In all his years he worked in Bodega Bay, the research coordinator of the marine reserve Jackie Sones he had never seen anything like it: dozens of dead mussels on the rocks, their shells wide open and burned, their meat well cooked.
A record heat wave in June resulted in the largest extinction of mussels in at least 15 years in Bodega Head, a small promontory in the bay of northern California. And Sones has received reports from other researchers of similar deaths of mass mussels at various beaches across approximately 140 miles of coastline.
While the people who flocked to the Pacific to enjoy a rare 80F day at the beach immersed themselves in the sun, as well as the mussel beds – where the rocky molluscs could experience temperatures above 100F at low tide, literally roasting in their shells .
Sones expects the death to hit the rest of the ecosystem of the sea. "Mussels are known as a species of foundation. The equivalent are trees in a forest – they provide refuge and habitat for many animals, so when you hit the main habitat it ripples through the rest of the system," he said. stated Sones.
"I expect this to have had an impact on the entire region, it's just that you should have people out there to document it to know," Sones said.
Years of ocean health research have focused on increasing the temperature of water and the effects of acidification on marine life. Kelp and corals suffer in warmer waters, starfish melt and crustaceans break.
But there is less data on the impact of this type of unique extreme weather events in the coastal open air. The marine ecologist Northeastern University, Brian Helmuth, designed a robotic mussel capable of measuring and recording temperatures as the animal experiences them.
"We no longer think about climate change in the future when we do this kind of forecasting work," said Helmuth BayNature. "It's how you prepare yourself now."
British Columbia University biologist Christopher Harley documented mussels being cooked at Bodega Head in 2004, but he and Sones believe this was probably bigger.
"These events are becoming significantly more frequent and more serious," said Harley, citing the decline in mussel beds along the west coast, up to British Columbia. "Mussels are one of the canaries in the coal mine for climate change, only this canary provides food and habitat for hundreds of other species."