Last weekend I concluded my fieldwork for both Otter Rock and Cascade Head 2018 intertidal monitoring for ODFW. On Saturday we finished community mussel bed surveys that examined the intertidal community for potential changes from reduced populations of sea stars caused by wasting in 2014. For this we meet at Otter Rock at 5:20am while it was still pitch black outside. We proceeded to walk to the site in the dark using the light from a few headlamps and phones.
Heading to site at Otter Rock before dawn
For this survey we measured the height and depth of the mussel bed, abundance of mussel predators (sea stars and whelks), and counted mussel recruits. We count the whelks because they may take over the role of controlling the lower limit of the mussel bed. This is normally the role of sea stars (especially Pisaster ochraceus) but their populations are significantly reduced due to wasting.
Counting mussel recruits at Otter Rock
Whelk: predator of mussels
On Sunday I woke up before sunrise again. At 5am I was on my way to Cascade Head to complete the last sea star wasting survey of 2018. And good news was that we saw very little wasting sea stars! Unfortunately though three of our transects that we sample were under water even with the -1.9 tide. In previous months and years there had been more sand that made the pools shallower allowing for ODFW to count sea stars in those areas but this year the sand was all washed away and we were not able to sample them. We were still able to survey around 200 sea stars during the belt transect and over 200 sea stars for the timed searches.
Timed search surveys at Cascade Head
Timed search survey at Cascade Head
Once I finished the fieldwork I had to enter my data and analyze it before the final presentations we gave on Friday. It lead to a couple of very busy days but I was able to finish everything. For those of you who were unable to come to the final presentations I will give a brief summary of what I found. The biggest conclusion was that sea stars are very healthy! Since 2015 when monitoring began the percentage of sea stars showing signs of wasting has deceased to very minimal levels (below 2%) at both sites by 2018. The other big conclusion I determined was that population of sea stars remained similar to 2015 over the four years based on densities. There was some fluctuation but it was not statistically significant at Cascade Head and for Otter Rock it was only one year having slightly higher densities but then it dropped back down the next year. There are two main possibilities to explain why we aren’t seeing an increase in densities over the four years. One is that by 2015 populations had already recovered from sea star wasting. The other explanation is that four years is not enough time to see recovery and it will take more years of monitoring to observe an increase in sea star density indicating that they have recovered.
For those of you who came to the final presentations, thank you for your support. And for those who are reading and were unable to come, I hope you enjoyed learning about my project and you can check out a picture of my poster below:
Presenting my poster
Since I have last posted, I successfully led and finished the last sea star wasting intertidal survey for Otter Rock Marine Reserve in 2018. We had a great turnout of volunteers and were able to survey everything very quickly. Unfortunately we did see a few sea stars with advanced signs of wasting. The good news was that the percent of sea stars wasting has continued to decrease at Otter Rock since the outbreak of the epidemic.
Ochre sea star showing signs of wasting
For this survey we identified, measured, and assigned disease codes to ochre sea stars, blood stars, and six-rayed sea stars along 5 established transects at Otter Rock. These transects are 5 meters long and we searched a meter to each side of the transect for a total of 10m2 for each transect. After we completed these types of surveys we conducted timed searches. For this, we record the length of time searched for and the number of people searching and then cover a large area looking for ochre sea stars and false ochre sea stars. When we find a sea star we record the species, size, and disease code. Currently I am analyzing the data from Otter Rock and looking forward to collecting the last of the data from Cascade Head Marine Reserve next weekend.
Otter Rock Intertidal
Oregon’s coast has a lot to offer other than its intertidal. Last weekend I went on a beautiful hike. The first part was called Hobbit Trail and I had to duck/crawl to hike through most of it. It was very cool to be surrounded by plants to the point where it felt like I was tunneling through the bushes and trees. The later part of the trail lead to Heceta Head Lighthouse. This trail was so different. It was right next to highway 101 but you would have no idea on the trail because the forest was amazing. The trees were very tall and the canopy dense so that it was very dark on the trail. Additionally there was a steep incline so that we entered the mist that was hovering above. This eerie setting made for great pictures and an excellent hike.
