Musings of a Naturalist

While I was busy trying to stay cool one afternoon in early July, I received an email from an acquaintance with a query about a strong stink at the beach, and finding many dead crabs while there with her grandchildren. This piqued my curiosity as to what was happening in our intertidal areas. 

I learned that a “Heat Dome” and extreme temperatures, coupled with very low day time tides had created a “perfect storm” of events to devastate some of our intertidal sea life. 

The extreme temperatures and lack of cooling from the ocean waters literally “cooked” the exposed sea life on the foreshore, especially the black shelled mussels, which died by the thousands. Later, when exploring my closest beach, I observed mounds of empty mussel shells, and large bare patches on the rocky outcroppings where barnacles used to be.  

Things are changing in our world. 

After growing up near the ocean and spending almost three decades at local forests, creeks and beaches exploring, educating, and learning, I have never seen the likes of the devastation caused to shoreline life by the recent heat wave.

Known to be hardy and adaptable, who would have thought that these creatures (particularly the blue/black mussels that are so prolific along our shores) would be pushed beyond their  maximum threshold  and annihilated in the thousands?

Those intertidal creatures fortunate enough to be north facing or shaded by surrounding rocks or other features survived by the mere chance that these areas were the only spaces available to them at the time of adherence after their phase as free-floating zooplankton at the beginning of their lives. These extremes-tolerant creatures (as all intertidal life must be to exist in this ever-changing environment) were pushed beyond their physical tolerances.

We all know our climate is changing, and we all know that these changes are affecting our world. But can our world adapt to these changes?

Our shorelines are special, sensitive but durable places able to withstand the constant commotion of the incoming and outgoing tides, currents, waves, and weather.  

But additional stressors have been accumulating as our shoreline populations rise.  Over 40% of our world’s human population now lives on the shorelines of our continents.  With that comes the inevitable pressure on coastal ecosystems as increased population density and economic activity creates a myriad of other contaminants introduced to the natural environment.

Then nature’s shoreline clean-up crew – millions of mussels, clams, barnacles and all filter feeders, as well as off shore eelgrasses and marine algae – work hard to carry out their natural processes of filtering the water. It is an arduous task.

Now throw in the additional wrench of ever-increasing summer temperatures brought on by the changes in our climate and we have a recipe for problems.  

Impacts in the terrestrial environment are also becoming obvious.  In recent years we have seen an ever-increasing time of dry, hot, summer weather – unusually so for our temperate oceanside location. On the land, lack of rain and the higher temperatures we have been experiencing create dusty, dry soils and forests. 

This year my tomatoes were hit by something I have never seen before.  Tomato blossom end rot. Next to the tomatoes, the blueberries show burned, brown-edged leaves indicating lack of water. Watersheds are taxed to the limit without snow or rain to replenish the precious waters that are crucial to all life for existence. 

Sound pretty gloomy?  You bet!  Hopeless?  I think not.  

Humans, as a species, are adaptable and enterprising.  Look at how quickly we changed our habits when Covid first hit.  Roads were devoid of traffic, bustling cities were quiet, GHG emissions dropped. The adaptations were immediate.  

This is the type of urgent response we need to the changes happening to our ecosystems.  We need to take action now, and carry on with these changes in our daily lives until we have put the accelerating changes that are occurring around us in check. Money and economy can no longer be the engine that drives our lives.  

Where did that coffee come from?  How was it grown? Is it sustainable?  Do you need that extra item in your shopping cart?  Was it created sustainably? What do you drive? How often do you drive and is it really necessary?  Could you carpool? How is our government contributing to supporting sustainable practices? How could they do more? Vote for those that care and are committed to affect the changes needed now. 

Notice the changes that are happening each day, in our seashores, in our forests, and in your everyday lives.  Think about the common good for all humanity, and most of all, for our beautiful beleaguered world.


– Dianne Sanford: Citizen Scientist, Eelgrass Aficionado, Friend of Forage Fish and the SCCA.

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