10 best in the past nine years

Sometimes it’s nice to look at the past and see what’s worked. From the past nine years of posts on Beach Chair Scientist, it seems that one post has been the “most valuable player”. 100 ocean quotes is a surefire “make you stop by BCS for the first time and join the mailing list” kinda post. It’s the Wayne Gretzky, Babe Ruth, or Micheal Jordan in terms of stats. All other posts just fall short. But in the ethos of sportsmanship, here are ten posts that also bring some well deserved worth to this little blog. Which one are you rooting for?

MVPMarineMammals

20 reasons oysters are awesome

O-Y-S-T-E-R! Happy National Oyster Day! There needs to be much love for the oyster. These creatures are delicious, sustainable, and help the environment. Maybe we need more than just one day to celebrate this bivalve? If you don’t believe me, here are over 20 reasons oysters are awesome:

  1. Oysters spawn during the summer months and therefore tend not to be as tasty. This is the epitome of the old wives’ tale on why “you shouldn’t eat oysters in months that don’t end in ‘R’.”
  2. Another reason this adage has prevailed is that oysters are much better when cold and do not taste that good when in the heat.
  3. Oysters can change their sex. They can produce both semen and eggs.
  4. Oysters have been known to live up to twenty years in captivity.
  5. When oyster larvae attach to a hard material, a vital part of their life cycle, they’re called “spat.” Two to three years later they are considered adults.
  6. The habitat of the Eastern American oyster (Crassostrea virginica) extend from Canada to Argentina.
  7. Even though there are countless (and delicious) varieties of oysters there are only five species. These species are the Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas), Kumamoto oyster, European flat oyster, American (i.e., Eastern) oyster, and the Olympia oyster. The shells of the five species are truly what sets these species apart (other than the geographic region they are most often found). The American is pretty familiar with its large size and comma shaped shell. The Olympians have a small, round, pale shell with lustrous coloring. The Kumamotos have a round, pale shell as well but not as much of a smooth shell. The European flat has fine ridges around its large, straight shell, and the Pacific are small with wavy shells. In fact, the same type of oyster can taste different contingent on where it was raised.IMG_7313
  8. Sometimes a bacteria that commonly grows along coastal environments where oysters are found known as Vibrio vulnificus can infect the oysters. This would leave to that “bad oyster” that might make you sick.
  9. One very common misunderstanding of the oyster is that they are an aphrodisiac. However, it’s really just their significant amount of zinc. Zinc is a mineral that will boost your energy and therefore can boost your sex drive. Other benefits of zinc are that skin will improve and make your bones stronger.
  10. Oysters also have immense amounts of omega-3-fatty acids which can sharpen your memory, lower levels of depression and heart disease, as well as a host of other benefits.
  11. Oysters also have lots of vitamin A, C, D and B-12.
  12. Even though Boticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” has Aphrodite rising from the sea on a scallop shell legend has it that the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, emerged from the sea in an oyster shell.
  13. In the 17th century, New York City was covered in oyster beds and were very much enjoyed by the native Lenape Indians. Eventually, by the 19th century, the oysters were so plentiful that raw oysters could be purchased from the street vendors. There was even oyster saloons with all sorts of methods for consuming oysters.
  14. Most pearls found in jewelry are from clams and mussels – not oysters. Although, there are also actual pearl oysters which are from a different family of bivalves.
  15. Oyster mushrooms and black salsify, also called “vegetable oyster”, actually taste like oysters.
  16. Oysters are a crucial member to the aquatic communities. Not only do they gobble up lots of algae (think of your back bay becoming a dirty fish tank without them), but they are crucial as natural filter feeders. Oysters filter approximately 30 to 50 gallons of water a day removing excess nutrients and allowing shrimp, clams, crabs, and snails to flourish. The cleaner water also enables more seagrass to grow creating more habitat for fish.
  17. Oysters grow on top of one another as an oyster reef. These huge substrates are imperative for soil erosion and shoreline stabilization.Oyster_human_impact_diagram_SM_noaa
  18. If you bring home oysters for your next bake be sure to recycle the shells close to home. The shells of the oysters are extremely rich in calcium and can help balance the pH of the soil as well as add nutrients to your garden. Fertilizer fresh from the sea!
  19. Oyster farms, unlike other types of fish farming, can greatly enhance the health of nearby waterways. Not only do they tend to munch on pollution (yes, they’ve been known to help out Big Oil), but if the oyster were to escape it isn’t in danger of becoming an exotic species.
  20. While it’s all well and good that farmed oysters can do a lot to help water quality … natural oysters reefs are just as vital. Unfortunately, 85% of the global oyster reef population has been lost.
  21. In the Chesapeake Bay an estimated 2,600 acres of oyster beds are lost each year because of runoff and silt. On the Pacific coast invasive crabs and snails are destroying natural oyster beds.
  22. Not only are oyster reefs vanishing, but the ones that remain are just not as strong due to ocean acidification (i.e., climate change for the sea).
  23. There are many organizations along the Atlantic coast that are looking for volunteers to help adopt and raise oysters. If you don’t live on the water volunteers are still urged to build oyster reef substrates or oysters mats.

