17 facts about the wee sea potatoes

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, and my Irish heritage, here’s a post on the humble and charming sea potato.

  1. The dried shell (also known as the test) of this urchin resembles a potato, hence the common name – sea potato.
  2. The sea potato, Echinocardium cordatum, is a common echinoderm found along beaches on all coasts of Britain and Ireland.
  3. The sea potato is related to sea urchins, heart urchins, and sand dollars.
  4. Most sea urchins live in rocky areas, but the sea potato prefers sand, particularly muddy sand.
  5. The spines of this echinoderm are thin and flattened.
  6. On the underside of the urchin are special spoon-shaped spines that help it to dig.
  7. There are longer spines of the back of the sea potato which aid in helping to breathe while it is burrowing.
  8. The sea potato can survive to depths of 650 feet.
  9. Unlike regular urchins, the sea potato has a distinct front end (i.e., not circular).
  10. The sea potato can grow up to 3 inches.
  11. The sea potato is very fragile and rarely survives collection.
  12. While alive the sea potato is deep yellow in color and covered in fine spines.
  13. The sea potato prefers sub-tidal regions in temperate seas.
  14. The sea potato are a type of heart-shaped urchin.
  15. Sea potato are deposit feeders and tube feet on its underside the sea urchin pick up sediment from the front of its mouth.
  16. The sea potato has no conservation concerns.
  17. The sea potato often has a commensal symbiotic relationship with the bivalve Tellimya feringuosa attached to its anal spines.
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A sea potato, commonly found along the shore of Ireland

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The test of the sea potato

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The underside of the sea potato

What happens if the tide leaves a horseshoe crab stranded?

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It’s not often you stumble across this on the beach. I asked horseshoe crab expert Danielle Chesky, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, what was happening in this picture and she said that “they’re dug in for the day after spawning until the high tide comes and they can get back out to sea”. For more posts on horseshoe crabs check out the Limulus Love page. Thank you to a colleague’s in-laws for sending along this picture.

 

5 on-the-ground warriors for marine debris

I’ll be incredibly frank and honest and say that I do not do as much on-the-ground ocean activism as I’d like to do these days. I do participate the occasion stream clean-up and rally from time to time, but with a full-time job and a family including an active toddler, time is scarce and I’m lucky if I can pull it together to write a post or two or marine debris. Since this upcoming weekend is the annual International Coastal Cleanup I wanting to take the time to send a shout out and a huge virtual dose of gratitude for 5 very active on-the-ground marine debris and ocean activists. If you have the chance, check out what they’re doing as I know every time I read up on what they’re accomplishing I am continually inspired. As a matter of fact, you’ll have the chance to get to know one of them a little bit more in-depth tomorrow as a part of the “What Marine Conservationists Are Into …” series. (On a side note, all of my Virginia friends and family should be on the lookout because I am gearing up to gather a crowd to participate in the Virginia Waterways Cleanups!)

Sarah Bayles of The Daily Ocean
Sarah is steadfastly collecting trash from the same beach for 20 minutes at a time for 365 non-consecutive days to “raise awareness for how much trash is on our beaches and getting into the ocean, that the solutions start with us right here on land, and that everyday we can make choices in what we consume and buy that can add up to make a difference”. Her work ethic is inspiring and she’s diligent in posting the weight of the trash she collects. At the point I write this post she collected 1,234.3 pounds in 325 days.

Danielle Richardet of It Starts With Me
Just like Sarah of Our Daily Ocean, Danielle spends 20 minutes a day cleaning a beach but in Wrightsville Beach, NC and she’s focused on finding cigarette butts. Here incredibly positive message is that “It’s simple…everything we do (or don’t do) has an impact on the world we live in. It starts with me and ripples to you…”. I wish Danielle the best as she continues her quest to “create a smoke-free beach and have proper cigarette butt disposal receptacles installed on Wrightsville Beach”. Can you believe she’s collected 50,129 cigarette butts in 156 days?

Harold Johnson of The Flotsam Diaries
Harold Johnson has been researching and collecting marine debris weekly at two very different sites (one active by beachgoers and one non-active) in Maine since June of 2010. As he puts it, “I’m hoping to learn something about the debris that arrives at the beach both by regular beachgoers, and by actions of wave & wind”. You can read his findings weekly on his blog or get some more detailed reviews of his research at Scientific American.

Cheryl ‘Sandy’ King of Sharkastics
Cheryl is interested in everything ocean-related, but has found a niche spreading the word all about sharkastics. Sharkastics are what she has termed “plastics that have obvious bite marks (e.g., jagged serrations and/or punctures). She posts many images of the debris she finds and is more than happy to share them for educational purposes (although she requests you share with her how you use them).

