Sustainable Seas Monitoring Review
By Andrew Cunningham
In 2002, Kathy Soave introduced the Branson community to Sustainable Seas, an offshoot of the Greater Farallones Sanctuary which compiles baseline data on intertidal life for a national database. For the past 14 years, Ms. Soave and her students have made monitoring trips every year to the same area on the Bolinas coastline, compiling data on water temperature, species abundance, and distribution. Earlier this last month, I had the opportunity to go on a Sustainable Seas monitoring and witness just how special a resource Bolinas’ tide pools are.
Our group met at Branson around 6:50 on a hazy and cool Saturday morning. We pushed off around 7 AM, each leader driving groups of 4 students, following Ms. Soave who drove 8. The car ride was about an hour and its beautiful scenery rewarded anyone lucid enough to keep their eyes open. As we piled out of the cars and wiped the drowsiness from our eyes, Ms. Soave passed out squares made of PVC piping, clipboards, pencils and assigned groups to two different monitoring sections (A, B). As a first-timer, I was about as confused as it gets at this point. What’s this square made of PVC piping I’m holding? Where am I going? What should I be looking for? Thankfully, this was the first monitoring of the year and I was quickly guided in the right direction.
For future trips, it’s important to understand the basics of the monitoring process — consider attending a training before signing up for an actual monitoring. The 1/4 x 1/4 meter square I’d been holding is called a quadrat and is used to precisely define a region for monitoring along the two transects located at both monitoring sections, A and B. Each transect extends vertically along the beach (from water upwards) for 55-60 meters and each is permanently marked to make sure monitors observe the same regions every time. Each student-led group at either transect is responsible for measuring every 5 meters along the tape-measure, carefully observing and recording the variety of species and distribution of algae, invertebrates, and crustaceans. Once we’d completed the 5-meter segments, our leaders pushed us to chose a series of arbitrary regions to observe away from the transects. I know it sounds complicated, but, with the right training and a seasoned monitor by your side, I can assure you it’s a fun chance to get associated with Bolinas’ tide pools.
When our group finished recording the abundance and variety of intertidal life, we had some time to wander amongst the tide pools exploring the life sprouting from the rock’s crevices. While the abundance of anemones, hermit crabs, and algae was intriguing, my real focus lay in finding the elusive sea star. In the past 40 years, the West Coast has experienced a concerning decline of nearly 90% in sea star population due to a plague sweeping the coast entitled the Sea Star Wasting Syndrome or SSWS (University of Santa Cruz, Sea Star Wasting Syndrome). Ms. Soave has also experienced the disease’s impact first hand, witnessing fewer and fewer sea stars since her first monitoring in 2002. Unfortunately, the sea star proved just as elusive as Ms. Soave had suggested. As hard as I scoured the tide pools for a glimpse of the sea star, I just couldn’t find one. I lingered amongst the glistening tide pools a little longer before returning to the cars for bagels and debrief. The monitoring wrapped up around 10:30 and I was back in my car on my way home for my early-afternoon nap around 11:30.
On my way home I pondered over everything I’d seen that morning. The immense number of species so densely compacted around one coastline was fascinating. Each tide pool was like a mini-ecosystem and while silently lingering amongst them I developed a new perspective. This is something that needs to be protected and I’m extremely grateful for Sustainable Seas’ continued efforts to help protect our local ecosystems through student-collected data.
Sustainable Seas will go on its next monitoring in the late afternoon of October 21st. The group will also travel out to Bolinas this spring, however, dates and times haven’t been set in stone yet. For those of you interested in attending a monitoring, please make sure to attend the two part training courses throughout October (look out for an email from Kathy Soave or Peter Zdrojewski for more details).