Monthly Archives: March 2014

Sea Star Hatchlings


Burt’s photo from Feiro Marine Life Center (Six-rayed Sea Star, Leptasterias hexactis)

Thanks, Burt (Kalaloch North and Kalaloch South) for sharing the photo of sea star “babies” at the Feiro Marine Life Center thanks also to Jody and Janis for their in-situ photos from Ruby Beach (part of Olympic National Park). With both of these hitting our inbox at the same time, we wondered, is this just coincidence? When do sea stars reproduce in our coastal waters?

Janis and Jody’s photo from Ruby Beach (5-armed: Purple Star, Leather Star, etc – check them out here:

Sea Stars are part of the Phylum Echinodermata (literally ”spiny-skinned” in Greek). Male and female sea stars (like Common Murres, only THEY can tell the difference) release sperm and eggs directly into the water column (April-July). The resulting embryos become free-swimming larvae, and after several months metamorphose and settle on substrate as tiny versions of the sea stars we recognize. The sea stars in Burt and Jody and Janis’ photos are settled plankton from last summer.

And why do we care? Why are sea stars so important? Well, we need not look far! Just knock on Dr. Bob Paine’s door, University of Washington Biology Professor Emeritus. It’s through years of research on Tatoosh Island that Dr. Paine developed the keystone species hypothesis, a landmark hypothesis in ecology and conservation that describes the importance of (and resulting impact from) predator removal to all other species in an ecological community.  So while small, we’re well-served to pay attention to these stars, now and in the future.

Learn more about Dr. Paine’s research, including what he sees as the most pressing questions to be answered by future generations in his interview with Hillary, when she was a UW graduate student.

Adventures in Marine Debris

This winter, COASST marine debris student interns embarked on several field trips across Washington to develop and refine a preliminary protocol for the new marine debris program. Interns this quarter included a photo team, Abby and Jessica, and a field team, Angeline and Kaili.

Reports from the field:

A total of 14 beaches so far, from Deception Pass to Ocean Shores! Discovery Park was our first stop, to trial the small debris survey methods – lots of beach glass at both this site and Alki Beach.

 Interns Kaili and Abby survey for small marine debris at Discovery Park

Kaili (left) and Abby (right) use a 1 meter quadrat (i.e. square) to define the search area for small marine debris at Discovery Park (Seattle).

Together with service learning students Christie and Yi, we visited Whidbey Island beaches Ala spit, Penn Cove, Joseph Whidbey State Park, Fort Casey, and Useless Bay. The physical differences between these five sites was quite surprising (substrate, wood, wrack, bluff, dunes, exposure) given they’re all within a few kilometers of each other. Special thanks to COASSTers David and Candace, who oriented us to their beaches and shared some (much needed) chocolate!

Service learning student Christie paces the width of the beach.

Christie paces the width of the beach on a medium debris transect at Penn Cove (Whidey Island).

From the Puget Sound, we ventured to Ocean Shores to check out North Jetty and South Taurus beaches. Super wide, sandy beaches made the marine debris surveys much slower than those in Puget Sound.

The following week we returned to Ocean Shores to survey Damon Point and North Jetty to see if debris had shifted/accumulated/changed. We also visited the annual Beachcombers’ Fun Fair where we saw Heidi (COASST staff), and other marine debris enthusiasts, Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Alan Rammer. The collections and displays at the festival (that’s right, 44 exhibit categories, including “assembled unadorned pieces of driftwood”) helped us identify many objects we’ve been seeing in COASSTer photos and on our beach surveys!

Out at Damon Point, we almost lost our small debris surveyors (and equipment!) to a rogue wave. For the rest of the trip, we trekked all the way around the perimeter of Damon Point looking for particularly complex/interesting items to add to our marine debris teaching collection. Where did we find the most stuff? At the very tip! (fingers/points/spits tend to snag debris and birds – just ask the folks at Ediz Hook or Dungeness Spit).

During spring and summer quarters, we’ll continue to test and refine the marine debris monitoring protocol, getting it ready for Prime Time!

Angeline, Abby and Kaili enjoy the view at South Jetty after a long day of marine debris monitoring.

Angeline, Abby and Kaili (left to right) celebrate on the northern edge of Gray Harbor (Ocean Shores) after a long winter’s day of marine debris monitoring (shoes not required).

Using marine debris photos

Karen (left), Abby (middle), and COASST Data Verifier Charlie (far right), assess marine debris objects during a survey refinement session where we asked the question: do Karen, Abby and Charlie agree on the characteristics of each object?

Students Karen (left), Abby (middle), and COASST staff member Charlie (right), assess marine debris objects during a survey refinement session where we asked the question: do Karen, Abby and Charlie agree on the characteristics of each object?

Thanks to a recent award from the National Science Foundation Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL), COASST is expanding to monitor marine debris. Since December, we’ve assembled a team of student interns and staff dedicated to developing this new program lead by Marine Debris Program Coordinator Hillary Burgess. What have they been up to? Creating a scientific protocol for monitoring debris that collects information useful to the resource management community AND is do-able by COASSTers.

