Kamis, 28 Januari 2021

Sea stars, sand dollars and sea potatoes on display with recent big surf, low tides - OCRegister

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Sea creatures typically under water and hidden in the sand have been on full display in recent days after a spell of big surf and extreme winter tides churned up the shoreline.

A few days ago in Newport Beach, sand dollars were piled up and left on a rock, nature’s bounty exposed and collected by a beachgoer.

Spiny sand stars, a type of sea star, lined the shoreline at Bolsa Chica State Beach Wednesday evening as the sun set. Nearby, sea potatoes – a type of sea urchin – were being gobbled up by hungry birds.

Spiny sand stars, a type of sea star, lined the shoreline at Bolsa Chica State Beach on Wednesday evening, visible due to high surf and extremely low winter tides. (Photo courtesy of Martha Edge)

Martha Edge, of Huntington Beach, was walking along Bolsa Chica late afternoon Wednesday when she saw the big purple starfish – her 2.5-mile stroll along the sand is her chance to connect with nature, but away from the crowds.

At first, she was concerned, “a lot of them were upside down,” she said. A few years ago, a sea star wasting disease nearly wiped out the species along the West Coast, millions of them turning into piles of goo.

But Julianne Steers,  a marine biologist and board member with the Beach Ecology Coalition, said the spiny sand stars, also called armored sand stars, looked to be in good shape based on photos Edge sent her.

“The main thing that is interesting to me, it seems like higher numbers than I’d typically see this time of year,” Steers said.

Steers said this particular species of sea star wasn’t hit as hard as others during that previous wasting syndrome event. She would still see a few here and there, but the latest sightings give even more hope the species, like other sea stars, are on the rebound.

On her regular dives, she has also started to see more of other varieties. “It’s not big numbers, but you’ll see one,” she said, noting that previously there would be none.

It’s likely the spiny sea stars spotted this week were hunting for food when the tide went out, leaving them stuck waiting on dry sand for the tide to come back up, she said.

“They all look in good shape, several were flipped over, they do have the ability to flip themselves back over,” she said. “In the meantime, birds may investigate and pick them up. That’s the danger they are in when they aren’t covered in water.”

That was the case for the sea potatoes Edge spotted.

“The sea gulls were eating them. The one I was able to find was bigger than their mouth could grab,” she said. “The ones the sea gulls were eating were an inch to an inch and a quarter They were just swallowing them whole.”

Both species typically bury themselves in the sand, coming to the surface when they are ready to eat.

The sea potatoes “don’t have much means of moving than jetting water. They burrow and maneuver that way, but they don’t have anything that can grab onto anything. They are a pretty unique creature,” Steers said. “But most often, people wouldn’t see it.”

Steers said most people during these extreme low tides like to explore rocky tidepools, not knowing about the species that can live in sandy areas.

“People often think there’s nothing to see,” she said. “There’s tons of fascinating creatures … you can be surprised by something.”

Sand dollars have also been showing up along the coast.

A pile of sand dollars was spotted in Newport Beach this week as winter low tides expose sand species that normally are covered. (Photo courtesy of Susan Cozad)

They also use their many spines to burrow themselves into the sand.  Their easily identifiable flower-like design is seen on the skeleton after a sand dollar dies and dries out.

If you find a sand dollar, even if it’s dead, it’s best to leave it at the beach, Steers said. Its fragile skeleton eventually crumbles and turns into sand.

All sea creatures should be left alone to find their way back to the sea, she said. “The best thing for any beachgoer to do is leave them where they are at and the tide will take them back in.”

The Link Lonk


January 29, 2021 at 07:09AM
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Sea stars, sand dollars and sea potatoes on display with recent big surf, low tides - OCRegister

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