“People will come up and ask me if there is anything new, people
who couldn’t have cared less before,” she said.
For those interested in this kind of volunteer work, a good
place to start is Kitsap Beach Naturalists. One can contact Renee
Johnson, program coordinator, at email@example.com.
Meanwhile, the cause of sea star wasting disease remains
somewhat of a mystery even after its connection to the densovirus,
which is associated with dead sea stars but also has been found in
some that are free of disease.
A laboratory study
led by Morgan Eisenlord of Cornell University found that the
disease progressed faster when adult sea stars were exposed to
higher temperatures and that adult mortality was 18 percent higher
when water temperatures reached 66 degrees F. Temperature was
documented as a likely factor in the spread of disease through the
San Juan Islands.
But temperatures are not the sole controlling factor, because
the spread of the disease has been out of sync with temperature
change in numerous locations.
“The sea temperatures were warmer when the outbreak first
began,” Menge said, “but Oregon wasn’t affected as early as other
parts of the West Coast, and the outbreak reached its peak here
when the sea temperature plummeted and was actually cooler than
Could there be another trigger that increases the virulence of
“Ocean acidification is one possibility, and we’re looking at
that now,” Menge said. “Ultimately, the cause seems likely to be
Automated equipment installed Monday off the Washington Coast
will track concentrations of six species of plankton that could
become harmful to humans and marine species.
The Environmental Sample Processor, or ESP, collects discrete
samples of water and processes them for analysis. Imbedded modules
can test for DNA and antibodies to identify the organisms picked up
in the seawater. Concentrations of the plankton and their toxins
are sent to shore-based researchers via satellite.
The equipment was installed by scientists with the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of
Washington. The device was developed at the
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Stephanie Moore of
NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center explains the benefits of
the device in the first video on this page. The second video
provides a few more technical details with graphic depictions of
The ESP was deployed in the Juan de Fuca eddy, a known pathway
for toxic algae 13 miles off the Washington Coast near LaPush. The
remote, self-operating laboratory will operate about 50 feet
One of the primary targets of the monitoring is
Pseudo-nitzschia, a harmful algae capable of producing
domoic acid. This toxin can accumulate in shellfish and can cause
diarrhetic shellfish poisoning, which can progress to severe
illness. Last year, a massive bloom of this toxic algae canceled
scheduled razor clam seasons on Washington beaches with untold
The harmful algal bloom (HAB) affected the entire West Coast,
from California to Alaska. It was the largest and longest-lasting
bloom in at least 15 years, according to NOAA’s National Ocean
“Concentrations of domoic acid in seawater, some forage fish and
crab samples were among the highest ever reported in this region,”
says a factsheet
from the service. “By mid-May, domoic acid concentrations in
Monterey Bay, California, were 10 to 30 times the level that would
be considered high for a normal Pseudo-nitzschia
“Other HAB toxins were also detected on the West Coast.
Shellfish closures in Puget Sound protected consumers from
paralytic shellfish poisoning and diarrhetic shellfish
Paralytic shellfish poisoning is associated with a group of
plankton called Alexandrium, typically Alexandrium
catenella in the Puget Sound region.
In addition to sampling for Alexandrium and four
species of Pseudo-nitzchia, the ESP is monitoring for
Heterosigma akashiwo, which is associated with massive
fish kills, including farmed salmon.
A major study of ocean acidification along the West Coast is
underway with the involvement of 17 institutions, including 36
scientists from five countries.
Based aboard the NOAA Research Vessel Ronald H. Brown, the
researchers are taking physical, chemical and biological
measurements as they consider a variety of ecological pressures on
marine species. They will take note of changes since the last
cruise in 2013. To obtain samples from shallow waters, the
researchers will get help along the way from scientists going out
in small vessels launched from land. Staff from Olympic National
Park, Channel Islands National Park and Cabrillo National Monument
The cruise started out last Thursday from San Diego Naval Base.
Researchers have been posting information about the trip and their
work on a blog called “West Coast Ocean
The month-long working adventure is the fifth of its kind in
areas along the West Coast, but this is the first time since 2007
that the cruise will cover the entire area affected by the
California Current — from Baja California to British Columbia. The
video shows Pacific white-sided dolphins as seen from the deck of
the Ron Brown on Monday just west of Baja California.
As on cruises in 2011–2013, these efforts will include studies
of algae that cause harmful blooms, as well as analyses of pteropod
abundance, diversity, physiology, and calcification, said Simone
Alin, chief scientist for the first leg of the cruise.
“We are pleased to welcome new partners and highlight new
analyses on this cruise as well,” she continued in
her blog post. “For example, some of our partners will be
employing molecular methods (proteomics, genomics, transcriptomics)
to study the response of marine organisms to their
“We also have scientists studying bacterial diversity and
metabolic activity in coastal waters participating for the first
time. New assays of stress in krill and other zooplankton —
important fish food sources — will also be done on this cruise.
Last but not least, other new collaborators will be validating
measurements of ocean surface conditions done by satellites from
To learn how satellites gather information about the California
Current, check out
With rising levels of carbon dioxide bringing changes to waters
along the West Coast, researchers are gathering information that
could help predict changes in the future. Unusually warm waters in
the Pacific Ocean the past two years (nicknamed “the blob”) may
have compounded the effects of ocean acidification, according to
Reading the cruise blog, I enjoyed a
piece by Melissa Ward, a doctoral candidate in the Joint
Program in Ecology from UC Davis and San Diego State University.
Her story begins:
“As I prepared to leave for the West Coast OA research cruise,
many family and friends skipped right over the ‘research’ part, and
jumped straight to ‘cruise’. But to their disappointment, the
photos of me sitting by the pool drinking my margarita will never
“The Ron Brown, our research vessel, does have two lounge chairs
on the main deck, but they are strapped down to keep them from
flying off as we go tipping back and forth with the ocean swells.
Immediately after boarding the ship for departure from San Diego to
Mexico, you have to start adjusting to this never-ending sway.
After some stumbles and falls (which I’m certain the crew found
entertaining), you get used to the motion, and can at least
minimize public clumsiness.”
Brandon Carter, mission scientist on the cruise, provides a
delightful primer on the pros and cons of carbon dioxide in a
blog entry posted Tuesday, and Katie Douglas , a doctoral
student at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine
Science posted a
blog entry yesterday in which she discusses the CTD rosette, a
basic piece of oceanographic equipment used to continuously record
conductivity (salinity), temperature and depth as it is lowered
down into the ocean. The remote-controlled device can take water
samples at any level.