Tim Silverwood of Take 3: A Clean Beach Initiative
Tim is a surfer and plastic pollution spokesperson based in Australia. In 2009, he and his compadres began thinking about proactive ways the public could reduce the amount of waste entering the oceans. The Take-3 initiative was born. As the website states, “The ‘Take 3’ message is simple: take 3 pieces of rubbish when you leave the beach, waterway or…anywhere and you have made a difference”.

Here is a powerful and beautifully done depiction on why everyone is responsible for marine debris. Thanks to designer and illustrator Jenny Wang for reminding us that it is not just those that live near an ocean who contribute to ocean pollution.

A little dose of ocean conservation inspiration

This is a whimsical – yet still direct and profound – image I wanted to share from from my Ocean Conservation Inspiration Pinterest board. Do you have a particular phrase or image that drives you?

Atlantic horseshoe crab infographic

Whether we know it or not, the Atlantic horseshoe crab has made a significant impact on many of our lives. The significance of this living fossil can be found in its capacity to resist change for millions of years, its special copper-based blood is crucial to the medical field, and its ability to provide food for millions of migratory birds year after year.

Start a beachcomber bean bonanza

Off to the sunny shores of Florida for a little getaway this winter? Try a little something different, and instead of seeking out seashells – look for some beans (Of course also try to remember the phrase “Take only pictures, leave only footprints“)!

Due to the various currents that collide near the south Atlantic coast many different types of seeds drift onto the shore. Washed up and often hidden in the wrack line, these sea beans are a marine jewel to many beachcombers. Sea beans are seeds that have traveled for many miles through currents from the Caribbean, South America, or even as far away as Africa. They come in many shapes and sizes, but since they have spent a considerable amount of time exfoliating in salty water they often appear smooth and polished. Here are some that are commonly found.

Hamburger Bean

Sea Pearl

Lucky Bean

Image (c) top – seabean.com, middle – backyardnature.net, bottom – iloveshelling.com

Please feel free to share other beautiful drift seed links here. Also, does anyone know where to attribute the phrase “Take only pictures, leave only footprints”?


New ‘marine life encyclopedia’ launched

I think there might be another great bookmark to add to your ocean facts files! Please spend some time reviewing this great new resource, a marine life encyclopedia, compiled by Oceana. Over 500 creatures, places, and concepts can be explored. The pictures are bright and colorful and the information is up-to-date and easy to digest. It seems fantastic if you want a quick answer to a question.

Even if you think you know all the answers, test yourself with this Ocean IQ quiz!

The content on the marine life encyclopedia site has been licensed to Dorling Kindersley, one of the world’s leading educational publishers.

How to win a game of Survivor if stranded on a beach

DewberriesWhile I am not here to tell you how to form alliances, I can mention some edible seaside plants found along the Atlantic coast. These include: Sea rocket, sea lettuce, prickly pear, bull thistle, dewberry and winged sumac. You can eat the blackberries of the dewberry with milk and honey. For a refreshingly cool drink soak winged sumac in cool water for 15 minutes. Devour the sweet pulp of the prickly pear after you peel away the skin. Add the leaves of sea rocket and sea lettuce to a fresh seaside salad. Lastly, gorge on the stems of the bull thistle (of course, only after you’ve removed the thorns!).

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Just Flip ‘Em

If you do not already know, the Atlantic horseshoe crab is my favorite animal. It just breaks my heart when I am home and see a few crabs stranded along the wrackline. One thing that can be done for the animals that are still alive is to ‘Just Flip ‘Em’ (JFE).

JFE is a program from the Ecological Research & Development Group, Inc. that promotes to the public the importance of flipping the gentle crustacean over so they can get back into the sea. A lot of folks are hesitant but the horseshoe crab cannot sting or bite you. The most important piece or information to remember is to flip them from the sides of their shells. This simple act can save thousands of crabs.

Image (c) horseshoecrab.org

What is sea glass?

Sea glass can be thought of as a well traveled piece of history. The hard substancesseaglass that you find have spent a considerable amount of time floating in the ocean. It has been tumbling along the sand and water for so long that that the glass, slate or what have you, has been polished by the sand grains.

Usually the brightly colored pieces are collected quickly by beachcombers. If you spend time investigating the wrack line you will surely discover some more subtle pieces – if you are lucky you will find some with faded descriptions of their original containers.

Photo (c) freefoto.com

Do you have another great question? Check out www.beachchairscientist.com and let us know what you always ponder while digging your toes in the sand!