Sea Star Wasting Monitoring

Jan 5, 2016

Most regular people spent the evening of Tuesday, November 24th preparing for Thanksgiving. People all over the country made pumpkin pies, baked casseroles, and picked squashes. Some people went on long runs to increase their appetites and others ate big meals to stretch their stomachs in preparation for the big night. However, a small, nerdy handful of people did none of those things. These intrepid adventurers got ready for Thanksgiving by braving the wind and the cold to count sea stars. I was lucky enough to be one of those nerds, and below is the story of that adventure.

The third Tuesday in November was the seasonal survey of our long-term sea star monitoring plots at Indian Island County Park. The PTMSC has monitored these plots four times a year ever since the 2013 Sea Star Wasting Disease outbreak. We are partners in a West Coast monitoring program coordinated by the Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network (MARINe) designed to monitor the health of sea star populations and severity of disease outbreaks.

Tuesday afternoon I packed a backpack with all the necessary supplies. Data sheets, check. Bleach solution, check. Tiny tape measures, check. As I gathered the equipment and chatted with volunteers, I felt the familiar buzz of fieldwork anticipation. At 3:30 pm, I was set to go. Only five hours and seven minutes until low tide. When searching for sea stars, it’s best to wait for the water level to drop.

I popped into the staff meeting and the mood was excited and interested. Everyone was anxious to hear how our local stars were faring. The wind picked up outside, but I didn’t think anything of it until the lights flickered and went out. And stayed out. 20 minutes later, I was still tapping my foot, willing the power to come back on. At the Marine Science Center, no power means no pumps. When the pumps go off, the fish and invertebrates in the aquarium get understandably unhappy. If the power stayed off, it would be time to bust out the backup generator for the second time this month. I already had a long night ahead of me and was not quite ready for that. Just before 5 pm, the lights flickered back on and I raced out to the Marine Exhibit. With the pumps whirring and the alarm reset, I was ready for dinner. Three hours and sixteen minutes until low tide.

Head to Rebecca's blog post to read the rest of the story!