At the first chance I swerved into a pull out and got out the camera. Was it a major oil spill like the Deepwater Horizon? No, it was the most extensive red tide ever seen on the Sonoma Coast, and its effect on the salt water ecosystem has been devestating.
A red tide is a harmful algal bloom of dinoflagellate plankton that occurs when ocean conditions are warm and calm. It can contain a neurotoxin that poisons, suffocates and kills shell fish. This same little plankton also causes a wonderful display of bioluminescence that I photographed last november. While red tides are not uncommon, some sources suggest that this year's El Nino event, warming sea water temperatures, fertilizers, and pollution may have contributed to severity of the current event.
Within a week vast numbers of red abalone, mussels, sea urchins, sea stars and other invertebrates began washing up on Sonoma County shorelines. The major die-off is like nothing ever seen here and yesterday prompted the California Department of Fish and Game to enact an emergency action to close the 2011 abalone fishing season.
Yesterday, September 15, I returned to Salt Point State Park, and walked cove after cove of rugged shoreline. Normally I am excited to find a single perfectly shaped shell on the beach, but there is no joy in discovering large mounds of skeletons - the bones of our delicate oceanic neighbors.
© 2011 Jerry Dodrill Photography