The Wild West Coast

July 12, 2017 Posted by: Adam Taylor
Sunsets over the water at Olympic National Park
NPS Photo - A. Taylor
Last month our resources team was fortunate enough to take a field trip to one of our sister sites, Olympic National Park. With their 73 miles of primitive coastline, Olympic maintains the largest stretch of protected coastline in the continuous 48.
The Emerald State was gleaming as sunshine glinted off of the tops of verdant volcanic islands.  Beneath one of those jutting towers was a crevassed world full of intertidal organisms. A ‘Cave of Wonders’ awaited us as we tiptoed and slipped our way across rocky boulder fields covered in thick rockweed. We passed by small invertebrates like carnivorous polychaete worms, rock crabs, beach fleas, Voznesensky’s kelp isopod, and endless sea anemones. But a more obvious and interesting group of organisms was showing up more and more… sea stars! And several species of sea stars at that. In fact, we found more sea stars than I have seen in my previous 3 years of working in the intertidal at Cabrillo: Six-legged Leptasterias hexactis, leathery and red Dermasterias imbricata, Purple/Orange/Brown Pisaster ochraceus, and brittle stars, all in abundance.
Bright Red Dermasterias imbricata sea star on the rocky reefNPS Photo - A. Taylor
Over the past decade, many species of sea stars have been affected by Sea Star Wasting Disease. This virus has been so damaging throughout the West Coast that just seeing a sea star in the intertidal zones at Cabrillo calls for shouts and hollers to other tide pool explorers.
So does this mean that sea stars are finally returning to the places they were first hit by disease? Does this mean that we might start seeing an influx of these bumpy and beautiful organisms once again? Are these species responding to a temporary reduction in water temperatures or is this a new crop of sea stars with resilience to the warm-ocean-loving virus? Well, NPS scientists and partners across the coast are continuing to inventory and monitor these communities with hopes to answer these questions. And new apps like iNauralist and platforms like give the power to our citizen scientists to monitor the rest of the coastline and show us what is out there.
Cabrillo biologists exploring the intertidal zone at Olympic National Park
NPS Photo - A. Taylor

Natural Resources, Olympic National Park, Sea Stars

Last updated: July 12, 2017

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