All about the Bodega Bay Marine Lab

BODEGA BAY - The premier place to conduct coastal and marine research happens to be right here in northern California. Ecompassing 362 acres, the Bodega Marine Lab and Reserve are both administered by UC Davis and consist of a vast spaces of wild lands, indoor lab facilities, and resources that fuel research into conservation, ocean processes, climate change adaptation, and other environmental concerns.

Bodega Marine Lab is ground zero for the effort to recover endangered species, particularly the abalone species. Tender, tasty, and for centuries the star of coastal barbecues, abalone became the first marine invertebrate to be declared an endangered species in 2001. Kristin Aquilino, biologist and head of the white abalone lab, works with her staff to gain more insight on how global warming is affecting these and other ocean organisms. "The issue is that recent increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide are causing seawater to become more acidic," Aquilino states.

Across the planet, increased amounts of human-generated carbon dioxide gas from the atmosphere are changing the natural state of our ecosystems, with no end in sight. It is happening at "rates that are likely unparalleled in Earth’s history" notes Tessa Hill, an associate professor of earth and planetary sciences at UC Davis.

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Ocean acidification, a consequence of increased amounts of carbon dioxide, mostly affects shelled creatures such as mussels, oysters, abalone, and urchins. The intensified acidity curbs growth and degrades shell formation, and also can lead to a much larger issue for the entire health of the ecosystem. The internal defense systems of the organisms become weaker, which threatens their ability to reproduce. Together, these effects increase vulnerability and have resulted in species like the abalone struggling to survive.

Fortunately, the scientists and field researchers at Bodega Marine Lab are making strides to keep the abalone around. "We now have enough captive white abalone to start testing the best methods for reintroduction to the wild once a permit is in place," says Aquilino, “and we’re hopeful.”

In addition to abalone research, the BML recently encountered a small number of tiny red crustaceans. Normally, pelagic crabs reside a thousand miles south of the lab, but they came ashore on Salmon Creek Beach last week, off the Sonoma Coast. This is the latest news in a wave of southern species that have been brought north by unusually warm ocean conditions over the past few years. The 18 pelagic red crabs now living at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab are the first ones reported this far north since 1985. They're more often found in southern and central Baja, off of Mexico, and it's extremely rare to see them even in the state of California.

The surprise in finding the rare crabs in northern California comes with the significantly cooler waters over the past nine months during El Niño. The red crustaceans resemble small lobsters, and a single one can fit in a human hand. The Bodega Marine Lab is taking these creatures in and observing their habits, taking note of any changes in their migration. They hope to find more out about how organisms react to severe climate changes like El Niño. Jacqueline Sones and Eric Sanford, two researchers at BML, watched their behavior and studied their embryo development. They hope more information might help them understand whether the crabs can successfully inhabit and reproduce in the colder waters of Northern California.

UC Davis has been fostering and cultivating Bodega Marine Science Lab for many years now, with great results. Their commitment to innovation and discovery has come in the form of grants, reports, and other means of support to the lab. Researchers and students continue to come work at the reserve to conduct studies about wildlife and ecosystems from here and across the world. Aquilino, Hill, and all of those at Bodega Marine Lab are making a difference in the science world, one sea animal at a time.

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