Quinault’s intertidal survey builds valuable data

Quinault Indian Nation fisheries staff surveyed beaches near the Big and Little Hogsback volcanic formations in July to help track changes to intertidal habitat and species composition across decades.

The intertidal survey is a yearly effort to give the tribe and partners a window into how populations of mussels, sea stars and other intertidal species are faring over both short- and long-term periods.

“It’s a great tool to monitor for climate change,” said Scott Mazzone, Quinault marine fish and shellfish biologist, who led staff members on this year’s survey.

The project, which began in 2011, follows a protocol created by scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, to monitor a declining population of black abalone. The effort led to the formation of the Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network (MARINE), which includes many agencies that share monitoring data.

The protocol calls for participating agencies to drive bolts into rocks near certain populations in intertidal areas, such as barnacles, mussels or other species of interest. Each year, staffers follow an established map to the bolts’ locations and photograph the nearby populations of interest, allowing them to monitor those populations closely.

“Are the populations getting bigger? Are they getting smaller? Are they getting new critters? Over 10 or 20 years, you can see trends over time,” Mazzone said.

The tribe’s participation in the effort already revealed the presence of sea-star wasting disease, which may not have been identified using other methods.

“Once we went back and looked at the data, there was a definite decline in the number of individuals,” Mazzone said.

The effort will be a crucial tool in the tribe’s efforts to document and mitigate the effects of climate change.

“One of the things we’ll watch for is sea level rise. If there is a rise, we’ll see barnacles and mussels move higher up the rocks,” Mazzone said. “If the water warms, we’ll see species we usually see in California move up here. If the ocean becomes acidic, we’ll see fewer mussels and barnacles; their shells will be eroded.”

The effort also led to a biodiversity study of the area conducted by UC Santa Cruz scientists, which will be an important snapshot to refer back to in the future. The plan is to repeat this comprehensive survey every four to five years.

Mazzone said the survey wouldn’t be possible without the vigorous support of the tribe and the hard work put in by the fisheries technical staff.

“Those guys are absolutely amazing,” he said. “I appreciate their enthusiasm and effort.”

Scott Mazzone, right, marine fish and shellfish biologist for Quinault Indian Nation, oversees staff members conducting an intertidal survey. Photo and story: Trevor Pyle