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Students Take Snapshot of the Health of Newport’s Back Bay

On Saturday July 18, 2015 Coastkeeper’s education staff partnered with the Back Bay Science Center to teach students from the University of Redlands and UC Irvine’s Summer Session High School Scholars program about the importance of Newport’s Back Bay and how human activity impacts the marine species that call it home. Students also participated in hands-on, scientific data collection while conducting a marine life inventory to take a snapshot of the health of Newport’s Back Bay

Students also participated in hands-on, scientific data collection while conducting a marine life inventory to take a snapshot of the health of Newport’s Back Bay

The day began at 8:30 a.m. with an in-class discussion about the history of the Back Bay given by science aides from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Next, the students were able to participate in a Marine Life Inventory, which is a handful of different measures that, when put together, give us a more holistic understanding of the health of the bay. We refer to our monthly Marine Life Inventories as taking a “snapshot” of the health of the bay because we are able to see how the marine life is doing at that exact moment and then compare it to data from past Marine Life Inventories.

Students learned how to do water quality testing, which includes measurements of air and water temperatures, dissolved oxygen, pH levels, salinity and turbidity.

Students also participated in a mud grab to help assess the health of the mud. First students gathered mud from the bottom of the bay and sifted through it to find out which kinds of species were living in it. They then took some of the found species inside to view under a microscope.

Next students went out on a boat and participated in a bottom trawl to survey invertebrates and fish that live on top of or in the mud in the middle of the bay. Because the bottom of the bay is soft and muddy, bottom trawling doesn’t hurt the habitat; instead, it just stirs it up a little before it settles back down. While on the boat they also did a plankton survey where they ran a very fine net through the water to catch and concentrate plankton to get a better look at the health of the bays microscopic plant and animal life.

Lastly, students participated in a beach seine (pronounced “sane”), which gathers information about plants and animals that live near the shore. To do this, a boat drops a net in a very shallow area, then the students haul it to shore and quickly count and gather the species they find in the net. After each of the activities, all of the organisms that are found are counted, measured, recorded and entered into a large database where marine researchers and educators can look at seasonal and long-term changes in fish and invertebrate abundance and/or water quality.

During Saturday’s Marine Life Inventory we found a variety of interesting plants and animals, but some that stood out to us were two California halibut, two juvenile barred sand bass, one juvenile yellow croaker, one juvenile needle nose gar fish, three navanax (or striped sea hares, a species of predatory sea slug) and over 100 brittle sea stars.

The brittle sea stars are especially interesting because they are an indicator species for the bay. This indicator species can generally survive only in very specific parameters of water quality. Brittle sea stars are very sensitive to pollution so finding such an abundance of them in the bay is a good sign.

Thank you to all our teachers and students that participated in our Marine Life Inventory and helped us monitor the quality of the Newport Bay waters.