Beginning on 14 May 2018, a group of WSU Vancouver students will take part in a field course to observe marine invertebrates in their native habitats using a natural history and ecological approach. We will explore communities along the southern Oregon coast ranging from the rocky intertidal habitat at Cape Blanco to the sand dunes north of Coos Bay. Sandy beaches, estuaries, and mud flat communities will also be explored. Participants will reside and work at a marine lab on the southern Oregon coast.
This blog will describe the activities and habitats explored by Marine Intertidal Communities participants.
Monday – 14 May 2018
May 14th, 2018 was no ordinary day. It was 5:00 am, and even though our meeting was not for three more hours, I was up daydreaming about starfish, as well as regular fish. The meeting area, north of the science building, was full of eager faces, with Loowit’s majestic, renowned form reflecting in their eyes. The time had finally come. We were about to embark on what could be the most influential experience of our lives up until this point; The Biology 486 course to study marine invertebrates and ecological communities. Our destination? The Oregon Institute of Marine Biology in Charleston, OR.
Oregon Institute of Marine Biology
A large van and a Nissan Altima were the vehicles available to take us to our final destination; the vehicles were sparsely packed with personal gear and research equipment, not including ourselves. I would describe the ride as comfortable, spacious, with plenty if not more leg room. At 10:55 am we pulled into Eugene, OR for a yummy lunch; some of us ate at Humble Bagel, while others ate at places such as Amigo Burritos and others who ate at places I do not recall the name’s of. At noon we departed and drove about an hour more until we reached the Hinsdale Elk Viewing Area, which all in all was very interesting, though there were not really any elk. It was a great way to pass time and gain some knowledge on the surrounding ecosystem.
Hinsdale Elk Viewing Area
We arrived at the OIMB before 3:00 pm and were greeted and shown to our rooms, where we unloaded our gear and got ready for our 4:45 pm discussion before dinner. The discussion was invigorating and focused on the relationship between natural history and science, a very connected conversation giving everyone a better understanding for their future research to be conducted within the week. Dinner was a traditional taco Monday, extremely delicious, and very much accommodating to dietary needs. It was a great experience to meet new people as well as to get to know students in our very own class. The staff was extremely friendly and very helpful, especially with the many codes needed to enter the buildings which can be difficult at times. The experience here on campus so far has been a great one and I am awaiting many more to come.
Dinning hall and dormitory on the OIMB campus
Dining hall before dinner was served
Tuesday morning – 15 May 2018
As early as 0330, class particpants began to awake; noise was not a concern, as they were all sleepless and eagerly awaiting their morning adventure. A bagged continental-type breakfast was served, allowing us to arrive at the beach early for low tide. After a fifteeen minute drive south we arrived at Cape Arago State Park. Costal forests had given way to steep cliffs painted with geological features, describing the chatoic history of the coast around us. The paved roads soon stopped; to reach the shore we needed to hike to down a dirt path of cutbacks that meandered to the sand below us. On the way there we were met with a breathtaking view of the southern Oregon coast.
Cape Arago State Park – South Cove
We were entering the realm of organisms who are subject to the cyclic nature of semidiurnal tides. There were multiple species of Arthropoda, Cnidaria, Mollusca, and many more all around us as we navigated the path to the tidal habitats which had recently become exposed by the retreating tide.
Trail leading down to South Cove
We split into small groups to begin our laboratory exercise of identifying the diversity of the lower-intertidal habitat. Each group was tasked with measuring a 5 meter transect from which they would create four quadrats. Students then proceeded to identify species and calculate the proportion of species within each quadrat. After all necessary observations were recorded this process was conducted further up the shore into the mid- and high-intertidal zones. The intent of this exercise was to calculate and compare the diversity of a habitat that was exposed to the open air for much longer than the organisms closer to the encroaching tide.
Measuring biodiversity in a rocky intertidal habitat.
A Gumboot chiton—Cryptochiton stelleri—we found hiding in a tide pool.
A large Ochre star—Pisaster ochraceus—found hiding among a few anemones—Anthopleura xanthogrammica.
As we went about completing our field work, Dr. Berger helped us identify multiple species that many students had never seen in-person. We made our way onto a large rock formation that was riddled with barnacles, chitons, and limpets. Shortly before our departure we observed a visiting pod of Gray whales– Eschrichtius robustus—who are likely in the process of migrating to the Arctic sea for the summer. After a tedious hike back through the rocky tidal pools, we arrived at the trailhead that would take us back to our vehicles. Upon returning to the OMBI campus, students were given time to wash the laboratory equipment and prepare for an afternoon exploring the Lighthouse beach.
