Week 4 – Seeing Stars

Last week, I spent two of my mornings hunched over tide pools looking for sea stars. We were out conducting sea star surveys as part of a research effort documenting the effects of sea star wasting disease, an epidemic that has affected populations of these iconic animals up and down the West Coast.

Not your typical day at the office.

To be honest, I wasn’t enthused at the thought of groggily getting up at 5 AM. But I quickly warmed up to the idea – especially after measuring tapes and clipboards were handed out and we were turned loose to hunt down sea stars.

I think the main reason I became so immersed in my work that morning was because it resembled a lot of what I did throughout my childhood: roaming independently outside and exploring whatever nature offered to us. I didn’t grasp it at the time, but I was reaching back to my roots – roots buried and forgotten a long time ago as I grew up and moved on to other endeavors.

It seems that stress bombards us from all sides these days. I’ve definitely been feeling it this week – from working 21 total hours those two days of sea star surveys, to getting writer’s block on a difficult topic for my very first post on the ODFW Marine Reserves website, to preparing a presentation for the midsummer check-in at the end of this week.

So as we near the halfway point of the program, I suppose now is a more than apropos time to raise the importance of not getting lost within the rat race that’s convinced many of us to chase societal success. We miss a lot of the little things – things that tend to keep us sane – when we don’t stop to appreciate what’s around us. I’ll keep the rest of the text in this post short and sweet by sharing some of my own little things from this week:

A foggy morning greeted us at Otter Rock Marine Reserve, one of the sites of our sea star surveys.

View from inside the Devil’s Punchbowl at Otter Rock. The hollowed-out structure is dry and explorable at low tide, but come high tide the basin fills up with water.

A winding channel cutting through the tide pools.

A very well hidden, and very much alive, red rock crab.

Pisaster ochraceus, commonly known as the ochre star, can actually come in a variety of colors, but the major color morphs are orange, purple, and brown.

A not-so-healthy sea star. Those affected by the wasting disease experience external lesions, decaying limbs, and overall body deterioration.

A dense school of juvenile rockfish welcomed us as soon as we reached the tide pools at Cascade Head Marine Reserve on the second morning of our sea star surveys. This was an unexpected discovery – juvenile rockfish typically recruit nearshore by the time they reach the size of the ones in this pool, but to see so many all in one place was surprising.

A flamboyantly blue nudibranch, found in the same pool as the rockfish. The colors are much more electrifying when seen in person.

Not positive, but I’m guessing this is another nudibranch, although much bigger than the first.

The most interesting find of the afternoon – an octopus! It took several minutes of gentle coaxing to tease him out of the hole he was hiding in.

Saying goodbye to Cascade Head for the day.

I find that one of the more intriguing things about nature is that you can leave with a sense of fulfillment just from silently wandering about and observing. When I look down into a tide pool, I’m usually searching for fish and other little creatures hiding amongst the rocks and algae. But more so than that, I realize now that I’m peering deeper into a window of my childhood days, when the only things with an iota of consequence at the end of the day were our dirty clothes and grass-stained knees.

So slow down, take a deep breath, and go find your own tide pool, wherever it may be.

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2 thoughts on “Week 4 – Seeing Stars

  1. You captured some truly amazing photos of creatures in the tidepools! How does one coax an octopus out of hiding? Encouraging words perhaps?

  2. Nice sentiments, Edward. A good reminder to enjoy what’s around you and not get too lost in the details.

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