Tag Archives: beach

Glow in the dark waves surprise surfers in California

Imagine yourself being able to surf at night with waves that aren’t only breathtaking but also have an amazing glow. Well, that’s possible every few years along the coast of southern California.

Bioluminescent plankton spotted in Tasmania in 2015.
Image credits Jonathan Esling.

Images were recently captured at beaches in California, where the night-time waters can be seen glowing bright blue. While this has happened before, locals say this year’s phenomenon is special thanks to historic rains that have hit the region and created algal blooms.

The bright blue color of the waves is created by blooming microscopic plants called phytoplankton. The organisms collect on the water’s surface during the day to give the water a reddish-brown hue, known as the red tide. By night, the algae put on a light show, dazzling most brightly in turbulent waters.

The bioluminescence is a chemical reaction on a cellular level within the algae caused by the motion of the waves, according to Scripps Institution of Oceanography Professor Peter J. Franks, who calls the phytoplankton “my favorite dinoflagellate.”

“Why favorite?” Franks wrote in an email Q&A posted on the blog Deep-Sea News. “Because it’s intensely bioluminescent. When jostled, each organism will give off a flash of blue light created by a chemical reaction within the cell. When billions and billions of cells are jostled — say, by a breaking wave — you get a seriously spectacular flash of light.”

The algae blooms have been spotted this year at several beaches in the south of California, including Newport Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Dockweiler state beach. Surfers and many others intrigued by the phenomenon have approached the beaches in the last few weeks to see the glowing waves for themselves.

California has implemented social distancing measures due to the coronavirus epidemic, but people can still visit its beaches. However, they must maintain a 1.8-meter distance between themselves and others. Swimming, surfing, kayaking, and paddleboarding are still allowed.

Dale Huntington, a 37-year-old pastor, got up at 3am after beaches reopened to surf the waves. “I’ve been surfing for 20 years now, and I’ve never seen anything like it”, he told The Guardian. “My board left a bioluminescent wake. There were a few of us out there and we were giggling, grown men shouting and splashing around like kids.”

Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, who study the phenomenon, said the glow shows are most lively at least two hours after sunset. They don’t know exactly how long the phenomenon will last this year. Red tides have been observed since the early 1900s and can last from a few days to a couple of months.

California’s beaches face declining biodiversity

Known as one of the most biologically diverse beaches in the world, Southern California’s sandy beaches used to be filled with life such as crabs and clams. But that’s now changing, according to new research, which showed that the number of beach animals is in decline.

Credit: Flickr


For about a third of the beaches between Santa Barbara and San Diego, only a small subset of highly specialized animals remains, and in reduced numbers, researchers at the University of California discovered – an unintended consequence of the quest to maintain the iconic look of the urban beaches.

“This study will force us to make critical choices about whether we value well-groomed beaches or healthy natural ecosystems,” said David Garrison, a program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Ocean Sciences, which co-funded the research.

“Shorebirds and other marine life we value are critically dependent on resources provided by thriving ecosystems.”

Cities up and down the coast have flattened dunes — which destroyed native vegetation — and groomed the sand with heavy equipment. All of this, the scientists write in a paper in the journal Ecological Indicators, has massive impacts on the larger beach ecosystem. Furthermore, it could already be having negative effects in terms of erosion, sea-level rise, and the health of the surrounding ocean and coastal ecosystems.

In previous studies, the team found that disturbance from beach grooming caused strong negative impacts to upper intertidal biodiversity on Southern California beaches. The current study took a much wider and deeper look at the diversity of beach ecosystems affected by these management practices.

“We explored how disturbance from these management practices affected ecological communities on different spatial scales,” Nicholas Schooler, the study’s lead author, said. “This includes the littoral cells, which are basically compartments of the coast that contain a sand source, usually rivers, alongshore transport of sand by waves and currents, and a sink where sand exits the system, such as a submarine canyon.”