Tuesday afternoon – 15 May 2018
After finishing up the first lab field trip of the day at Cape Arago, we returned to back to OIMB to have a few moments to relax before lunch and before departing for our second field trip of the day. At noon, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch that included chili, cornbread, and salad. We all met up after lunch and left at 1pm to Lighthouse beach, 10 minutes from OIMB. We brought buckets with us for collecting organisms and shovels for easier access to the animals. We ventured down some rather steep terrain, but thankfully there was a rope strung down to the sandy beach area. Once on the beach many of us began exploring immediately as Dr. Berger guided us down the coast.
Listening to Dr. Berger as he explains what we will be doing.
Cape Arago light house
I immediately noticed a big difference between the rocky intertidal zone seen earlier in the morning and the sandy shore. This beach habitat consisted of soft fine sand, with small diverse organisms spread throughout; almost all of these organisms burrowed in the sand. Compared to the rocky intertidal, this habitat had far less competition for space and crowding was not an issue. The beach was surrounded by high steep cliffs, presumably formed by high wind and wave action. Scattered across the shore were hundreds of washed up logs and shells from clams and mussels.
It is visible to see limestone or clay that makes up much of the cliffs surrounding this beach, along with logs and downed trees.
The first organism our group came across was the Mole Crab. This organism burrowed itself underneath the soft damp sandy substrate and seems to reside there. They are insanely quick and vanish as they dig themselves deep into the soft sand. It was obvious that the Mole Crabs were highly dependent on soft very wet sand for survival, ideally right after a wave has moved across the shoreline. It was difficult to see exactly how Mole Crabs swam, so a few of us placed a small amount of water in a bucket and placed a few in to get a better look. It was fascinating! They were quick. We found other organisms as well, such as small shrimp, small worms, squid egg capsules, and something known as “Sea Pork”, which is a type of filter feeding tunicate.
Sea Pork, Aplidium sp.
At 2:05pm, as our adventure across the beach continued, we were lucky enough to see gray whales for the second time in one day. They were spotted out in the same general area as they were before. It was hard to tell if it was the same two, presumably mother and calf, we had seen earlier but it is possible! After the whales disappeared we continued on our journey and were sure to collect different organisms along the way to take back to the lab to examine and learn more about. Just before heading back to the van we heard a commotion from up above and realized a crow was chasing down a bald eagle! That was sure a site to see! At about 3:30pm we started to head back to campus to have some downtime and decompress before dinner and discussion later in the evening. The experience so far has been nothing short of challenging and also amazing, I can’t wait to see what we have up next,
Tuesday evening – 15 May 2018
After dinner, at 6:30 the class gathered at the Boat House auditorium. With shoes removed and some clarification given on tidal height calculations, the discussion on climate change began. Dr. Berger introduced climate change as impactful and something that will continue to have an effect on the world for some time. He then questioned what kind of magnitude should we expect climate change to have? The class consensus was it will be huge, if not catastrophic.
Students revealed different examples relating to climate change. The first was that beetles are exacerbating California wildfires, kelp forest destruction due to uncontrolled sea urchin populations from almost fatal decline of sea otters, and current carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Dr. Berger than asked us how we thought climate change was affecting marine ecosystems specifically.
The current amount of carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere is about 410 parts per million (ppm),. This amount has caused earth’s climate to change and overall global temperatures to rise. Dr. Berger and students discussed implications of rising greenhouse gases, which included ocean acidification, sea level rise, and changes in ocean circulation that cause oxygen depleted water masses called dead zones.
While talking about these issues, myself and other students were able to look out through the windows at the bay behind the auditorium. This really hit home on what is at stake. The massive water that is being affected and all the organisms that live within it. What were we doing and why were we doing it? Dr. Berger asked us why it was so difficult for policy change to take place to avoid further damage.
Politics and economics were the answer. Large corporations, difficulty in changing what is already in place, and a lack of scientific understanding were discussed. Current issues of climate were brought up. Climate change refugees are being displaced from their homes on islands due to sea level rise. Areas like Florida and Venice are struggling due to flooding. Storms are getting stronger, dead zones are becoming more frequent, and we are having hottest months on record month after month.