Like the beached bird program, marine debris COASSTers will document basic beach and human use data (wood, wrack, humans, dogs and vehicles) and for this program, the quantity and characteristics of debris objects. These data link to how harmful debris are to wildlife and wildlife habitat, where debris comes from (some obvious, some we haven’t thought much about), and the path debris take to get to the beach.

Thanks to the dedicated effort of hundreds COASSTers, the marine debris team hit the ground running and began analyzing a database of over 6,000 marine debris photos from about 200 beach sites in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Photo team interns Jessica and Abby are independently assigning characteristics to debris objects – so far, they’ve reviewed nearly 900 photos! Pausing along the way to compare results, analyze sources of disagreement, and make adjustments accordingly, these photos have been extremely valuable in the creation of the new survey.

Beyond photos, we’ve also launched an expert panel to help determine which types of characteristics should be included: bite marks? color? weathered? Although it may sound fairly straightforward, marine debris comes in a seemingly infinite array of shapes, hues, materials, and sizes – dealing with the challenging variability has led to many hours of debate and discussion.

And lengthy discussion does sometimes lead to more lighthearted moments and philosophical consideration of debris. For instance, is the object a loop? Some objects have very small holes; other objects are rope/line tangled into a massive ball of loops. And why do we care? Loops can be super dangerous to marine organisms, causing entanglement and strangling, a threat especially well documented in Northern Fur Seal pups. All this talk prompted Hillary to look up the actual definition of a loop online. We pondered: if the end is connected to the beginning, what is the beginning or the end?

Stay tuned for more updates from Hillary and marine debris program students – we’re rapidly making progress toward the 2015 launch of marine debris surveys!

What’s Washed In – March 10

MdRvr 2014 0301 931 BRCOb

Sara and Peter at Mad River South (CA) just found this last week.  Let’s take a look at the feet. Webbed, completely webbed, four webbed toes: Pouchbills. Since the bill is less than 10 cm and the wing chord is less than 35 cm, we know we are looking at a Cormorant.  If we take a closer look at the wings, we’ll notice that the outer primaries cut out on the leading edge.  We can tell this is a Brandt’s Cormorant because the bill is dark and the chin feathers are tan (Pelagic Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, or Red-faced Cormorant).


GrifPrdy20140301_601c_blkiGrifPrdy20140301_601b_blki Time for some wing practice! Take a look at these great photos from Terry and Carl at Griffith’s Priday State Park on the South Coast of Washington.

Here we have gray upperwings with contrasting dark tips. Using either wing key (Alaska, West Coast), we check the upperwing for stripes – nope.  Next, we turn to the primary feathers, noticing that some have white fingernails, but no windows (large white spots, not at feather tip). The inner primary plumage is gray, not white-tipped (Red-legged Kittiwakes – Alaska guide).  With a wing-chord of 30 cm, this is a Black-legged Kittiwake.

Using the West Coast wing table, the 30 cm wing chord puts us in the “large” row. Our column is “gray mantle with white linings and black tips” –  either a Black-legged Kittiwake or a Red-legged Kittiwake. Underside of primaries is more pale than the mantle  – this is a Black-legged Kittiwake.



Tom found this Gray Whale skull on his first COASST survey at Steamboat Creek in Washington (beginner’s luck!). After checking in with colleagues at Cascadia Research Collective (thanks Jessie!), it’s likely be an adult gray whale (originally 12m!), initially found in 1991.


Here’s a crab buoy found by Joanna on Oregon Mile 309, covered or “biofouled” with mussels, barnacles, sponges, and algae. Did you know? It takes free swimming barnacle larvae (cyprids, more than 6 months old) a few hours-to-two weeks to settle onto natural or man-made surfaces.  

New Footprints – Rosalind Huang


Rosalind shows off an Dolly Varden (Salvelinus alpinus – sometimes referred to as Char, Arctic Char or Bull Trout) from Alaska.

Ever wonder what paths past COASST interns take after their time with COASST? This week, we asked Rosalind, a University of Washington graduate, what adventures she has taken on since interning for COASST.

As Rosalind’s COASST internship came to an end, Rosalind decided to mix things up and accepted an internship with Washington Sea Grant. Rosalind found her internship with Washington Sea Grant to be “a totally different type of internship” compared to COASST. During this internship, Rosalind was responsible for organizing publications and conducting library searches. When asked how this experience influenced her career in the environmental field, Rosalind told COASST, “the experience helped tremendously later on for [her] own research.”

While talking with Rosalind, she emphasized the importance of having connections and the courage to speak with different people about various open opportunities that one could apply for. She gave an example of a time when she once asked our very own Seabird Program Coordinator, Jane Dolliver, if she knew anyone in Taiwan who was involved with Seabird Research. Rosalind, originally from Taiwan, was planning a trip back home and thought it would be interesting to go meet someone while she was there. After being referred to a professor at the National Taiwan Ocean University, Rosalind ended up helping Congratulafins, a non-governmental organization whose mission is to stop shark fining, with their social media and different campaigns.

Now, Rosalind is settled in California where she is working full time at a smart watch company and volunteering for Congratulafins part time. When asked what her next big move will be, Rosalind said she plans “to go back to school in a few years for more fish-related studies.”