In comparisons between select urban beaches in Carpinteria, Malibu, Santa Monica, Redondo Beach, Huntington Beach, and Carlsbad, and neighboring minimally disturbed “reference” beaches within the same littoral cells, the scientists found that up to half of the natural inhabitants were missing on the urban beaches. The ones that remained tended to be the same few species across all littoral cells.

Although sandy beach ecosystems are generally thought of as highly resilient given their conditions of constantly moving sand and water, the study results show how sensitive these ecosystems are to human disturbance. This was particularly apparent for wrack-associated species — the small invertebrates that inhabit the upper intertidal zone and rely on stranded kelp wrack for food and shelter. This group typically represents around 40% of the biodiversity on Southern California beaches.

“We started out doing ecology for ecology’s sake, asking basic questions on the diversity and functioning of sandy beach ecosystems,” study co-author David Hubbard, said of this study. “The more we worked in Southern California, the more we realized how altered many of the beach ecosystems were.”

It’s so hot in Finland’s Lapland the reindeer have hit the beach

The heatwave in Finland is causing some unusual scenes: a pair of reindeer were spotted on the beach in northern Finland.

They bother no one and no one bothers them. Image credits: This is Finland.

It’s been a sizzling couple of days in Scandinavia. The heatwave that’s been ravaging central and western Europe has migrated northwards, making for some tropical days in Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Authorities have issued heat warnings, urging people to stay indoors if possible and stay hydrated. But humans aren’t the only ones affected by the scorching temperatures.

In Finland, authorities have warned motorists to be mindful of moose, who are crossing more roads than usual in their attempts to find water and quench their thirst. Elsewhere, the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reported earlier this week of reindeer “queuing at the Kela office” — after a group of reindeer gathered outside a social benefits agency in a Lapland village of Inari to stand in the shade.

But without a doubt, the star of the show were the two reindeer that sought some respite from the heat on a beach in Lapland — Finland’s northernmost region known for its Christmas spirit and its reindeer. They didn’t seem to care about anything other than cooling down.

“Many people took photos and it didn’t seem to bother them in the slightest. Children were playing nearby and that didn’t disturb them either,” said Johanna Koivisto, who snapped a picture of the resting duo.

Koivisto said she wasn’t surprised too surprised to see reindeer at the beach — it’s become quite a common sight, as temperatures in Finland continues to rise. Temperatures at the beach were around 28 °C (82 F).

The annual Finnish mean temperature has risen 2.3 °C since preindustrial times. Warming has been greatest in early winter, nearly 5 °C, but summer temperatures are harder to bear for wildlife. The month of July 2018 in Finland had the highest-ever temperatures recorded by the Finnish Meteorological Institute since recordings started in 1838, although this month is very similar.

July temperatures in Finland average 13 to 17°C (55-63 F), but pass 30°C in some parts during heatwaves. The northernmost municipality of Utsjoki, north of the Arctic Circle, experienced a record-breaking temperature of 33.3 °C (92 °F) in July 2018.

As for reindeer, the pair that made it to the beach can consider themselves lucky. The climate crisis which our world is facing is devastating for reindeer populations,  and more than 50% of their population has collapsed  over the past few decades. Reindeer in Lapland, like those all over the Arctic, are finding it extremely difficult to cope with the high temperatures.

How much is a clean beach worth to you?

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

Millions of Americans head outdoors in the summer, whether for a day at a nearby lake or a monthlong road trip. For environmental economists like me, decisions by vacationers and outdoor recreators offer clues to a challenging puzzle: estimating what environmental resources are worth.

In 1981 President Ronald Reagan issued an executive order that required federal agencies to weigh the costs and benefits of proposed major new regulations, and in most cases to adopt them only if the benefits to society outweighed the costs. Reagan’s order was intended to promote environmental improvements without overburdening economic growth.