Resources: Food Republic, NOAA – Cheasapeake Bay Office, Organic Life, Oyster Recovery Partnership.

What are the names of juvenile coastal and marine animals?

Well, it’s been quite some time since I’ve posted and it’s all due to an adorable little distraction – my son was born in early January. The addition has been wonderful and fairly stress free (keep your fingers crossed!). In fact, I have to say this time around my biggest stress was picking out a name. We had a boy name chosen, but not a girl name, so the decision was easy. However, it got me thinking about what juvenile marine animals are called. Here is a list of ‘baby’ names of over 25 well-known ocean animals. After all, you don’t accidentally want to refer to a juvenile shark as a calf or a juvenile eel as a spet, do you? If you can expand or elaborate on the list feel free to share in the comments box.

Birds
Flamingo, gull, heron, penguin: Chick
Crane:  Chick or craneling
Pelican: Nestling

Fish
Barracuda: Spet
Cod: Codling, hake, sprag, or sprat
Eel: Elver
Most fish: Fry or fingerling
Salmon: Smelt

Invertebrates
Blue crab: Larva
Clam: Larva, chiton, or littleneck
Horseshoe crab: Larva
Jellyfish: Ephyrae
Oyster: Spat
Sand dollar, sea urchin, sea star: Larva or pluteus (free-swimming stage)

Marine mammals
Dolphin, manatee, porpoise, whale: Calf
Otter: Whelp or pup
Shark, seal, sea lion: Pup
Walrus: Cub or pup

Reptile
Turtle: Hatchling

What this short video for some cute pictures of featured juvenile coastal and marine animals. Which one is your favorite?

Juvenile Animal Names from Beach Chair Scientist on Vimeo.

For more information:
http://www.pawnation.com/2013/11/19/baby-animal-names/7
http://www.defenders.org/sites/default/files/publications/sea_otter_faqs.pdf
http://www.zooborns.com/zooborns/baby-animal-names.html
http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/animals/Animalbabies.shtml
http://www.english-for-students.com/Names-of-Baby-Animals.html
http://www.pawnation.com/2013/11/19/baby-animal-names/7
http://dictionary.reference.com/writing/styleguide/animal.html
http://www.horseshoecrab.org/info/lifecycle.html
http://www.bluecrab.info/lifecycle.html
http://www.jellywatch.org/blooms/facts

Molly Malone’s cockles and mussels

On the way home from work yesterday I had a driveway moment and could not stop listening to a story on All Things Considered on the benefits of forgoing the pub this Sunday and instead preparing some heartwarming Irish food at home to celebrate Erin go bragh. The story featured a recipe – Molly Malone’s Cockle and Mussel Chowder – from Rachel Allen, a popular Irish TV Chef, and I got to thinking on how I think it’s time to briefly feature those bivalves on Beach Chair Scientist! Here are 5 facts about cockles and mussels so you can have some fodder if you like to pretend to be the host of a show while cooking for your family.

