Mia Tegner, who spoke for the sea

March 25, 2009

This month’s Diversity in Science Carnival coincides with Women’s History Month, so the theme is Women Achievers in STEM: Past and Present. I’m going to write about a woman who I really, really wish I could have met: Mia J. Tegner.

Mia Tegner received her PhD from Scripps in 1974. Though she came to Scripps as a sea urchin microbiologist, she soon started to wonder about the ecological role of sea urchins in the kelp forest. At the time, overfishing of large coastal fish that prey on urchins had led to massive starving urchins fronts which had eaten the entire kelp forest. Correction: Actually, she was interested in the ecological effects of the urchin and abalone fisheries. Urchin barrens were not an issue at the time. 

Alongside her longtime collaborator Paul Dayton, she teased apart the biological and physical factors controlling kelp forest dynamics. Their monograph on kelp forest patch dynamics is a classic in the field. Dr. Tegner also showed that harvesting different urchin species had different ecological effects, and studied the decline of local abalone species due to overfishing and disease.

Later, Dr. Tegner got more involved in marine policy. She found that the outfall of San Diego’s sewage treatment plant had no impact on local ecosystems, and wasn’t afraid to say so. But she also found that overfishing had devastated her beloved Point Loma kelp forest and spoke out against overfishing and shifting baselines syndrome. She said, “People deserve scientists’ time and efforts to provide data on which to base decisions regarding the environment.”

The current mandate to create marine protected areas in southern California in part stems from Dr. Tegner’s work, but she did not live to see them. She died in a diving accident in 2001, when she was 53. My office is two doors down from where hers used to be (though I never met her; she died five years before I came to Scripps). Not only did her premature death deprive the world of  her deep understanding of marine ecology and love of the ocean, but I bet she would have been quite a mentor as well.

This year’s squid orgy

March 5, 2009

Check out Gary Hawkins’ film of this year’s La Jolla squid orgy. The big booms are seal bombs – meant to keep sea lions away from the nets. They also keep divers out of the water. Hawkins says:

We did not get in the water to film the underwater shots. The day we filmed the boats were actively fishing so there was danger from boat traffic. Also, seal bombs were being dropped in the water. Thus to get the underwater footage, we lowered a weighted videocam by rope and let it dangle beneath our boat. Hence the reason squid randomly come in and out of shot and the camera appears to bob up and down.

He got some great footage, though! You can also see the light boats shining very powerful lights into the water to lure up the mating squid. (That’s squid sex no-no #1.)

The Oyster’s Garter LIVE and IN PERSON!

February 25, 2009

Pacific Naturalists is a small local company that “provides fun and informative naturalist-guided adventures throughout Southern California.” I’ve filled in for their naturalists on occasion in the past, but after I was especially charming on a recent tour I got promoted to official Pacific Naturalists naturalist. Scroll down for my Official Naturalist Profile, complete with my Official Cowboy Hat of Outdoor Adventure.

If you’re organizing a conference or meeting in San Diego, I’d be thrilled to lead your group on a tidepooling or seal-watching or day-hiking adventure. I assure you that if you find this blog amusing, you will find me at least 20 times more amusing in person. My interpretive dance on how to tell the difference between a harbor seal and a sea lion cannot possibly be appreciated over the web. And while trying to pet the critters ends badly if you try it at the San Diego Zoo, it ends in happiness and learning if you try it under my expert guidance in the tidepools.

Solar power AND wilderness protection for San Diego

December 30, 2008

Last week, the California Public Utilities Commission approved a new power line through the desert – and I think it is a great decision. No, my brain hasn’t been eaten by development zombies…but allow me to transport you to those halcyon days of last July, when Eric wrote a Managed World entry on a tradeoff between generating solar power in the desert and running a power line through the relatively pristine Anza-Borrego State Park.

Besides damaging a gorgeous desert wilderness (with fantastic marine fossils! And most of the last population of Peninsular bighorn sheep! Can you tell I’ve got a crush on Anza-Borrego?), the power line through the undeveloped park would have seriously increased the risk of backcountry fires. Several of the October 2007 wildfires were started by power lines. Sure, the desert is fire-adapted, but it’s meant to burn every 20 years, not every 5, and that’s not even getting into the human and economic costs of GIANT FRIGGIN FIRES.

So why am I happy that the power line was approved? Because it won’t run through the park, but along an already-developed corridor – Interstate 8. The power line will not disrupt the wilderness, and since it’s along a busy freeway, hopefully any fires will be noticed and quickly controlled. And the dense population on the coast will have access to all that nice desert renewable energy.

There is a downside, of course. Since all of San Diego County’s electricity lines are alongside Route 8, a fire there could knock out electricity for the entire county. However, since we live in a mild climate – nobody’s going to freeze to death if the power goes out – it’s a risk that I am happy to take.

I think this is one Managed World tradeoff that we can celebrate. Yay solar power! Yay power-line-free wilderness!

Now where’s our cheap, subsidized residential solar panels?

Coastal Cleanup Day is tomorrow!

September 19, 2008

Moss Landing reminded me that tomorrow is Coastal Cleanup Day! Celebrate your local waterways by helping to pick up trash and remove invasive vegetation. Eric and I are going to be volunteering in San Diego Bay – I’ll be diving and he’ll be on land support duty. If we find AWESOME TRASH, we will post photos. Head over to Ocean Conservancy to find a cleanup near you.