The current idea of fighting climate change is to deal with what could happen later, now – which people are not typically interested in. Fear of job loss is also a factor. Solutions to these problems include education and job training for new fields for those who will be affected. Reducing use of disposable one-time-use products and lessening energy usage were reachable strategies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Other ways are to support climate change policy and politicians who will be involved in supporting the fight for conservation and climate change mitigation strategies.
Everyone seemed a bit gloomy at the end of the discussion. Dr. Berger attempted to cheer them up by pointing out that even if we are too late to reverse what has already been done, we can keep it from getting any worse. We should all be very concerned at our current state in the climate change struggle and try to make a positive difference.
Wednesday morning – 16 May 2018
Today was an early rise for most of us at 5:30am, to meet down in the cafeteria. We started the morning with a prepared sack lunch, containing an egg and cheese breakfast croissant, Poptart, an orange, and fruit snacks. We headed out from there to gather the equipment needed; sight level, buckets, and shovels.
We arrived at a small salt marsh in which we traveled through to get to the Portside Mudflat. We positioned ourselves in the sandier portions of the mudflat to avoid disturbing the sea grass. 7:00am was our starting time for the experiment, which we researched bivalves and their abundance and diversity in each transect observed. We laid out our tape measures and plotted transects every 5 meters at random by a flip of a coin. As we went through each transect we dug down 0.25m and sifted through the sand to collect the bivalves then noting the elevation with the sight level.
Sampling in the Portside mudflat
Bivalves (Macoma nasuta) sampled
A pea crab in a bivalve, Tresus capax
After the experiments were coming to an end at 8:45am, we traveled toward the salt marsh where we entered. The ground progressively got muddier as we approached. We were looking for ghost shrimp, a sexually dimorphic shrimp species, which were not found in the sandier parts of the mudflat. As we went up to the muddier portion we dug down and usually with one shovel scoop we were able to find many female ghost shrimp with eggs. Unfortunately, we were only able to find one male ghost shrimp, which was of particular interest due to their one large claw used for sexual attraction. We were also able to find Pacific Lug Worms along the way where we observed them from their burrow.
Male ghost shrimp
We finished up at the mudflat and headed back to the OIMB to clean our equipment and get ready for lunch!
Wednesday afternoon – 16 May 2018
The afternoon of the 16th of May started off with a visit to the Charleston Marine Life Center. Situated just across the road from the main OIMB Campus.
The Marine Life Center hosts a variety of preserved animals and around 14 aquariums on their ground floor that house various species of fish, sea stars, urchins, tunicates, anemones, gastropods, and crustaceans on the bottom floor. In their main display tank by the door, they are currently housing a giant octopus, which is currently being given a name through a public naming competition only available to those that sign up on site. The top floor of the building provides examples of skeletons from various marine mammals primarily within its north wing, which also operates as a viewing tower, with binoculars to look out into the bay and observe the various local birds parading across the sand on the opposing side of the bay. Large examples, such as an orca are suspended above the staircase, are in full view as you make your way up the stairs.
Orca skeleton in the Charleston Marine Life Center
There are a few examples of mammals skeletons and pelts within the east wing, but it is primarily filled with examples of shells from around the world displayed in pullout drawers. As well as a limited variety of preserved squid lining the walls. Near the back a variety of microscopes are provided for visitors to examine various specimens that have been set out. This was taken advantage of fully by some of the students who spent time inspecting the specimens.
After fully exploring the center, students moved back into lab to collect sampling tools before heading out onto the docks where animals where sampled using butter knives and 5-gallon buckets.
Docks in the Inner Boat Basin that were used to collect invertebrates
These animals were then transported on foot back to the lab to examine. A variety of animals were taken with both colonial and solitary ascidians being popular and ending up in multiple student’s buckets. These animals are interesting, as they are taxonomically our closest relatives. Many other varieties of invertebrates were taken back to the lab by the students including crab larvae, sea sponges, nudibranchs, hydrozoans within their reproductive state, bryozoans, anemones, tunicates, various animals caught as bycatch, and one particularly large sea star. Students then lead their own research into the topics and animals that interested them the most.
Everyone working hard in the lab
Students tried various techniques to extract and examine different types of symbiotic and pigmentation cells within the tissues of nudibranchs and anemones. The feeding behaviors of hydrozoans, and sea stars were observed using tubs, watch glasses, and patience.
