Protecting and Restoring the Morro Bay Estuary.
Morro Bay National Estuary Program

Morro Bay Wildlife Spotlight: Balls of Spines (AKA Sea Urchins)

  Is it a ball? Is it a Pokémon? Nope, it’s a sea urchin! Sea urchins, even though common, are really cool! In Morro Bay, there are mainly two species, purple sea urchin and red sea urchin. The biggest difference between the two is their size and color. Red sea urchins can reach up to five inches in diameter whereas purple sea urchins reach only two inches in diameter. The most common species is the pacific purple sea urchin, also known as Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. Sea urchins use their spikes and poison as a defense mechanism. The poison is located at …

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Updates from the Field, December 2019: wildlife, staff changes, and restoration

Morro Bay estuary with bat ray pits, Morro Bay National Estuary Program

    Wildlife observations The fall is a great time for observing invertebrates along the mudflat in Morro Bay, and lucky for us, we are out monitoring eelgrass every fall. This often leaves us wondering, “What is this?!”, but sometimes we find the answers while monitoring eelgrass health. For example, we have been seeing a number of egg masses such as this one, tucked away on blades of eelgrass. Considering the diverse array of organisms that utilize eelgrass as habitat, we were left wondering which creature had been laying the eggs. Sometimes though, you wander along the right part of …

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Help Scientists See the Future: California King Tides Project 2020

windy cove king tide 2019

  What is the California King Tides Project? Scientists need you to be their eyes on the ocean between January 10–12 and February 8–9, 2020. On these dates, the California coast will experience the highest tides of the year, commonly called King Tides. These extreme tides often encroach on infrastructure, submerging coastal access stairways, swallowing beach-side trails, overwhelming boardwalks, surging into storm-drains, and flooding roads. They can also inundate coastal habitats that aren’t typically submerged, like higher marsh areas or even dune scrub. With the rate of sea level rise increasing worldwide, what we consider ultra-high tides today may be …

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Your Top Blog Posts of 2019

  During 2019, you tuned in to the Estuary Program blog to follow field work projects, to learn about local wildlife, to track the health of the bay, and to see how you can help the estuary and watershed. Today, we’re sharing the posts readers visited most often this year across these four categories. If you haven’t read them yet, now’s a great time to catch up! Top Field Work Post Field Updates February 2019: Wet weather, Eelgrass Restoration, and Creek Monitoring This post shares rainfall totals, details the process of sediment sampling and analysis that we use, and explains …

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How to be environmentally friendly during the holidays!

Whether you’ve been counting down the days with your festive sweaters or hiding in a cave under a box, hoping to avoid the hustle and bustle, the holidays have arrived. Since we know you care about the health of Morro Bay and beyond, we’re here to help you avoid the holiday season becoming a season of unintended wastefulness. That’s right, ’tis the season to get environmental! Here are some simple ways to be more eco-friendly this year. Gift giving Want to get something really cool for your loved ones? Try picking up presents locally. Look up local artists and craftspeople, or visit collective art galleries or holiday fairs, to get unique gifts for …

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Sea Clowning Around: Triopha maculata and Triopha catalinae, by Robin Agarwal

Triopha Maculata Sun Salutation, photographed in Santa Cruz, CA by Robin Agarwal

  Spotted Triopha or Triopha maculata One of the most charming creatures found along the Central California coast is the Spotted Triopha nudibranch (Triopha maculata). With its colorful body, white polka dots, and bushy “beard”—properly called papillae—on the edge of its oral veil, this engaging sea slug is one of the most common you’ll encounter year-round, either on a dive or during a casual inspection of tidepools at low tide.  Triopha maculata color variants The only minor difficulty is realizing that you’re looking at one. Spotted Triophas come in at least two color variants that caused even veteran scientists to …

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Field Updates November 2019: Eelgrass, wildlife sightings, weather

    November was a busy month for our field staff. Mapping eelgrass and algae The Estuary Program has been mapping submerged vegetation, such as eelgrass and algae, for more than fifteen years. This is done by having a plane fly over the bay taking a series of images, including a multispectral image. We try to repeat this survey about every other year, with 2019 being an eelgrass flight year. Multispectral imagery Multispectral imagery is produced by sensors that measure the reflected energy within several bands of the electromagnetic signature, usually capturing light not visible to our eyes. You can …

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Exploring Abundance and Balance in the Morro Bay Estuary with Sea Otters, Whale Falls, and Bait Balls

  We are grateful for the many people—volunteers, supporters, partners, lovers of the bay and the wild lands that surround it—who make the health of the Morro Bay estuary a priority. We are grateful for the slopes of the Morros that send freshwater running down the creeks, carrying detritus to feed the bugs, bringing bugs to the fish, and tempering the salty bite of the incoming tide when the waters mix inside the bay. If the video above doesn’t load, click here to watch a timelapse of a twelve-hour tide cycle in Morro Bay. We are grateful for the push …

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Help Scientists Track the Dwindling Population of Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterflies cluster on eucalyptus leaves in Sweet Springs Nature Preserve. Photograph courtesy of Michael "Mike" L. Baird, bairdphotos.com by Flickr Creative Commons license.

  Monarchs come to the Central California Coast when cool weather hits Starting in October, monarch butterflies fill the branches of eucalyptus, Monterey pines, and other trees along California’s Central Coast. They cluster together high above the ground, looking much like bunches of dead leaves unless you use a spotting scope to take a closer look, or catch a flash of their black and orange wings as a butterfly moves away from its cluster to a sunny spot where it will open its wings and take in the sun’s warmth. Monarch butterflies come here to ride out the winter in …

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A Sea Slug by Any Other Name, Guest Post by Robin Agarwal

Acanthodoris lutea nudibranch smells like citrus or cedar

This is the fifth post in our Sea Slug of the Month series by guest author, Robin Agarwal. A Sea Slug by Any Other Name: One Grossly Derivative Title Covering Three Random Thoughts About Scented Sea Slugs, Hopkins’s Rose, and the Ongoing Bother About Names “that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet” —Juliet in Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare Although she was not particularly noted for her tidepool explorations, Juliet may have been surprised to discover that three of the nudibranchs (shell-less marine molluscs) living along the Central California Coast actually emit scents …

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