Having grown up in San Francisco, I was exposed to the endless nature that Northern California has to offer. I spent my childhood exploring the waters of Baker Beach, surfing the Northern California coastline and hiking and camping in the beautiful mountains of Desolation Wilderness. Waking up early for school every morning was made more enjoyable by the sound of the foghorn—which I have come to love—and the faint smell of the ocean. My interest in nature and the ocean was ingrained in me from a very young age, and was further developed into a passion through the exposure and experience I gained in my coursework at The Branson School. Each morning, as I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on my way to school, I took in my surroundings—the fog hugged the tall pillars of the bridge and the rugged cliffs dropped steeply into the churning waters of the vast Pacific Ocean. I watched whales and dolphins splashing in the water from my car window. Questions started to pop up in my head. What caused the fog to concentrate in the bay and then disperse almost immediately upon entering Marin? Why were the whales more active during certain months of the year? How did this whole ecosystem work? My interest was sparked and my curiosity craved answers.
The wind tickled our noses as we scaled down the steep trail to Duxbury Reef in Bolinas, CA for a monitoring of the rocky intertidal. Thrice a year, our Sustainable Seas club, which participates in the LiMPETS program, monitors Duxbury Reef, which we have adopted as our monitoring site since 2000. Peers from the Branson School enthusiastically shared anecdotes of past monitorings, marveling at the striking stripes of Anthopleura sola, also known as sunburst anemones, colorful, alien-looking nudibranchs, or stunning magenta sunsets they had witnessed. Scarcely anyone was on their phones (a rare occurrence for teenagers), and people seemed almost giddy to be outside and immersed in the cool, salty ocean air.
You are cruising along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in a jam-packed suburban, each kid wrapped in infinite layers (of sweaters, hats, gloves, booties, and many many puffy jackets), snacking on homemade brownies, and bellowing the lyrics to one of the many archaic playlists found on old scratched-up CDs. Time flies as the car swerves around corner after corner, speeding through densely wooded forests, dry grasslands, quaint towns, and mountainous landscapes. And then just like that, you’ve arrived!
A group of students from The Branson School have been monitoring key invertebrates and species of algae at Duxbury Reef in Bolinas, California for roughly 10 years. This January, we found some unexpected things. We saw an octopus, a rare sighting!
The octopus in question was an East Pacific Red Octopus, or Octopus rubescens. Like many octopuses, the Red Octopus has an amazing ability to camouflage, and is able to alter both the color and texture of its skin. We were able to experience its incredible camouflage ability first hand; the octopus first mimicked coralline algae, turning itself a reddish pink, and adopted a bumpy texture, executing a near-flawless impression of the algae. Later, after moving from the side of the pool to the floor, it turned a dark brown, in order to match the rocky substrate at the bottom of the pool.
Another interesting thing about the monitoring was the fact that no one in our group saw a single sea star. Sea stars are a common staple of intertidal life at Duxbury, so this blatant lack of sea stars was not only unusual, but also very concerning.