Thursday morning part II – 17 May 2018
We started out our day waking up later than usual, with enough time to enjoy breakfast on campus. With our warm clothes on, our backpacks packed, our boots fastened, our sea sickness remedies taken, and buckets in hand, we were ready to depart. Our destination was the Pacific Ocean. We boarded a boat called the R/V Pluteus, a research vessel owned by OIMB. With our Captain, Knute, and a PhD. student, Kaitlyn running the ship, we were ready to embark.
Kaitlyn getting the R/V Pluteus ready
On our path to the open Pacific Ocean, just outside Coos Bay, we passed many interesting sites; including a Coastguard lookout and some napping sea lions on buoy’s bobbing around in the water.
Pluteus heading out
Coos Head lookout
Sea lions resting on a buoy
About 30 minutes later we finally reached our destination and our jobs were assigned. We were ready to collect plankton with a plankton net and benthic organisms with an otter trawl. Our jobs were to guide the cable as it goes in and out of the boat, control the hydraulics moving the cable, and to take the trawls in and out of the boat. There was even a time when our fellow student got to drive the boat and they did a great job I must say.
Biol 486 participant driving the boat
Operating the winch
The first type of trawl we partook in was to collect organisms on the surface of the ocean. From this trawl we collected organisms called ctenophores. The second type of trawl we partook in was to collect organisms from the bottom of the ocean. We collected a ton of sand dollars, some legless crabs, some shrimp, and a very unique hermit crab. Among all of our hopes to find sea cucumbers we came up empty handed, but were happy with the wide variety of organisms retrieved.
Otter trawl on deck
Otter trawl catch
Time seemed to fly by and before we knew it, we were cruising back into the Bay and back to the docks, returning to the OIMB campus. After lunch, to end the day, we scheduled times to meet with Professor Berger. This was to discuss our research projects and to get a better understanding of them before we actually conduct them.
The best part of the day was being able to get hands on experience in the field, but what made it better was to work with a great group of people, and even better, to celebrate a birthday. Happy Birthday Alex, from all of us in Biology 486.
Thursday morning part II – 17 May 2018
As the early morning boat crew docked back at the Charleston Marine Life Center, the late morning crew prepared for our own open ocean adventure. Once everyone was fitted with life vests we all boarded the boat, and Captain Newt piloted the vessel into the bay.
As we made our way out, we observed some of the local macro-fauna sun bathing on the buoys that guided our watercraft. However, while interesting in their own way, these vertebrates held no relevance to the goal of our expedition and we continued out towards the open ocean.
A sea lion and gull resting on the buoys as we made our way out to the open the sea.
Once our vessel was well out to sea, Captain Newt’s assistant Katelyn assisted the class in releasing the 360 micron plankton tow—a small-surface collection device which skims the water—to collect copepods, isopods, and all manner of planktonic species. After being towed behind the boat for approximately 5 minutes, the collection canister was reeled back in, and set aside for analysis in the lab. Shortly after, Katelyn assisted us in dropping the benthic dredge; the device is designed to trawl for much larger organisms resting on the sandy bottom. The dredge was dropped at a depth of approximately 60 meters and pulled along the bottom for 10 minutes when we reached a depth of approximately 30 meters. After the 10 minutes had passed, students pulled up the line and examined what fascinating creatures had been pulled up from the deep.
Pulling the dredge back in from the trawl.
By a strong margin, the majority of organisms the dredge had collected were sand dollars (Dendraster excentricus). Mixed in among the loose aquatic change were a number of Alaskan Bay Shrimp (Crangon alaskensis), as well as several other mollusks, crustaceans, and cnidarians.
The contents of our haul!
Sand dollar (Dendraster excentricus).Alaskan Bay Shrimp (Crangon alaskensis)
Red-eye Jellyfish (Polyorcus pencillatus)
Once we had made our way safely back on land, students were given lab time to work with and analyze the invertebrates that had been pulled up at their leisure. Students worked well into the night determining species and examining the finer details of these invertebrates physiology.
An undetermined isopod and copepod species pulled up from the plankton tow.
Friday morning part 1 – 18 May 2018
This morning we were up and ready to go by 5 am. The fantastic kitchen staff here at OIMB had coffee going and our breakfast and lunch ready to go. We loaded up our equipment and we were on the road just after 5 am. The drive to Cape Blanco took us about an hour. The winding roads were making a few people feel car sick.
