Op-ed series puts SF State marine science in the spotlight

Underwater photograph of a purple and green anemone in sand

The aggregating anemone (Anthopleura elegantissima) is at risk in warming waters. (Photo by Dan Hossfeld)

EOS Center researchers write in the SF Examiner about their work on sea stars, whales and more

This story originally appeared on the University’s Bold Thinkers blog, which ran from May 2018 to Nov. 2019.

At the Estuary and Ocean Science (EOS) Center in Tiburon, San Francisco State University faculty and students tackle the toughest issues facing the Bay, from toxic algae blooms to whales tangled in fishing gear. Now EOS researchers are bringing this science to the public through an ongoing series in the San Francisco Examiner.

“Communicating to the public what we do as scientists is an important responsibility,” said Research Professor of Biology William Cochlan, who organized the series. It’s “a perfect opportunity for us to share with the public what we do in the SF Bay area, and how the discoveries we make at the EOS Center may affect them and their environment.”

A pistol shrimp on a black background, showing its large snapping claw

Claw-snapping pistol shrimp respond to environmental conditions by changing the rate of their snaps. (Photo by Eric Sanford)

The threat of global climate change drives much of the work at the EOS Center, where researchers are exploring the impact of warming water on animals as small as sea anemones and as big as whales. Professor of Geography and Environment Ellen Hines and two recent graduates of her lab, Kaytlin Ingman (M.S. ‘18) and Karen Backe (M.S. ‘17), wrote in April about how rising ocean temperatures are changing the timing of annual plankton blooms, in turn shifting the migration patterns of humpback whales that come to San Francisco Bay to feed on them. Their article detailed how whale entanglements with crab fishing gear have skyrocketed since 2014 and why warmer waters are to blame.

Recent graduate Daniel Hossfeld (M.S. ‘19) then took readers into the small but vibrant world of tidepools, explaining his research on how increasingly frequent and severe heat waves may threaten the aggregating anemone (Anthopleura elegantissima). Like corals, these “elegant and colorful masses of tentacles,” as Hossfeld described them, have a symbiotic partnership with algae. “And, like coral, anemones can lose this valuable relationship when conditions worse,” Hossfeld wrote. The process, known as bleaching, puts these fascinating creatures in jeopardy.

Sea star wasting disease takes center stage in the article written by Professor of Biology Sarah Cohen and two of her graduate students, Jeyna Perez and Noah Jaffe. This disease represents one of the largest marine epidemics ever recorded, and the causes are still unknown. “Our research lab didn’t start out planning to study an environmental disaster, but that’s where we’ve found ourselves,” they wrote. They described the work their lab is doing to understand what factors determine which stars die and which survive.

A student kneeling in a salt marsh at low tide, measuring a California sea blite plant

Graduate student Kelly Santos measures the growth of California sea blite, an endangered marsh plant. (Photo by Melissa Patten)

Finding solutions to these varied threats facing our marine ecosystems is a high priority at the EOS Center, and environmental monitoring and restoration are critical tools in this process. Kelly Santos, a graduate student in Professor of Biology Katharyn Boyer’s lab, wrote about her efforts to show how reintroducing a highly endangered salt marsh plant can give small marsh animals more refuge as sea levels rise. Cochlan also penned an article discussing his lab’s efforts to predict blooms of toxic algae by tracking water clarity and other environmental conditions in the Bay.

Seven articles have been published in the Examiner so far, featuring five EOS Center labs and eleven researchers. Other topics include hitchhiking plankton and the secrets of snapping shrimp. Follow the San Francisco Examiner’s series to learn about more research at the center over the coming months.