Hike to Heteca Head Lighthouse
Another great experience I have had was SMURFing this week. SMURF is an acronym for standard monitoring unit for the recruitment of reef fishes. These contraptions that are meant to simulate kelp environment are to capture juvenile fishes. In order to do this, a SMURF is attached to a mooring line by snorkelers and then recovered a couple of weeks later. We pull up next to the mooring in the boat and jump over the side, snorkel to the mooring, and wrap the SMURF with a large fine mesh net. A new SMURF is attached while the old one is carried back to the boat. Once we are back on the boat we shake out the contents of the SMURF and look for juvenile fish. This last week we followed this procedure for the SMURFs inside and outside Otter Rock Marine Reserve. During this time of year we don’t usually observe as many juvenile fish as this time we only got 8 juvenile rockfish. While sampling we saw whales, seals, and many birds. It was a great way to start the day.
As Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Marine Reserves’ intertidal intern, I am fortunate enough to travel all along Oregon’s coast to participate in fieldwork. So far I have visited 4 of the 5 marine reserves: Otter Rock Marine Reserve, Cascade Head Marine Reserve, Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve, and Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve. The first time I went to the intertidal in Oregon I was shocked at how different it was from the intertidal where I live in Southern California. Otter Rock was the first place I visited and the intertidal area there is massive, continuing on out well into the ocean. But because Oregon’s intertidal areas are so vast and surrounded by such large sandy beaches, the walk to our sites always takes way longer than you think it will. At Otter Rock and Cascade Head I saw so many cool organisms. I got to see tidepool sculpins, an opalescent nudibranch, and spotted dorid nudibranchs.
Cape Perpetua was my favorite site to explore because the sea stars there are massive and very abundant. At that site I helped count sea stars per age class and species while looking for indications of sea star wasting syndrome. Around one tidepool I counted over 60 sea stars. Unfortunately there were some that showed signs of wasting such as the ochre sea star below which is losing its grip, one of the symptoms of wasting.
This last Tuesday I was fortunate to join a researcher from OSU at Redfish Rocks and help with her experiment on intertidal sponges. Since Redfish Rocks is a 4 hour drive from Newport we camped the night before and woke up at 4:30am to hike to her experiment site in the intertidal. One of the best parts was that she brought her dogs with her for the trip.
Driving to Redfish Rocks with these two cuties
While I do spend a decent amount of time doing fieldwork, I spend more in the office analyzing data about the intertidal, helping with science communication about the intertidal, and creating field guides for sea star wasting symptom identification. I really enjoy seeing all the steps from collecting the data to finding out what it means and finally communicating this with the public.
But not all my time in Oregon is spent working, I have gotten to experience so many of the amazing things that Oregon has to offer. I went blueberry picking in Corvallis, saw Thor’s Well spraying, hiked in the Siuslaw National Forest, and so much more.
Me inside a tree!
It has only been a week and I am already falling in love with Oregon. I am so grateful to be one of the Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholars for 2018 and spend my summer in Newport. The project I am working with is in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Marine Reserves branch helping with ecological monitoring the reserves. So not only do I get to explore Oregon on my free time but also for work! Starting next week I will be conducting field work at three of the marine reserves: Otter Rock, Cascade Head, and Cape Perpetua. When I am not in the field I will be helping analyzing and summarize the data that ODFW’s Marine Reserve Ecological Monitoring Team collected last year. While there is both intertidal and subtidal monitoring that the department conducts, I will be focusing on the intertidal data and collection.
For work, my time will be split between sea star wasting monitoring and intertidal biodiversity monitoring. It is really awesome that the ODFW not only collects their own data for this but also works with other groups of researchers and citizen science projects to be able to collect tons of data and get a very good understanding of the areas that are protected. Occasionally I will be going out with these collaborators during their fieldwork to see first hand how these studies are conducted.
During my free time I have visited the beach,, boardwalk, and farmers market of Newport. Each time I go explore I gain new appreciation for this beautiful place that I get to live in for the summer. The awe-inspiring nature is not the only appeal of Oregon but also the culture of the towns and the people that live here. Everyone I have met is so nice and helpful. The best part is that almost everyone here is a dog person so wherever you go there are always tons of dogs which helps with missing my dog back at home.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse