Monday, July 25, 2011

Between Tides in Monterey

First, I would like to quote from Steinbeck's Cannery Row:

The tide goes out imperceptibly. The boulders show and seem to rise up and the ocean recedes leaving little pools, leaving wet weed and moss and sponge, iridescence and brown and blue and China red. On the bottoms lie the incredible refuse of the sea, shells broken and chipped and bits of skeleton, claws, the whole sea bottom a fantastic cemetery on which the living scamper and scramble.

I recently read Cannery Row in preparation for my trip to Monterey. I read Of Mice and Men and The Pearl in high school, but perhaps due to my age, I did not appreciate how marvelously Steinbeck wrote. Now, as a biologist I revel in his accuracy and eloquence in describing intertidal marine life, not to mention his brilliant portrayal of human nature. Steinbeck was friends with Ed Ricketts, a great scientist and human being whose books Between Pacific Tides and Sea of Cortez remain ecological classics that are still relevant today. I was delighted to learn that Ricketts also influenced Joseph Campbell, mythologist and professor at Sarah Lawrence College, of whom I am a fan. Steinbeck-Ricketts-Campbell: Oh to be sitting amongst these men at dinner or drink! All great writers and philosophers, but one novelist, one biologist, and one mythologist. Three of my greatest interests!

But I digress, I simply wanted to endorse Cannery Row as a great American novel, superbly written, capturing a slice of life at Monterey at a time when the fishing industry ruled and a ma could make a living combing through the debris left by the tides. It was one of the most enjoyable reads I've had in recent memory.

Partly inspired by the accurate tidal pool descriptions in the novel, I wanted to once again relish in witnessing the life-or-death ecological struggles that are played out in the transient worlds of tidal pools. I made my way yesterday to The Great Tidepool, which is just beyond the Point Pinos Lighthouse on Sunset Drive in Pacific Grove. I made no spectacular finds, just the regular refuse of the surf, but still, for one unaccustomed to the watery rocky world "between Pacific tides," I felt as though I was treading on sacred ground. (I took my shoes off like Moses before the burning bush, more for fear that I would inadvertently squash some delicate creature than the sense of the sacred.)

I would like to share here the humble fruits of my exploring:

First thing you notice in the tidal pools (besides the giant blades of kelp) is the hundreds of still or slowly moving snail shells. Now it should be noted that not all snail shells host snails. As we well know, nothing is wasted in Mother Nature, and when a snail dies (or is eaten), the empty shell is often quickly inhabited by those funny creatures we know of as hermit crabs.

Now the type of snails and crabs that are present at Monterey, I am no expert. But to the best of my abilities, and with the use of a handy field guide, I am guessing that most of the snails (or snail shells) I photographed, belong to the Black Tegula, Tegula funebralis.

Photographing the crabs proved much more difficult. I saw hundreds of them, but they were always scattering just a few steps ahead of me. I am also one who is reluctant to turn over stones and disturb wildlife, unless it is for a scientific study. So I got excited when I got up close to one crab who wasn't moving, but then realized it was only the exoskeleton I was looking at. The crab had either died or molted. I think he was just a dead crab. Here I am holding up the carcass:

Thankfully, later to my delight, I was able to capture a living one on film. A photo is below:

I believe both the crabs, the dead photographed and the living on film, are purple shore crabs, Hemigrapsus nudus.

The dead, the living, scrambling atop one another. The living feed off the dead. One snails skeleton becomes a hermit crabs home. Beach fleas feast on the washed up kelp and algae, that dry out in the sun. Steinbeck said it best: "On the bottoms lie the incredible refuse of the sea, shells broken and chipped and bits of skeleton, claws, the whole sea bottom a fantastic cemetery on which the living scamper and scramble."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Visiting Big Sur

I was thrilled to wade in the Pacific Ocean today along the Monterey Coast and at Big Sur. Although I have been to this part of the world before, one can never get tired of the breath-taking scenic vistas offered along the coast here. Because of the rocky cliffs, steep hills, and high bluffs, shore access is surprisingly difficult in many parts of Big Sur, however I managed to find some foot-trails that offered access to some small coves where I could get my feet wet and climb about the rocky beaches, exploring what lies amongst the sand. I was hoping to find some pleasant tidal pools, but perhaps it was high tide, or I was not in a good location for tidal pools, as I found virtually none. Still I enjoyed spotting a sea lion, tons of beautiful kelp, and enjoying scrubby vegetation that is unfamiliar to us from the East Coast.

