How strange to call this planet 'Earth' when quite clearly it is ocean. Arthur C. Clarke

Monday, October 6, 2014


Here is a picture of whelks in the lab. There may be as many as three species here--it's very hard to tell them apart without a genetic analysis. As you can see, there is a lot of variation in their shell color. The one in the upper right is on a mussel--probably drilling through its shell to eat it!

The three species are all in the genus Nucella: emarginata, ostrina, and canaliculata. The mussel is Mytilus californianus. In the bottom photo, can you see the soft white foot of the whelks below their shells? Look for their antennae, too. There is one whelk with two hitchhikers--limpets that have stuck themselves to the whelk's shell for a free ride. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Once a Kayak Guide, Always a Kayak Guide

Did I tell you I figured out how to get paid to kayak again? This time in Santa Cruz!

Since I don't get summers off from school anymore and I couldn't move to San Juan Island and kayak there again, I got a job as a kayak guide with a small company on the Santa Cruz Wharf.

View from the wharf of the dock where we launch the kayaks.

Even compared to the San Juans, working in Santa Cruz is totally fantastic. It's a great job with great people and very diverse and exciting marine life. On every tour, I lead the group along the one-half-mile-long wharf, then around it and to the kelp forest just off lighthouse point. There, we see snails, sea otters, and the occasional kelp or decorator crab. Recently there were by-the-wind sailors (Velella velella) with their bright-blue tentacles floating on the surface, but their presence was quite ephemeral--just a few days later only their clear membranes remained tangled in the kelp canopy. There are always California sea lions and harbor seals, and it's not too rare to see pods of dolphins and harbor porpoises. We even came close to a grey whale once! 

Today, I helped lead a tour in Moss Landing, which is about 30 minutes south of Santa Cruz. This was exclusively a whale watching tour, because humpback whales are feeding in Moss Landing a lot this time of year. Since it was foggy, we heard the whales calling and breathing at the surface before seeing them swiftly emerge from the fog, swimming and diving past us.

After seeing the whales, we sailed and paddled into Elkhorn Slough. There are dozens of different birds there, including brown and white pelicans, three species of cormorants, grebes, gulls, and godwits. I am very lucky to live in and be able to fully enjoy such an enriching place. Come visit me sometime!

A kayak tour with my Ecology and Evolutionary Biology cohort. I was only
mildly reprimanded for bringing 12 friends on a private tour in the middle
of a busy Saturday afternoon. Woops.

Humpbacks in Moss Landing.

Sailing into Elkhorn Slough.

A double-crested cormorant about to take flight.

Brown pelicans in Elkhorn Slough. I liked to see them stretching their necks
because they are so long and fleshy! 

Mostly, the job is great because I get to share beautiful marine life with people who haven't seen it before or just don't know much about it. It's very easy to inspire a sense of appreciation in people for the ocean when they get to see, hear, feel, taste, and (usually unfortunately) smell it all around them. I love this job because it is so much bigger than me. 

I wanted to post about that since the only other thing I've been doing recently is studying for my comprehensive exam. I'm sure I'll have something to say about that after I take it in late October. 
Bye for now!

A sample of what I am reading for my comprehensive exam.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Update to new research project

I think I finally know what I'm going to study for the next five years. Check out the "Research Interests" page for more details!

To entice you to read what's in that page, here's a picture I took June 17, 2014 in Oregon of my study system:

Here you can see whelks surrounded by their food, barnacles and mussels. Not a bad way to live!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

New research project

My new research project involves examining local adaptation in the intertidal snail Nucella canaliculata. I am interested in examining how it is locally adapted to its mussel prey and seawater pH. I hope to identify adaptive traits and quantify their genetic basis. My study sites will be along the west coast of the US. I will of course post more details on this when I have written a formal proposal. I'm excited!

Here is a picture from Sanford and Worth 2009 of the Nucella canaliculata with its egg mass:

I'll need help with field work starting in about a year, so if you are interested in looking through some rocky intertidal habitats, keep it in the back of your mind, and I will ask for formal help when the time comes. 