Cost-benefit analysis has been so successful as a tool for policy analysis that every administration since Reagan has endorsed using it. However, it requires measuring benefits that are not “priced” in typical markets. Fortunately, putting a price on non-market environmental outcomes, such as safer drinking water and fewer deaths from exposure to dirty air, has proved to be possible, and highly valuable. These estimates help to make the case for actions such as cleaning up beaches and protecting scenic areas.

Studies by the EPA have calculated that the benefits of avoided deaths and illnesses resulting from the Clean Act far outweigh the costs to society of complying with the law. EPA

What’s it worth to you?

According to a preliminary estimate from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, outdoor recreation adds US$373 billion to the U.S. economy yearly. That’s 2 percent of our annual gross domestic product – more than agriculture, mining or utilities, and approaching the economic contribution of national defense.

Most policymakers and local communities measure the economic value of outdoor recreation through estimates like this, which calculate how much money it adds to local economies through direct expenditures. For example, vacationers rent hotel rooms, and their spending pays employee salaries and funds local investments through hotel taxes. Visitors to national parks pay entrance fees for park upkeep, and augment local economies through employee wages and other expenditures on food and services around the park.

But recreation decisions also reveal the value that people place on the environment itself. Outdoor destinations provide services, such as opportunities to swim or hike in unspoiled settings. If high levels of harmful bacteria close a beach I was planning to visit, I may choose to drive a longer distance to a beach with clean water. By quantifying such increases in time and out-of-pocket expenditures, economists can measure people’s willingness to pay for changes in environmental quality.

Travelers’ willingness to spend time and money visiting remote attractions like Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming help economists estimate how the public values those places. NPS/Jacob W. Frank

Funding beach cleanups

In one recent study, I worked with other researchers to estimate increased travel and time expenditures that people incurred to avoid trash and debris on 31 Southern California beaches. No one wants to go to a beach littered with hypodermic needles, plastic bottles and discarded fishing nets. But cleaning up marine debris is expensive, and it is hard for communities to recover the costs, particularly for public beaches with open access. Understanding the value of cleaner beaches can help build support for funding trash collection.

To measure the amount of debris, we hired workers to walk the beaches tallying quantities of trash. Then we surveyed Southern California residents about how often and where they went to the beach, which enabled us to correlate numbers of visitors at each beach with quantities of debris. Finally, using travel time and expenses for each visitor to visit each beach, we modeled the relationship between where they chose to go to the beach, how much they spent to get there, and the cleanliness of the beach.

Using this model, we found that visitors to these beaches would be willing to incur $12.91 in additional costs per trip if each of the beaches had 25 percent less debris. This translated into a total willingness to pay $29.5 million for action to reduce marine debris by 25 percent on these beaches.

Reducing harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie

Trash on beaches is mainly an aesthetic nuisance, but some resource problems are more severe. For example, warm weather often triggers harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie’s western basin. These outbreaks, which are caused by agricultural and urban phosphorous pollution, contain freshwater toxins that are dangerous to humans and animals. They can trigger beach closures, and sometimes even drinking water bans.

Using similar techniques to the California study, I worked with another group of economists to estimate the economic value of reducing outbreaks of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie. To model the relationship between recreation and water quality, we combined satellite data on harmful algal outbreaks in the lake in the summer of 2016 with visit patterns from a survey of Lake Erie visitors. Once again, we used travel time to each visited site and out-of-pocket expenditures to get there to represent the price of a trip. Then we correlated the price of a trip with the location of the visit and the presence of harmful algal blooms.

Our results showed that reducing these outbreaks through a 40 percent reduction in phosphorous runoff to the Lake Erie Basin would save swimmers, boaters and fishermen $800,000 to $970,000 per year by reducing the need for them to travel extra distance to avoid algal blooms.

Just this spring, Ohio declared the western Lake Erie watershed to be “impaired” by algal blooms, meaning it does not meet federal water quality standards. Our study provides one measurement of Ohio residents’ willingness to pay for a cleaner lake.

Avoiding a major oil spill

People can choose different destinations to avoid dirty beaches or algae outbreaks. But in the case of large-scale environmental disasters, such as the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, vacationers are more likely to cancel their trips altogether.