Cockles

Cockle shells

Cockle shells

  1. There are more than 200 species of cockles.
  2. Cockles have a distinct rounded, heart-shaped shell with ribs that fan out through the length of the shell (they’re actually evenly spaced on the exterior of the shell).
  3. Cockles prefer intertidal areas with sand and mud beaches and depths up to 60 feet. Cockles are distributed world-wide, but the common cockle (Cerastoderma edule) is found widely distributed around the coastlines of Northern Europe (extending west to Ireland, the Barents Sea in the north, Norway in the east, and as far south as Senegal).
  4. Cockles move with a powerful muscular foot. They’ve even been witnessed springing with this strong foot on the bottom of the ocean floor.
  5. Cockles are not important commercially.

Mussels

mussels_wired

Mussel shells

  1. Mussels have wedged-shaped, asymmetrical shell that is longer than wide. They’re typically dark blue, blackish, or brown, while the interior is silvery and somewhat nacreous.
  2. Mussels are filter feeders and feed on plankton and other microscopic, free-floating sea creatures in seawater.
  3. Mussels provide shelter and protection from heat, desiccation, and predators for many smaller marine organisms.
  4. According to Wired, “Chemists recently made prototype bandages with an inkjet printer filled with adhesive proteins taken from mussels, whose remarkable “feet” — a tangle of fibers that anchor them to rocks — have made them the most widely studied specialist in marine clinging”.
  5. 90% of the world’s mussels are cultured, with the major producers being China, Spain, Italy, Thailand, France, and New Zealand. Don’t fret, the U.S. has tough regulations on its imports of mussels.

Click here for the lyrics to the Irish song Cockles and Mussels, or Molly Malone. Erin go bragh!

Jingle shells, jingle shells, jingle all the way

Oh, you know it’s stuck in your head. If not the Christmas carol, than the image of the beautiful shell that leaves a twinkle in the sand as you walk along the shoreline. Many people assume jingle shells are juvenile oysters because they’re often attached to them. But, jingle shells are their very own species known as Anomia simplex. Here are 10 facts for you to better get to know this treasured beachcomber’s find.

1. Jingle shells have thin, translucent shell halves that look like frosted nail polish.
2. Jingle shells have also been nicknamed “Mermaid’s Toenails”, “Saddle Oyster”, or  “gold shell”.
3. Jingle shells appear all year and are found in shallow waters, beaches, oyster beds, and mollusk shells as far north as the coast of Nova Scotia, and all the way down south to Brazil.
4. The jingle shell is a bivalve mollusk, similar to mussels, oysters, and scallops, which all have two separate shells or “valves”. The upper valve is rounded and movable. The lower valve is typically flat and forms to the object which it is attached. It has a hole in the top where tufts of filament, the animal’s byssal threads, grow out to attach it to another surface (i.e., Jingle shells are epifaunal just like bromeliads).
5. The raw meat of the jingle shell is sharply bitter to the taste.
6. The jingle shell can reach up to 1-3 inches.
7. The lower valve of the jingle shell remains white, while the upper valve ranges from shiny lemon yellow, golden, brownish, silvery black, or pale buff. The shiny iridescence of the jingle shell is retained even after death.
8. Jingle shells take in water and filter nutritious plankton and other food through ciliated gills.
9. Jingle shells were given their common name because of the sound they make when strung together. Beachcombers often use jingle shells to make jewelry or wind chimes. Julia Ellen Rogers noted in her 1931 The Shell Book that “Pretty lampshades are made by piercing the valves of jingle shells near the hinge and stringing them, then attaching the strands so as to fit over the outside of a plain glass or porcelain shade, whose brightness is pleasantly mellowed by the network of shells”.
10. Fishermen have been known to disperse jingle shells over oyster beds in a process known as “shelling” to create a habitat for oysters can settle.

jingleshells_mitchellspublicationsdotcom

 

 

Well, well, ‘whelk’ what do you know?