Paper reference: Sanford, E., and D. J. Worth. 2009. Genetic differences among populations of a marine snail drive geographic variation in predation. Ecology 90:3108–18.

Friday, April 25, 2014

New study system ideas

Someone at UC Santa Barbara has basically already done my sheephead project, but she hasn't published anything on it yet, so I didn't know until I emailed her. I should probably switch study systems! Follow the link to this google presentation about my ideas for a new study system.

Plastic fast--the last few weeks

Happy Easter!
That means my new plastic fast is over. Here are my results and reflections.

Though I haven't posted about it every week, I've certainly been trying to avoid plastic the whole time. I got to the point where there are things I need that I was just waiting to buy until the plastic fast was over. Overall, I wasn't able to totally avoid plastic, but I got better as the fast went on.

  • Things I needed that normally come with new plastic: SCUBA gear, ground flaxseed, cheap coconut oil
  • Things I bought that have new plastic (if any; hopefully this will be none): Stickers on fruit, an underwater compass, half of a diving manual (I split the cost with a friend), a small bag of crystallized ginger (I couldn't resist), a racing number to pin to my shirt.
  • Things I bought in plastic-free form: another strainer and a whisk.
  • Things I did to avoid buying new plastic: I refilled old flour containers, I didn't buy prepackaged food, and I've still been making my own bread like crazy.
  • Things with new plastic that were given to me: a half marathon finisher shirt (well, I guess I paid for it when I registered).
  • Plastic things I politely rejected: none.
  • People who learned about my plastic fast (optional): maybe people who read my blog.
  • What was the hardest part of my fast this week?: buying SCUBA gear. Does any of it come plastic-free? 
  • What was the easiest part of my fast this week?: buying fresh food. 
  • What can I not find a non-plastic alternative for, and can I give up this item entirely?: SCUBA gear, cheap coconut oil. I cannot give up SCUBA gear if I want to keep diving, but I can give up cheap coconut oil and buy more expensive oil in a glass jar.

Here's all the plastic trash (and a bit of non-plastic trash) I used during the fast. I didn't want to dump it out so you can see each item, but at least you can get an idea of volume. It's a paper-grocery-bag full. On top are some old plastic produce bags I had from before the fast, and they make up for the things I forgot to keep.

I learned from this fast that single-use plastics are the easier to avoid, while durable plastic items are sometimes impossible to avoid (for example, when buying SCUBA gear). Since the everyone else thinks plastic is a safe and useful material, it is extremely difficult to avoid it entirely. The most striking observation I made about plastic is how much food comes in really cheap plastic. This is why I lived off the fresh produce and bulk sections of New Leaf.  Unfortunately, all the bulk foods are stored in plastic bins. 

Another striking observation I made was how useful plastic is when backpacking. Storing food in plastic bags one of the best ways to pack food for backpacking trips because plastic bags are super lightweight and collapse-able. It was really hard to plan for my trip without plastic.

Now that the official fast is over, I plan to continue avoiding single-use plastic, but I'm not going to try quite as hard to avoid those durable plastic things I need (like SCUBA gear). In fact, I will probably buy my usual 54 oz. plastic jar of coconut oil as soon as I get paid next month. This is because it's 50% cheaper than what I can get in glass, and I struggle with money for food (probably largely due to my dietary choices). But once I'm being paid like a middle-class American and 51% of my income doesn't go toward paying rent, I will buy only plastic-free coconut oil.

I hope you are inspired to think about your use of plastic! To conclude, here's a picture of what I might study instead of California sheephead. I'll post about how my project is changing later.

Owl limpet Lottia gigantea. Photo by me this year.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Toxicity of all plastic

I stumbled upon this while looking for examples for a class assignment. This table is a good reminder of why I am giving up new plastic. These effects were all familiar to me, but it's good to see them again to keep me really motivated to continue avoiding plastic.

Why do we believe that plastic is safe?

Table from