In a study using survey data on canceled vacation trips to Northwest Florida in the year following the BP oil spill, I worked with other economists to estimate the decrease in economic value to Northwest Florida coastal towns. We found that the spill caused a 9 percent drop in trips to Northwest Florida beaches, causing total economic losses of $252 million to $332 million across the Florida panhandle. Those losses represent decisions to spend vacation time and money in places where there was less risk of encountering polluted beaches.

The Gulf coast stretches from western Florida to Texas and has numerous beaches and fishing towns, so this sum is probably just a small fraction of economic harm caused by the spill due to canceled travel.

Jacksonville, Florida, on the Atlantic coast benefited after the BP spill as travelers avoided the Gulf coast.

The value of pricing nature

Contrary to some environmentalists’ fears, putting a price on natural resources has encouraged decision-makers to recognize that natural capital is finite. Before, it was easy to assume that they were free to exploit. Now economic valuation research can help decision makers answer questions such as how much damage the BP spill did to natural resources, and whether the benefits of the EPA’s Acid Rain Program exceeded the costs. Assigning dollar values to natural resources makes it possible to use the power of markets to design policies and regulations that benefit all.

Timothy Haab, Professor of Environmental Economics, The Ohio State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

What is the Portuguese Man of War

The media seems to panic a lot about the recent Portuguese Man of War sightings along the Jersey shore in the US, without providing much useful information about the situation or this creature. Here, we’ll take a look at the Man of War and see what you should do to stay safe on the beach.

Image credits: North Wildwood Beach Patrol


The Portuguese Man of War in America

The first recent sighting, the one that started all the fuss, was on June 21 in Harvey Cedars on Long Beach Island, and now, another one has washed up at a Jersey Shore beach on Sunday, 5th of July. Is there reason to panic? No. Should you pay more attention when going to the beach? Yes, of course – you should always pay attention when going to the beach, and now there’s extra reason to keep your eyes open, especially if you’re usually barefoot.

“You never want to turn your back on the ocean. It’s always constantly changing,” Harvey Cedars Beach Patrol Captain Randy Townsend said.

According to biologists, they are occasionally spotted, but never are they seen as frequently as they have been recently. The recent sightings are definitely unusual, and probably signify that more Man of Wars are in the area. Paul Bologna of Montclair State University pointed out that, “They are definitely lots of them around,” which he added isn’t something that is seen “every summer.” There will likely be more sightings in the next weeks.

So why are they coming to this area? Well… they’re not. They are not “migrating” as some media outlets put it, because they can’t migrate – they can’t swim, and they’re at the mercy of oceanic currents. The northeast wind brings warm water from the Gulf Stream to shore, and along with it, seaweed and sea animals.

Image via Dan Intranet.

What you should do if you get stung

Stings from the Portuguese creature can be extremely painful, and even life threatening. Contact with the creatures’ tentacles results in an intense pain, usually leading to blistering. The stings can also cause abdominal pain, changes in pulse, chest pain, collapse, headache, muscle pain and spasms, numbness and weakness, pain in the arms or legs, a raised red spot on the skin, runny nose and watery eyes, difficulty swallowing and sweating. If you’re allergic to things like bees, then you’re also more likely to suffer extreme symptoms, and your life may be in danger, but don’t panic. Their stings can be treated! If there is any medical help nearby, don’t hesitate and ask for it, but if there isn’t, or if it’s far away, here’s what you should do to treat Portuguese Man of War stings:

  • carefully avoid any further contact with the tentacles and remove remnants of the organism from the skin – use something to pick them up, don’t touch them with your fingers or any other part of the body to avoid secondary stinging.
  • apply salt water to the affected area. Careful, don’t use fresh water – it will only make it worse!
  • follow up and apply hot water (45 °C or 113 °F) to the affected area from 15 to 20 minutes. If you don’t have any hot water, you can use regular water, but it won’t be as effective.
  • if eyes have been affected, irrigate with copious amounts of room-temperature tap water for at least 15 minutes; this is one of the more dangerous areas to get stung in, so definitely seek medical assistance.
  • don’t use vinegar! Vinegar might be recommended for some jellyfish injuries, but the Man of War is not a jellyfish (more on that later), and vinegar dousing increases toxin delivery and worsens symptoms of stings from the nematocysts of this species. Vinegar has also been confirmed to provoke hemorrhaging.

