Citizen Scientists Celebrate First Ever Nahant Bioblitz

(Cross-posted from Ocean Genome Legacy news)

On Sunday, September 20, Ocean Genome Legacy (OGL) and Nahant S.W.I.M. Inc. (Safer Waters in Massachusetts) rallied local citizen scientists to explore and protect their beaches at the first Nahant Bioblitz, an exciting “scavenger hunt” for marine biodiversity.

Our 58 participants and 17 volunteers explored five beaches, recorded 41 datasheets, and documented 203 observations of marine life. Citizen scientists like these Bioblitzers help us understand how biodiversity changes over time: If marine species appear on or disappear from a beach, it could disrupt the ecosystem and harm fishing, swimming, and recreation.

We invite you to explore the Bioblitz and discover other amazing ocean projects at the Marine Science Center Open House on Saturday, October 3!

Nahant Bioblitz participants join NU marine scientists examining marine species at Canoe Beach.
Nahant Bioblitzers and Northeastern University marine scientists examined marine species at Canoe Beach.
Calling All Beachkeepers!

OGL and Nahant S.W.I.M. Inc. hosted Bioblitzers of all ages from at least seven cities and towns. Carrying buckets, bags, and collection tubes, the citizen scientists searched shorelines, rocks, caves, and tidepools across Nahant to document every marine species they could find. They also gathered trash that will be transformed into artwork by students in the Vollmer Lab at the Marine Science Center (MSC).

Here’s what some of our Bioblitzers discovered: On pebbly Forty Steps Beach, Elena Nichols, grade four, spotted barnacles, and her brother Zachary, grade six, caught a delicate shrimp-like amphipod. Julie, Anna, and Chiafung Schuemann found squid eggs and hermit crabs on the sandy shores of Short Beach, where they were joined by Nahant Harbormaster Robert Tibbo and his wife, Meredith, a science teacher at Nahant’s Johnson School. The Zagnoli family’s three-generation team, the “Butterfly Squad,” gathered algae and orange sea squirts from the rocky walls of Swallow Cave.

The Bioblitz team representing Girls Inc. of Lynn and Part of the Solution explores Canoe Beach.
The Bioblitz team representing Girls Inc. of Lynn explored Canoe Beach.
Surprise Salps

Our Bioblitzers’ most unexpected finding was thousands of salps, harmless marble-sized invertebrates that look like gelatinous blobs. These jet-propelled plankton-eaters can grow in long chains and reproduce quickly, forming a “bloom.” Although salps resemble sea jellies, they’re more closely related to vertebrate animals like us. Marine scientists are exploring why so many salps suddenly appeared along the Massachusetts coast last week.

Some possibilities may be an overabundance of the salps’ food source– plant-like microbes called phytoplankton –or changes in water temperature. During a New England salp bloom in October 2006, scientists suspected that the salps arrived by warm water masses that spun off from the Gulf Stream. It’s critical for scientists and citizens to document these events so we can track how our beaches are changing and plan for their future.

Salps (most likely Thalia democratica; close-up at left) arrived in huge numbers in Nahant’s waters this weekend.
Salps (most likely Thalia democratica; close up at left) arrived by the thousands in Nahant’s waters.
Learning and Inspiration

After two hours at the beach, Bioblitzers gathered at the Marine Science Center to identify and record their marine life. With the help of Northeastern University volunteers, participants learned the common and scientific names of their specimens, examined them under microscopes, and showed off their favorites at the touch tanks. Bioblitzers also visited the OGL station, where they used a replica of the “OGL in a Box” kit to simulate preserving DNA.

Bioblitzers investigate the specimen identification station at the MSC.
Bioblitzers investigated the specimen identification station at the MSC.

Our Bioblitzers took home lots of smiles and fun facts from this educational and inspiring day. The first ever Nahant Bioblitz not only fueled the dreams of young marine biologists, but also established an important benchmark for future biodiversity studies. Disturbances such as climate change and invasive species can happen very gradually, so Bioblitzers might be some of the first people to notice changes!

The Nahant Bioblitz findings, photos, and marine debris art will be showcased at the MSC Open House on Saturday, October 3rd. All are welcome at this free event, and we hope you’ll visit OGL to discover biodiversity firsthand!

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