Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Treasures of Spectacle Island

I was surprised by the amount of trash on Spectacle. Not old trash- the island was a landfill, and old trash is to be expected. The trash I was surprised by was new trash: empty beer cans, Doritos bags, half filled water bottles on the beach (and in the sanitary bins in the ladies room- really, ladies?). It’s the tragedy of the commons, compounded by the fact that the island was already a landfill. I guess it’s hard for people to understand why they can’t throw trash on trash. I know carry-in, carry-out is a standard National Park rule, but here I think it does more harm than good: people who would otherwise throw their trash in a trash can see no other option than to throw it on the beach. The usual deterrents (an eyesore in the middle of an otherwise pristine environment) are not so strong in a place where old trash is visible all over.

I actually found an item one student later picked up- the rock with a hole drilled into it- and discarded it in favor of a spark plug. I’m glad the rock made it to the table, though.

Our two “randomly chosen” transects (read: the spot where we found a giant crab leg, and the spot where we thought we wouldn’t have to count four hundred empty shells- so not quite random) were very different. The first was just above the highest wrack line (80’ above the water, which was close to low tide) and was full of empty shells: 230 empty periwinkle shells (most cracked, many with holes), almost as many empty slipper shells (200), fragments of blue mussel shells, several pieces of razor clam shells, 6 barnacles, and 7 tightly spiraled, ¼-½” shells (I believe they’re some kind of dogwinkle). There were also 2 crab legs that had been well picked over. They were larger than any crab we’ve seen so far- at the joint, one of the legs was about ¾” in diameter. I can’t really make an identification, but my guess would be they came from a blue crab. There was also a pincer from a much smaller crab.

The second transect was right at the water line (close to, if not on, the low tide line). We found 2 live mussels anchored to rocks along with sea lettuce, 1 live periwinkle, and 2 live common slipper snails. After a brief moment of hesitation (how can you look into their desperate little antennae and not hesitate?) I removed the slipper snails from this world. There were also 6 (already) empty ladyslipper shells. This transect had many fewer shells, but much more life, probably because it is (at least much of the time) actually submerged. The empty shells in the first transect were probably carried there by waves or high tide, or emptied there by their predators.

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