It’s no surprise why my home state of New Jersey has been on my mind lately. Using my enthusiasm for nostalgia, I decided to investigate little known facts about the state. Today I am eager to share some at best ‘compelling’, but possibly ‘useless’ knowledge on the New Jersey’s state shell, the knobbed whelk.

Image (c) by Charles Tilford on Flickr: noncommercial use permitted with attribution / share alike.

Image (c) by Charles Tilford on Flickr:
noncommercial use permitted with attribution / share alike.

  1. Governor Christine Todd Whitman declared the knobbed whelk (Busycon carica) the state shell on April 13, 1995.
  2. In addition to being the state shell of New Jersey, the knobbed whelk is also the state shell of Georgia.
  3. The shell of the knobbed whelk is coiled and pear-like and appears anywhere from yellow to gray in adults with purple and browns tints in juveniles. Its inside is typically pink to white and iridescent.
  4. The animal that lives inside the shell is a one-footed member of the sea-snail family (specifically the family, Melongenidae).
  5. Knobbed whelks are found off the east coast of the U.S. from Massachusetts to northern Florida.
  6. The meat of the whelk (and that of the conch) is known as scungilli.
  7. Whelks have a large pair of tentacles, each with a light-sensitive eyespot.
  8. Whelks also have a small pair of tentacles that are used for smell and touch.
  9. The U.S. exports whelks (i.e., knobbed, as well as lightning) to many areas of the world including France, Southeast Asia, Australia, and the Caribbean.
  10. Horseshoe crabs are used as bait to harvest channeled or knobbed whelks.
  11. There is a popular Korean side dish known as golbaengimuchim, which is seasoned whelks with spicy sweet and sour sauce with vegetables.
  12. Knobbed whelks can be up to 12 inches long.
  13. Knobbed whelks and lightning whelks can be distinguished by the difference in their openings. Knobbed whelks are dextral (i.e. right-handed).
  14. Knobbed whelks and lightning whelks lay strings of egg capsules.
  15. Knobbed whelks feast on clams using a radula.

Getting to know three … Bivalve edition

Ever know instinctively that some animals are ‘related’ and just can’t pinpoint their similarities? On the third day of every month I explain three features that are common among three animals of a certain group. Of course, generally each group has more than three representatives and even  many more similarities and then even more differences, but I am going to choose three similarities that link threes to keep it simplified. This month is focused the mussel, scallop, and clam. These three animals are all part of the bivalve group which is the second largest group of mollusks. The largest group of mollusks are the gastropods. Mollusks are well-known for their soft, unsegmented bodies and shell covering (although cephalopods do not have this feature). Check out the image below to learn what the featured animals all have in common.

Bivalves_BCS

 

 

10 tips for a successful beachcombing trip

Pick up that clump! You never know what you'll find.

Pick up that clump! You never know what you’ll find.

It’s my favorite time of year. This is the best time to explore the beach. It’s still sunny and warm, there are frequent storms (you’ll see why that matters later), and there are few people on the beach. For another six weeks along the mid-Atlantic (before it gets too cold), I encourage you to spend some time getting to know your local shoreline. Here are 10 tips for a successful beachcombing trip.