The view from Cape Blanco’s parking area was great. We could see a lighthouse in the distance. There is a road that gets people closer to the lighthouse so that the public can get a closer look.
Cape Blanco with the lighthouse on the left
We hiked down a narrow pathway to the rocky shores to see an extremely low tide (about -0.5 meters). There were a lot of small and large tide pools to observe. In the high intertidal zone, we noticed the rocks were covered with mussels and anemones. When we looked carefully at the back side of the rocks in the areas where the sun did not shine, the anemones were bleached white. We also noticed the lower we climbed in the intertidal zone, the more slippery it was; seaweed and kelp are extremely slippery. We had to dig through macroalgae to locate the sea life below.
The goal for today was for each group to observe and collect data for their experiments. Each group had the opportunity to think of a question and design an experiment to answer their question. One group was measuring diversity in tide pools, another group was focusing on anemones feeding habits, a third group was counting and measuring hermit crabs, while the fourth group was recording size and diversity of three types of crabs.
Measuring hermit crabs
After each group was satisfied with the data they were able to collect to analyze and report on later, we packed up and headed back to the parking lot. The hike was all uphill, but it was a short hike, and the views were incredible. We loaded back into our cars and headed off to eat lunch by a river.
Beginning our hike back to the parking lot
Friday morning part 2 – 18 May 2018
Starting just after 3:00 am people started getting up to get ready for the day. We gathered our equipment, loaded up in our vehicles and hit the road. The drive was just over an hour from OIMB to Cape Blanco. From the parking lot of Cape Blanco parking lot, we hiked down to the rocky beach at low tide. Today’s low tide was significantly lower than usual at -0.53 meters below mean lower low water level. The weather was perfect for today’s experiments. It was overcast, and the temperature was comfortable without much wind.
We broke into four groups for the independent experiments. Each group decided what they wanted to investigate and created an experimental design to test their question.
Getting ready for research
One of the groups wanted to test the diversity in tide pools from low intertidal to high intertidal areas. They tested pH, oxygen, temperature, and salinity levels in six tidepools from each area being tested. The terrain was challenging to navigate with all the slippery algae and kelp. They did eventually gather all the data needed for their experiment, but it was a race against the incoming tide.
Cape Blanco intertidal
The second group was looking at hermit crabs and trying to determine if they displayed a preference for the type of shell they inhabited. They sampled tidepools in the low, mid, and high intertidal zones. They sampled the hermit crab and gastropod population of each pool, recorded the species present, and measured several different aspects of the shells.
The next group looked at the sizes of green sea anemones around the intertidal zone and comparing what they were feeding on. They examined the gut contents of the anemones to see if the food they were eating matched what was available in the tidepools.
The last group was investigating the distribution and sizes of different crab species throughout the intertidal zone. They found three crab species and measured them using calipers. They had trouble locating the crabs they wanted to observe, so they adjusted their experiment to work better with the environment.
Once all the groups had finished collecting data for their experiments, we hiked back up to the vehicles and drove to Elk River for lunch. All and all we had a great start to the day.
Friday afternoon – 18 May 2018
After our morning outing we returned to campus for a seminar given by Serena Caplins. Serena is a PhD student at UC Davis California. Her work focuses on marine invertebrates, but she also works with a few terrestrial species. Serena informed us that this was her first invited seminar, as she presented an invigorating and informative talk that focused on reproductive behavior of a marine species called a ribbon worm. Ribbon worms are hermaphroditic, which means one worm can produce both egg and sperm. Serena’s research focused on the type of egg that was produced after fertilization. Two types of eggs can be produced. The Lecithotrophic eggs which are born with all the food they need for the larval stage of life and the planktotrophic eggs which must feed during their larval stage. Under stress conditions, such as a rise in salinity, ribbon worms may produce higher numbers of one or the other types of eggs.
Some students were lucky enough to find a few ribbon worms as we explored the rocky intertidal areas of Cape Arago and Cape Blanco. These fragile worms were bright orange and extremely long and fragile. Trying to untangle a ribbon worm from its habit usually ends in breaking the worm in half. But don’t worry, they have a high capacity for regeneration.
The seminar concluded with a few types of cookies that were enjoyed by all. After the seminar, students were free to do as they please for the remainder of the evening. Some decided to get some extra sleep while others explored the town of Charleston and other close by scenic attractions. Just a short walk from the OIMB campus lies a small beach which many have taken advantage of when in need of a quiet place to think. Washed up on the shore of many of local beaches, including this secluded beach, is the bright blue colonial hydrozoan, Velella velella, or “By the wind sailor.”
