Intertidal Investigations: Seymour Marine Discovery Center / Santa Cruz MPA Collaborative

Latest update August 1, 2018 Started on June 17, 2018

Discover what's happening beneath the waves in intertidal ecosystems near Santa Cruz, California. With the help of a Trident Underwater Drone (ROV), dive in with the Seymour Center as we take video and photos to reveal protected intertidal habitats in the incredible Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. We'll explore and document the interaction of organisms in protected rocky intertidal and sandy seafloor habitats at Natural Bridges State Marine Reserve.

June 17, 2018
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In July, we observed something unusual happening in the kelp forest and intertidal zone near the Seymour Center. Hundreds of different-sized pieces of strange debris appeared and drifted along the coast--not something we're used to seeing. Debris was entangled in the canopy of the nearshore kelp forest and other pieces began appearing in the intertidal mussel beds and sandy swash zone. It took more than a couple weeks for most of the material to disappear from the coast near the Seymour Center, as it continued drifting southwest along the Santa Cruz coastline.

Several pieces of the material appeared in the mussel beds and swash zone, especially after days of large swells transported and deposited them on pocket beaches. We tried to identify the different pieces we found. We decided that wooden boards covered with a thick coat of white paint on one side were likely from the hull of the boat. We thought a large, domed piece of plastic may have been a skylight from the cabin of the ship.

Two different calls to the US Coast Guard provided different information about the source of the wreckage. One possible source was a fishing vessel that had been moored off of Wilder Creek and recently sank. Another report was that a small fishing boat, perhaps dinghy-sized, crashed into the rocky reef off of Terrace Point. We imagined that the wreckage was possibly a mixture from both boats, though we don't know for sure. The large skylight seemed to be evidence that at least some of the pieces came from a larger vessel instead of the smaller boat.

With so many pieces of small and large debris being carried in and out of the intertidal zone each day, we started wondering what the effects of this human-produced litter might be on the local ecosystems. As waves carried some of the larger pieces ashore, perhaps they impacted organisms by colliding or smothering them. Did the paint on the wood contain any toxic materials, like lead or copper, that might produce negative effects on invertebrates in the tidepools and kelp forest? As this debris disintegrates over time, will small particles sink to the kelp forest floor and accumulate in bottom feeders, such as sea cucumbers? Since we know that plastics are often confused as food by marine animals, especially microplastics that can mimic plankton, we were wondering how much plastic might have entered these ecosystems from this influx of human-produced trash.

We cleaned up the pieces of debris that were small enough for us to carry out, but we know that was just a small fraction of what is still out there in the water. In the image below, see some of the wreckage that washed ashore.

Hopefully, we’ll receive the Trident drone soon, so that we can peer underwater to look for evidence of any visible effects the ship wreckage may have left behind.

Stay posted for our next update!


Please follow our expedition (and ask your friends to join as well) so we can begin our underwater exploration. We need 50 followers for OpenROV to send us a Trident Underwater Drone to start taking video to share. Thank you to OpenROV and Santa Cruz MPA Collaborative for sharing such terrific technology for our investigations.

In the meantime, we'll get started by showing you some of the amazing patterns of color and texture found in the intertidal zone near the Seymour Center during a recent low tide. What do you think creates the different colors and textures you see?

Expedition Background

Ever wonder what happens underwater in the intertidal zone during high tide? We do!
Join the Seymour Center's Ocean Explorers summer camp staff and students (ages 7-14) as we investigate the hidden world of the submerged intertidal. From the spray zone to the low intertidal, we seek to uncover how organisms are interacting with each other and their environment. As part of the Santa Cruz Marine Protected Area (MPA) Collaborative, we are excited to use a Trident Underwater Drone to explore our local rocky reefs and sandy seafloors below the waves. Our investigations will take place within Natural Bridges State Marine Reserve a Marine Protected Area (MPA) adjacent to the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. Join our coastal expedition and you can make a request for us to take video or photos of particular species or zones as we dive into the incredible intertidal!


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