10. What to bring. Here is a list of some items you may want to remember so you’re prepared for any situation.

  • Often the beach is considerably cooler than inland so bring layers. You may want to wear hiking pants and bring a zippered sweatshirt so you’re equipped with lots of pockets for some other items that might be essential.
  • Make sure to have some appropriate soles. Sure it’s our instinct to be barefoot, however if you want to venture out along the jetties or rocks make sure you have some old sneakers or those water shoes with some decent grip (After all, you don’t want to ruin your adventure with a puncture to some sharp object). Also, the water might be a little cooler than you’d prefer and some good foot cover will allow you to wade into a tide pool.
  • Make sure to have a watch.
  • Even during the off-season the sun is shining and is strong enough to give you a burn. Make sure to bring along a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
  • It’s always a good idea to bring a shovel, grabber sick, or even a metal detector so you can gently investigate inside crevices and below the sand.
  • You are going to want to cherish the moments so find that camera and try to make a neck strap so it’s always handy. You can take pictures of items you find and want to learn about later. You’ll also want to catalog those smiles in the sun.
  • Take along a small (i.e., not heavy) identification book so you can learn more about what you find while on your outing.

9. Be hands free. One more item that you’re going to love me for suggesting is a backpack. This way you can investigate a little bit further from your base and your items are quickly at your disposal.

8. Leave important items behind. Don’t ruin the day by losing a credit card or your phone. If you’re active and in the moment you might lose something and it’s going to be difficult to retrace your steps. I won’t say “I told you so”. On the same note it’s important to leave animals, plants, rocks, and seashells where you find them. If you want to have a little bit of the beach in your home check out these great books by Josie Iselin.

7. When to go. To get the optimum experience for beachcombing you’ll want to check on when low tide is at your beach spot. The best time to go beachcombing is 2-3 hours prior to low tide or an hour or so after (This is why a watch is important, you don’t want to get stuck on  shoal during high tide). Many intertidal animals live under the water in the sand during high tide, but come out to play (and seek out food) during low tide. If you can time it so you get to check out the beach after a big storm you’ll be in for a real treat. The strong wind and wave action of storms will wash up a fossils, bones, seaweed, and lot of other interesting treasures from the ocean floor. Also, keep in mind that dawn and dusk are difficult times to identify beach treasures. Although this is a great time to spot birds as many fish tend to come up to the surface at these times.

6. Where to go. My favorite spot to beachcomb is the Stone Harbor Point in NJ, but it’s not always easy for me to get there these days. I like to remind myself from time to time that I don’t need an ocean to beachcomb. There is a lake and creek in my neighborhood and these spots are a great place to spend the afternoon. After all, these waterways eventually lead to the ocean.  No matter where I decide to spend some time beachcombing I always make sure to note the general water quality.

5. Be careful. This is just a reminder to not tamper with obviously dangerous items. Fish hooks, metal canisters, and needles often wash up on the beach. While I am going to also suggest doing your part and picking up marine debris it’s also a good idea to err on the side of caution and when poking around. Also, some rocks look very steady but it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. If you are feeling like having an adventurous day it’s might be a good idea to make sure you have someone else with you. One last thing about being careful,even though the dunes might look like an interesting place to check out – it’s important to know that those grasses are incredibly brittle and can crack easily. It’s also against the law to walk on the dunes. The dunes are an important part of the beach ecosystem as they protect our homes from storm surge.

4. Leave it be. Each rock that you turn over is part of an ecosystem. A rock might be an essential part of an animal’s home as it helps pool water during high tide. Rocks also protect them from predator as well as the sun. It’s important to always remember to not take animals out of their natural setting – especially if you see them in a tide pool. Many animals are naturally attached to rocks for survival and you could be risking their survival.

3. Play. You might not want to go home, but you also might be in the company of some people that just don’t have a very long attention span. Even more frustrating is repeating the phrase, “No, you cannot go in the water today” over and over again. Build a sandcastle. Look to the horizon for dolphins or porpoises. Make a sand angel. Look up to the sky for cloud animals. Check out my ebook for other beachcombing adventures.

2. Bag it and track it. It’s always nice to be prepared to be able to do your part. I prefer to take along a hefty canvas bag that can fit in a backpack so I can tote marine debris back to a garbage can. You might even try to acquire one of these nifty bags with holes for sand to percolate through from the Green Bag Lady. When you head back to the car you can even do some citizen science and log your marine debris on the Marine Debris Tracker.