The thinking beach
Velella velella, by the wind sailor
We are not limited to shore life here in Charleston. The land behind the OIMB campus allows for a walk in the woods and a chance to enjoy a slight break from the salty air of the beaches. A raised boardwalk takes students over a swamp filled with gigantic skunk cabbage and continues into the woods on a well-groomed path. It is the perfect place for a walk before bed.
Boardwalk behind campus
Saturday morning – 19 May 2018
Saturday morning began beautifully; an 8:30 am scheduled lab provided the perfect opportunity to sleep in after a week’s worth of hard work. “We’re in the home stretch” is something that I’m sure is on all of our minds. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves though, there is still work to be done! Once our sleepy and overclocked brains finally got their bearings, we headed to the South Slough Estuary. This lab was split into three separate sites, the lower, mid, then upper estuary (in that order). Upon arriving at the gravel road leading to the lower estuary site, disappointment struck. The access point used in previous years had been cut-off by nearby landowners. A sign reading “Private Property” quickly brought sadness to the face of Dr. Berger. As we shamefully flipped a U-turn; Berger lightened the mood: “Maybe we should kick up some dust out of spite” he jokingly remarked. This was the best part of my day. We instead parked nearby and found another point of entry into the lower estuary.
Once at the lower estuary, around 8:50 am, we situated ourselves beneath a bridge where Dr. Berger fondly recalled years passed where he would pry barnacles off of the bridge’s legs. “I was always worried someone would call the police saying I was chiseling away at the bridge’s foundation” he chuckled. Another good one, and I also chuckled. He was on fire today. We measured pH, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and salinity at all sites. We then packed back into the van after counting to make sure nobody was consumed by the mud and headed out to site number two.
Site one, notice the slick and boot-consuming mud as well as the bridge supports that are still intact.
We arrived at site two around 9:30 am, and this one was the biggest adventure of the three. This site entailed a decent little hike to reach the mid-estuary. Once we reached the location, Dr. Berger graciously took one for the team and trekked through the deep mud to collect a sample of water, where we once again measured the variables previously mentioned. Before leaving site two, some of us tasted some pickleweed. It really just tasted like crunchy salt with a hint of a not-very-good cucumber. Luckily the trail leaving the site was not the same trail entering the site, so we got a nice change of scenery and even a pit stop at the South Slough Interpretive Center. After what amounted to about a 3 mile round trip hike, we all breathlessly and sweat drenched got into the van once again and headed to site Three.
Dr. Berger heroically risking his wellbeing to collect mid-estuarine water for the group at site two. Those are some deep mud holes!
We took our last measurements on estuarine systems around 11:30 am at Winchester Creek, our third site. No hike this time, a big bonus since we were all a little tired and had the Sand Dunes journey coming after lunch. This site is what can be considered the upper side of the estuary and it went fairly quickly. We all knew lunch was at noon and by this point we are all so drained that we could practically hear the lunch bell ringing already. We concluded our estuarine endeavors by piling into the van once more, mouths watering, and embarked on our 20 minute ride back to OIMB.
Site three, Winchester Creek. You can almost hear our stomachs growling through the picture.
Saturday afternoon – 19 May 2018
After enjoying a scrumptious lunch provided by the friendly OIMB staff, we set out on our next trip for the day–the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Along the way, we made a quick stop at a local market to acquire our forest pass permits, which was a must! We then headed straight towards North Bend, which led us to our destination, the John Dellenback Dunes Trailhead.
The John Dellenback trailhead
Walking through the trail, it seemed like a typical scenery one would experience from hiking the trails of the Northwest. That is, a forest filled with diverse flora, from deciduous and coniferous trees to ferns, flowers, mosses, algae, and a myriad more. To top it off, birds singing, the slow calming sound of the Eel Creek adjacent to the trail, and the wonderful pockets of sunlight provided a touch that beautifully amplified our hiking experience. We even encountered a pond filled with many lily pads showing off its bright yellow flowers along the water’s surface. Without knowledge of what is ahead, one could have easily mistaken the final destination to have no connection to sand dunes at all–but it indeed does! How incredible it was to stand on sand dunes that are masked by a forest!