Fatalities from such accidents are extremely rare, and generally, medical assistance is not required, but it doesn’t hurt to ask for it. Better to be safe than sorry!

So what is the Portuguese Man of War?

Image via Mr. Reid.

Underneath the widespread fear, it’s actually a fascinating creature. Despite its outward appearance, the Portuguese man o’ war is not a common jellyfish but a siphonophore – in other words, it’s not a singular organism, but rather a colony of specialized minute individuals called zooids. These zooids are attached to one another and physiologically integrated to the extent that they are incapable of independent survival.

Its name comes from a resemblance with the man-of-war, an 18th-century armed sailing ship. The colony (now we know it’s not a singular creature) lives at the surface of the ocean. The gas-filled bladder remains at the surface and ensures flotation, while the remainder is submerged. They have no way to swim around, so they are at the mercy of currents and wind.

The reason why the venomous tentacles exist in the first place is that the colony is a predator which traps and paralyzes its prey. It typically feeds on small marine organisms, such as fish and plankton. However, some creatures are immune to its sting. Most notably, the blanket octopus is not only immune to the Portuguese Man of War, but it eats them and then steals its tentacles, which it uses as weapons to hunt other creatures. Yikes!


Disney’s Turtle-like robot draws intricate sand art

There’s something about the open ocean and the beach that makes people feel creative. Apart from sand castles and elaborate water pranks, many beach goers enjoy drawing in the sand, be it simple doodles, love statements or football pitch size intricate works of arts (you have to check out Tony Plant’s work). To put human beach drawing to shame, Disney just unveiled a mechanical rake wielding robot, designed to look like a cute turtle, that can automatically draw any planar shapes with ease.

The rake’s on you


Credit: Disney

Called the Beach Bot, the robot was built by engineers at Disney Research and ETH Zurich. From the get go, it was designed to withstand the unfriendly beach environment  with a closed aluminium chassis and sealing lip. These keep away any fine grains of sand that might make their way into the system and jam fine mechanical parts. To move about, the Beach Bot was cleverly fitted with three balloon-like wheels that leave minimal tracks behind, while the actual drawing is done by a mechanical rake consisting of several moving parts. This is to allow the servo controlled rake to make lines with varying depth and thickness.


Image: Disney

Beachbot currently works on 10-meter-by-10-meter-canvases. “But in principle we can scale up to kilometer long drawings that extend all along a beach,” Beardsley says. “The dream is to create huge amazing drawings like the Nazca Lines.”


Credit: Disney

The actual drawings are uploaded in a custom made software or made on the spot by putting the bot into “free-hand draw mode”. An operator can then use a remote to turn the Beach Bot into an over-sized stick to poke the sand. Interestingly enough, the robot turtle isn’t guided by GPS as some would think. Instead, it uses a simple, yet effective reference plane by calibrating itself against four reflective poles that define its drawing perimeter or sand canvas. A laser mounted the robot’s back constantly sends pulses to the poles to keep itself on the right track.

A self portrait? Credit: Disney

A self portrait? Credit: Disney

“The robot will be deployed at a public beach to amaze beachgoers who pass by. Not only the final picture is important, the whole drawing process will provide an exceptional, magical show,” the team wrote. “The BeachBot is not just a lifeless, mechanical being; it is a friendly looking creature with a soul.”

So if you design a robot that looks like a cute animal it suddenly has a soul? What if you just draw a smiley face on it? Nevermind.