1. Don’t expect too much. It’s important to remember to relax and respect the area you are exploring. All of the ideas above are simply suggestions and ideas to ensure you get the most out of  a beachcombing adventure. Please don’t hesitate to share your favorite stories, spots, and other ideas for a great day. You can comment below of email me at info@beachchairscientist.com.

Colorful coquina clams sign of healthy beach

Those tiny, colorful clams with two siphons poking our of their shells that emerge quickly once the waves wash gently ashore are known as coquina (ko-KEE-nah) clams. These bivalves rarely exceed an inch long and are indicators of a healthy beach. If eroding beaches are constantly being renourished, coquina clams, as well as other sand dwelling invertebrates (i.e., mole crabs), could become buried under the extra sediment. Many beaches have to be renourished because the natural supply of sand from rivers and other sources from the mountains have been impeded by dams and reservoirs. Coquina clams can usually recover their populations if a beach has not been renourished in a year or two.

They tend to feast upon single-celled detritus or algae. Fish, shorebirds, and humans tend to feast upon them. That’s right, coquina clams are found around the world and are enjoyed steamed with butter or even as ‘the basis for a great potato puree‘. In Australia there is a commercial fishery for the meat (God help those processors).

In Florida, you can visit one of my favorite places, Blowing Rocks Preserve, and see the coquina rock outcrop. The coquina rock is a soft rock that is made up of the coquina clam shells (as well as other materials). But, what makes this rock outcrop so unique is that it is part of the largest section rock, known as the Anastasia Formation, from the Pleistocene epoch (2.576 million years ago).

10 justifications ocean acidification is a serious concern

Ocean acidification (OA) is the process by which the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2). This process creates chemical reactions that reduce 1) seawater pH, 2) carbonate ion concentration, and 3) saturation states of biologically important calcium carbonate minerals (the minerals floating within the water column that many shellfish absorb to create stronger shells).

Here are 10 reasons OA is a serious concern. Keep in mind the science community has just begun to scratch the surface of OA impacts to the marine ecosystem and new findings are always being revealed.

  • OA is one of the greatest threats to marine biodiversity. Of particular concern are coral reefs which are the habitat of at least a quarter of all marine species.
  • Many marine organisms (e.g., reef building corals, shellfish) that produce calcium carbonate shells or skeletons are adversely affected by the increased absorption of CO2 levels and decreasing pH in seawater. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “The effect is similar to osteoporosis, slowing growth and making shells weaker”.
  • Reef building corals, a ‘framework species’, are one species greatly affected by coral bleaching (a result of OA). Coral reefs are being destroyed twice as fast as rainforests. This is significant considering over $6.5B and 63,000 jobs are connected with tourism of the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Abnormally low pH levels in the seawater off the West coast of the US may be attributed to “near total failures of developing oysters in both aquaculture facilities and natural ecosystems”.
  • Before people started burning coal and oil, the pH of the ocean was essentially stable for the previous 20 million years. However, science predicts that by 2100 (less than 100 years!) OA will more than double if CO2 emissions continue at their current rate.
  • The ocean is absorbing the CO2 we are spewing into the atmosphere at the rate of, “22 million tons per day“.
  • The last time the world’s oceans acidified quickly (approximately 6.8 trillion tons of carbon entered the atmosphere over a period of 10,000 years) many deep-sea species went extinct. The cause is not known, but the result was a rise in temperature at least 5-9°C.
  • Strategies needed to combat OA are similar to those that are needed to combat global warming. In fact, OA is known as global warming equally evil twin.
  • To help combat OA you should conserve energy at every opportunity. This could include using the most efficient fuels for cars, trucks, airplanes, and ships.
  • According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “OA has the potential to seriously threaten the future health of the world’s oceans and the significant economic benefits they provide to humankind”.

This illustration depicts how less emissions can combat the effects of ocean acidification.