As we reached the end of the trail, a bright and open window welcomed us to the tallest dunes on the west coast. Dr. Berger explained to us that the size of the sand dunes are approximately 40-60 miles long and 3-5 miles wide. The fine sand was golden brown in color and felt incredible as it smoothly slid between our fingers and toes. It took a lot of power and energy to hike up the tall sand hills. Some of us vigorously running to the top, while others paused to catch their breath before continuing on. However, as soon as we arrived we were rewarded with the fast-blowing winds and a beguiling view of the extensive sand dunes. From up high, we were able to capture various vegetation and small bodies of water along the lower regions of the dunes, as well as view the Pacific Ocean. Dr. Berger, to our surprise, began demonstrating how to jump and flip on the edge of the sand hill, this then initiated a handful of college students jumping around the sand and being silly, followed by running fast down the hill as again – following Dr. Berger’s lead.
Hiking up the large sand hill.
Running down the large sand hill.
Next we followed numbered posts, which directed us to a relatively small region in the dunes that contained fewer vegetation and small ponds. The vegetation that resides in this area has adapted to the windy and sandy conditions of the dunes, thus creating small forest islands that provide the vegetation with hardly any competition. The primary pine that lives in the sand dunes is the limber pine, accompanied by other plants such as the seashore bluegrass, wild strawberry, European beach grass, dandelion, and yellow monkey flowers. Both the vegetation and ponds help to stabilize the sand and promote plant growth. Not only did we enjoy the scenery and feeling the warm waters, but we also encountered tree frogs with different coloration patterns. It was quite a surprise to see frogs in the sand dunes at all! After a good amount of time exploring around the small forest island of the sand dunes, we returned to trail and headed back to the OIMB campus.
The small forest island and ponds in the sand dunes.
Left: Limber pine, middle: Yellow Monkey Flower, right: Seashore Bluegrass
Tree frogs we encountered.
Sunday – 20 May 2018
Because we cleaned the lab and packed up some of the gear the night before, we were able to meet much later than normal, at 9 am—which everyone was pretty pleased with.
Like the previous day, rumors of the infamous library parties made their rounds at the breakfast tables. However, the topics quickly changed once the “Berger Baby” arrived—as it was his first Birthday! The kitchen staff at OIMB had made him a chocolate chip muffin and gave him a birthday balloon while everyone in the dining hall sang happy birthday. The baby, mesmerized by the candle, was unable to blow it out, but luckily his mother was there to help him.
We met later in the dining hall to wrap up our class trip and discuss future submission dates. Next, we traveled to our final field spot—the site we visited on our first field trip: Cape Arago. The moment of arrival was bittersweet. Many students were saddened by the finality of the trip, yet many were missing their families and/or pets. However, the return to Cape Arago provided a different perspective on the site, as we were as seasoned in intertidal habitats as anyone would be after a week of this course. Maybe at the beginning of our trip a sea anemone would ignite a sense of curiosity in us, possibly even driving them to try to examine their guts with their fingers—but as experienced students, we looked onward, unenthused with organisms we were already so familiar with.
A skull that was found on the beach – possibly belonging to a seal pup
Upon arrival, we set out with a goal of finding a common sun star, Pycnopodia helianthoides, but we were unsuccessful. We were however successful in finding a 100+ year old red sea urchin, Mesocentrotus franciscanus, which in no way was harmed when retrieving it from the rocky intertidal…
The 100+ year old red sea urchin, Mesocentrotus franciscanus
Afterwards, we got to enjoy a pleasant lunch and pack our personal belongings into the van. The ride home to WSU Vancouver was long, but it seems almost everyone in the van caught up on any lost sleep during the trip.
Ultimately, the experience was one I think many of us enjoyed and gained something from the unique classroom that was hands-on fieldwork. However, I want to leave future students with some words from students who experienced it first hand: if I were to bring something that I didn’t pack before and I had the luxury of space, I would have brought sleeping pills, ear plugs, sandals, and a decent pillow. The items I was glad to have brought were Netflix shows, cash (to buy OIMB swag), and a variety of layers because the weather was cold in the morning, but would warm up by mid-day/when hiking.
I know some students were unsure about taking this class because of the class fee or if they had never had Dr. Berger as a professor and to those students, I would say this class was more than worth the fee, as I feel like I connected with my peers, gained valuable hands-on experience, and enjoyed some stellar meals and conversations along the way.
Class photo at OIMB with “guest student” Owen
Class photo at Cape Arago – South Cove
This concludes the Marine Invertebrate Communities Course Blog