It was a beautiful day, but a lesson to myself to do my homework ahead of time. It was naive to think I could just stumble upon tide pools simply by going to where land meets sea. According to, some of the best tidepools in the world are nearby at Asilomar State Park. Perhaps I will make it there tomorrow!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Change in NYC

Picked this up at a farmers market in Manhattan:

Hey NYC! How can we make our city a greener, greater place to live?




Post an idea.

Connect with people and resources.

Make it happen together.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Last night I went to see Hamlet as performed by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festivel. I won't review the performance here, as that is not the purpose of this blog, but I will say that for me Boscobel and the Hudson River stole the show. I kept overlooking the actors and surveying one of the most scenic views of the Hudson I have yet encountered. There was a light rain and the mist rising off the river and filling the valley was enchanting. It was my first time there, but I am planning a trip back just to enjoy the scenery more, take photographs, and study the history of this storied place. Also there is presently an outdoor sculpture garden exhibit I'd like to explore more closely.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Boating Apps

For sailors, a new high-tech way to guide yourself home. Just don't drop your iPad in the water, or you'll be up a creek without a paddle. (Unless you actually know how to navigate the old-fashioned way!)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Implications for closing Indian Point

According to a New York Times article, a study circulating Albany says that closing Indian Point could raise air pollution levels by 5 to 10 percent even with renewable energy solutions, but as much as 15% without those measures. Also with 25% of NYC and Westchester energy coming from Indian Point, we would be at risk for brownouts at peak summer hours. Also energy costs would rise a projected 10%.

I guess creating a plan to have Westchester and New York City reduce their energy consumption by 25% is unrealistic. But I can dream, can't I?

In the wake of Japan's devastation, suddenly people in high places are beginning to call for the close of Indian Point. Governor Cuomo is apparently one of them, but Mayor Bloomberg doesn't want New York City to face potential brownouts, higher energy costs, and burning even more fossil fuels to feed our energy demands.

Personally, I'm not worried about another Fukushima in my backyard, but I am concerned about contamination leaks into the groundwater and the Hudson. For example, in 2005, a small leak in a spent fuel pool caused radioactive water to seep into the Hudson. That can't be good for the fish. In 2006, the New York Times found high levels of nickel-63 and strontium in the groundwater near Indian Point, which the plant operators admitted is from their leaking pool. How long was has Unit 1 been leaking? How much has gotten into the Hudson? How much into our drinking water? What are the effects for the health of the fish and the environment?

Entergy claims that Indian Point can sustain a terrorist attack, a plane crash, 6.1 earthquake, and many other extreme scenarios, but what about the small amounts of contaminants that seep silently into the groundwater. What are the long-term effects of this? Should we be concerned?

Earning Credit for Boat-Building and Sailing

Recent New York Times article features Rocking the Boat and other non-profits that engage students in meaningful hands-on learning activities after-school that build real-world skills and experience while often earning them course credit at the same time:

Hudson River Community Sailing developed its curriculum with the help of a certified teacher. For math credit in the spring, the students calculate things like the time it takes for a boat to travel a certain distance, given wind and current speed. Over the winter, students built 9-foot sailboats out of marine grade-plywood, an exercise in engineering that can carry science credit.

Different principals award different amounts of credit for the course, and they also determine whether the class is graded or pass/fail. Trevor Naidoo, the principal of Landmark High School in Chelsea, said he offered his students “mostly physical education credit” for the Hudson River Community sailing program, which runs for about six hours a week after school.