And found in southeastern Alaska
Hope is a good thing.
I'm not one to panic over changes in the environment, having lived long enough to see plenty of natural ebb and flow in my own lifetime, let alone over longer time spans. But we'd be foolish not to consider mass die-offs as possible warnings, and ask, "Why?" My husband watched the marine life along the Connecticut Shore go from vibrant and delicious in his childhood to sickly and inedible. But as pollution levels dropped significantly, there's been a comeback. We're eating everything but the bivalves now, and I have hope that someday we will once again be digging our own clams for something besides bait.
Nature, like the human body, can do a fantastic job of recovering from a bad situation -- if we give it a chance.
All that to say -- thanks for a ray of hope in an increasingly irrational world.
Here’s hope! I live on Whidbey Island and last summer I was in a little skiff with my grandchildren checking crab pots on the Saratoga Passage when we decided to circle a huge erratic exposed by low tides. It was covered, I mean dripping, with thousands and thousands of sea stars! All colors and all sizes from the size of dimes to full grown!
My friend noted that there had been few, if any, in years past. Nature’s resiliency manifested!
Wish I could share pictures of the rock. Having lived all my life near the ocean it was one of the most incredible sights I have seen!
Heather, Your writing is beautiful, almost poetic, yet the point gets made every time. Thank you for sharing insights that I always find surprising with us all.
Sounds very strange, that related but not identical species display a similar vulnerability to what is probably a single organism. Has the Salish Sea seen an increase in traffic, shipping or fishing that might account for this change?
Hi Heather! I just wanted to tell you that today I listened to your last podcast where you mentioned "stories" and it is so interesting, because I was asked to give a short speech to graduating students, and my speech was very much inspired by what I learned from you and one of the things I talked about were "stories". This is a short excerpt of what I said,
The pursuit of publishable results led to disintegration of complex systems into manageable units of study and search for causal relationships between these small parts. And turns out we are very good at finding these connections!
When I was in graduate school, one of the best Professors taught us that when we give a talk (and I gave the same advice until recently) we have “to tell the audience what we will tell them, tell them, and then tell them again what we have told them.” In other words: we need to tell a coherent story. Prima facie it makes perfect sense. We must put things in order to explain them and to make predictions. Evolution programmed us to be great story tellers, but that survival skill came with a tradeoff: we are more likely to see cause and effect relationships and patterns where there may be none. And the p value may not save you from that! Trying to explain the forest (a complex system) by studying individual trees we may underestimate the power of interactions, emergent properties and give undue explanatory power to a single factor: a gene, a molecule, a cell.
“To comprehend complex problems, humans like to take a subject apart, dismantle life with increasing finesse. Life in a reductionist valley is comfortable. It is safe to empirically explore. But like any comfort zone, it is limiting. Residency in the reductionist valley is one of the biggest problems facing modern science.”
But modern science is not the only victim of the reductionist, simplified approach to complex problems. Lured by the comfort and safety of familiar narratives, i.e. “stories”, I think that we as citizens have also grown to fear more complex and more nuanced truth.
Information is so abundant, and it is too difficult to parse truth from falsehood - so we let others do that for us. Parsed and delivered in easily digestible snippets by familiar faces over and over again, stories we hear or read can become our truth not because it is indeed true, but because we heard it repeated so many times.
These stories induce and maintain an illusion of understanding. The antidote is to be skeptical of simple explanations and narratives they make.
And some are skeptical. But many are afraid to ask questions, to embark on their own research, to make one`s own decisions for fear of being ostracized/cancelled..."
Thank you for a hopeful piece. 😊
Good to know that they are making a comeback. When I cruised the south of Alaska 7 years ago, there was a lengthy article in a small town newpaper about finding excessive amounts of dead mammals washing up on the shores of the bay. Otters, beavers etc.... It was concerning and yet there was no explanation.
Nice reprise of a nice image. Well done.
And I'm glad you got to see them.
I feel like there was (and continues to be) good reporting on the Salish Sea stars thanks to The SeaDoc Society. Local, real-time, popular science with respected character.
Nice writing. Thank you for this post. I was a tide pool docent in Laguna Beach during this sea star die off. I watched it first hand. I asked marine biologists, who also led tide pool tours, if something about the biology of the sea stars perhaps made them more susceptible to Fukushima disaster radiation. After all, there is a current that runs around the Pacific Ocean passing by Japan and the US Pacific coast. Could the disaster's radiation be a contributing factor to their demise? These biologists would not even consider a possible link and their reaction always surprised me. But the timing of the die off and Fukushima was always curious to me.
Sorry my comment is so long! And thank you again for the inspiration and wisdom!
“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.
One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"
The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."
"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.
To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."
Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"
At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said,
"It made a difference for that one.”
Beautiful, thank you!
"If they had the consciousness to consider it, our bilateral symmetry—two halves dividing us neatly into left and right—would probably seem exotic to them."
The consciousness to consider it. Hmmmmmmmm. Begs the hard question for me. Would be cool if Brett had Donald Hoffman on the DarkHorse. :-)