San Juan’s diverse marine life

Locals and visitors gathered at the San Juan County Conservation Land Bank’s Deadman Bay Preserve to listen to Dr. Erika Iyengar of Muhlenberg College and long-time researcher at the Friday Harbor Laboratories speak about intertidal life on July 16.

“This [the Pacific Northwest] is a biological hotspot for sea stars and a number of species,” Iyengar said.

She explained that the East Coast only has about 1/10 of the diversity in intertidal creatures as the West Coast. That diversity was clear as an array of critters was discovered in the tidepool of Deadman Bay’s rocky shoreline. Several types of crabs, worms, tiny shrimp, sea stars and even a clingfish were observed.

Iyengar also touched on the sea star wasting disease. The illness wiped out a number of sea star populations in a short period of time. Over the last four years, there seems to be some recovery. Some populations seem to be coming back. Iyengar said scientists suspect it was a virus that under normal conditions a sea star could fight off. However, other stressors such as higher water temperatures and salinity changes due to snow melts from the Frazier River could have weakened their immune systems.

Iyengar’s enthusiasm for marine life showed through, and the crowd listened well past when the talk was supposed to end.

She encouraged people to investigate the tidepools and turn over rocks, but always, Iyenga said, flip the rocks back over once you have taken a good look.

“If you leave the rock flipped… You are basically killing a little ecosystem,” Iyengar explained because the sun heats up and dries out the area and creatures beneath the rock.

Heather Spaulding / Staff photo