Intertidal staycation!

August 7, 2008

I’m a New Englander through and through – if it doesn’t hurt, it’s not REAL weather – but I have to admit that the diverse, beautiful Pacific tidepools are waaaay better than their poor species-challenged Atlantic counterparts. (They still smell wrong, though. I miss the smell of Ascophyllum in the morning.) When I eventually move back, I expect to pine away for the nudibranchs and octopus so common in southern California.

Fortunately, J.J. Newman has my back. As a final project for her master’s degree at the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (full disclosure: I am a CMBC fellow), she created this gorgeous webpage about the intertidal zone in San Diego and filled it with her own stunning photos of the local critters. Here’s some of my favorites:

J.J. also includes photos of the intertidal habitats (scroll down), human impacts, and even visting directions. Best of all, she provides clear, specific tidepooling etiquette so that visitors can learn how to reduce trampling and resist the urge to take hermit crabs home in a bucket. I hope more people find her website (and that she eventually digs it out from the CMBC website and hosts it somewhere more prominent) so that San Diego’s amazing tidepools will be appreciated and cared for.

Science made me miss the earthquake

July 31, 2008

By the way, you know that substantial earthquake that just hit southern California on Tuesday? The moderately strong 5.4?

I MISSED IT! I was out diving from a small boat and couldn’t feel a thing! Oh, my bitterness knows no bounds. I SO wanted to experience a nice, not-too-big-yet-perceptible earthquake.

Trash event tonight!

December 21, 2007

From San Diego Oceans Foundation:

Trash Bash Art Exhibit
Friday, December 21 | 6:00-8:00 pm
Wyland Gallery (1025 Prospect St, La Jolla)

One month ago at the San Diego Oceans Foundation’s first annual Trash Bash beach and bay clean up, volunteers created works of art from the trash they collected. This Friday, December 21st, Trash Bash art will be exhibited at the Wyland Gallery in La Jolla among his gorgeous paintings and sculptures of marine habitats. Artist Scott Wyland was deemed a “Marine Michelangelo” by USA Today and is very active in ocean conservation.

This special exhibit will also shed light on the effect pollution and trash have on our marine environment. Did you know that Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every HOUR? Do you know what a nurdle is and why it is so detrimental to marine life? Learn all this and more while enjoying scrumptous appetizers, beverages and ocean views from the second floor of the gallery.

Mr. Floatie sez: Poop Day continues!

December 18, 2007

Really, one day is not enough to explore the wonderful world of turds. I think today is ALSO Poop Day. To keep in touch with the *ahem* movement, please note the brand new Poop Power tag.

Mark Powell of blogfish pointed me towards the cutest anthropomorphized poop of all time – Mr. Floatie of Victora, BC. Mr. Floatie is the spokespoop for POOP (People Opposed to Outfall Pollution). Apparently the sewage of lovely Victoria only goes through a 6 mm screen before being dumped directly into the ocean, and Mr. Floatie is tired of his comrades being so cruelly drowned before their time. He wants loving, snuggly, warm treatment for all his poop brethren.

Perhaps Mr. Floatie should visit San Diego. We are the only city in California to treat our sewage to the primary level. This means that the chunks are removed, the fats (like cooking grease) are skimmed off, and the solid bits (like coffee grounds) are allowed to settle out, but there is no treatment of the biological content of the sewage. So all the bacteria and organic matter get dumped directly into the ocean via the Point Loma outfall, which is three miles and 350 feet of water out to sea.

Several SIO scientists have found no widespread ecological ramifications of this outfall, in either the plankton or the kelp forest. Southern California is fortunate enough to have a naturally very high-nutrient environment, so we don’t have the eutrophication problems of the East Coast. (Eutrophication is when nutrients cause massive algae blooms, which die, sink to the bottom, and rot. The respiration of the bacteria doing the rotting sucks all the oxygen out of the water, killing everything that can’t swim away.)

I don’t think it’s necessary that San Diego institute a billion dollar upgrade right away, but they really ought to have a plan to upgrade. This is just embarrassing. And that 21st century sewage plan MUST include water reclamation. We import our freshwater from thousands of miles away, use it, then throw it into the ocean. That is ridiculous, especially considering that the water we get has already been pooped in (and treated) by every upstream city, and we don’t mind that. Why should we mind one more round of treatment?

San Diego’s population is estimated to increase 30% by 2020 – what are these people going to drink? Are we going to drain the Colorado and line the coast with desalination plants? And how much more people’s poo (and detergent, and personal care products) can the ocean absorb? Clearly, this is a job that calls for Mr. Floatie. Maybe he has some kind of Batman-style beacon that we can beam from Point Loma.

PZ Myers is a mild-mannered rockstar

November 3, 2007

PZ Myers rocked the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) house. There’s tons of people interested in science outreach at SIO who are not of the blogging people – but armed with PZ’s advice, I think they have been brought over to the, erm, somewhat dusky side. Expect a glorious outpouring of SIO webcontent in the near future.

The two points that I want to pass along:

1) Don’t underestimate the power of polite disagreement in person, and of conflict and confrontation on the web. Both have their place.

2) If you’re a basic science researcher, don’t tell regular people that your research is important. Tell them it’s beautiful, and show them why you do the outwardly silly things that you do. After all, how many people spend their time torturing urchin larvae or searching for new species in the open ocean?

Also, look! I’m on Pharyngula!


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