Friday, February 17, 2012

Hope on the rocks

Last November, I poured fresh seawater from the White Rock beach into my aquarium, and the aquarium died. (A sad post) A month later, we returned to the beach. I searched for live animals, and found that a large section of the beach was dead. (Empty beach)

Since then, I've been flipping stones every time we visit, with discouraging results. The dead zone increased, and I correlated the boundaries with the areas where several large homes are being built up on the cliffs above. It may be that run-off from their work is causing the damage: it may just be a coincidence.

When the tide drops, we walk over the stones covered with barnacles. Dead barnacles, these days; empty shells, for the most part. There is no greenery, except for bits of rockweed. Under the most likely stones, I have been finding the occasional group of immature shore crabs, sometimes a polychaete. Recently, I've seen the amphipods skidding sideways over the underside of the rocks; a welcome sight.

But no snails. No adult crabs. No live barnacles. No gulls dropping clams onto the stones. No flocks of birds feeding just off-shore.

This week, things are looking up. We caught the tide going out, and walked west from the park.

Looking west, towards Kwomais Point

I turned stones half-heartedly at first, finding the expected bare sand underneath. Sad. In the areas where we crunched over large dead barnacles, an odor of old cannery - stale, dead fish - overpowered the sharp aroma of saltwater. But as we went along,  we started to find hints of recovery.

A gull has found a juicy crab.

Burrowing anemone. Small, and just the one, but it's a start.

Purple starfish. We found four, looking healthy.

On the larger rocks, well to the west and in the mid-intertidal zone, the barnacles and mussels are doing fine. And we even found a few whelks; these and two others. 

And among the barnacles on some of the larger rocks, the bright green sea lettuce is starting to grow again.

I didn't see any shore crabs under stones this time, but a few of the tiny black snails that usually pepper all the stony areas showed up. One live clam lay on the sand, with his foot out, getting ready to bury himself. I helped him along, before a gull found him. And every stone sheltered amphipods.

From the center of the dead zone, I brought back a few pill bottles of sand and water. Last night, I examined two under the microscope. I found two copepods, an amphipod-like critter, something that looked like a busy hairy bacterium, a medusa, a long (at least under the 'scope) worm, and dozens of tiny swimming boxes and ovals and wormy things. It's not what it used to be, but it's young life.

I think the beach is going to make it.


  1. Susannah, I'm so glad to hear your beloved beach is recovering. What happy news. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Let's hope the dead zone was a one off. Fingers crossed.

  3. That's great news. Nice to see life rebounding like that. It sure would be good to know what happened there.

  4. Facinating. The recovery seems slow. I wonder, along with you, what actually happened. How big an area is in the dead zone?

    Good news that it improving!

  5. Yes, I'm pleased with the improvement.

    Elva, there are measurements in the next post.

  6. Nature is slow, but sure. You are expert at following changes, good and bad. - Margy


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