Check out our new paper published online at BioInvasions Records (link here) about a strange benthic algae bloom in the Midriff Islands (most notably at Isla San Esteban). The short story goes like this: in 2009, several of us from the Gulf of California Marine Program (GCMP) noticed a strange alga covering the reefs of Isla San Esteban. It was everywhere from just below the crashing waves at the edge of shore to at least 20 meters deep. A few of us took some samples and quantitatively photographed the bloom in order to document this strange occurrence. In 2010 when we returned, the bloom was even thicker, and we noticed patches of the same alga at Isla Salsipuedes and Isla Animas, also in the Midriff Islands. Again, we took samples and photographed the reef. Back in the lab, we analyzed our photos and confirmed that the alga had spread, and we imaged the samples under a Scanning Electron Microscope in order to identify the spreading alga as a benthic diatom called Biddulphia biddulphiana, a species who’s native range is difficult to determine because it has a pelagic life stage that can easily be transported by the shipping industry. Interestingly, when other researchers returned in 2011, the bloom was completely gone. There were no signs of this previously spreading species!
We do not really understand what environmental processes might have promoted the huge bloom and subsequent decline of this species, and we are not even sure whether or not it is native to the Gulf of California or to the Midriff Islands, but there is one thing that we are sure of: without natural history expeditions, scientists and resource managers might miss all kinds of interesting things that are happening in nature. Between August 2008 and November 2010, researchers from GCMP led four long expeditions to observe, document, and learn about the natural history in this wonderful sea. Other groups led expeditions as well, some of which allowed GCMP researchers to participate. 2008 was highlighted by an expedition to study the deep reefs and seamounts in the Gulf; 2009 included a five week monitoring and exploration cruise around the Gulf; and 2010 was a year in which we did two big expeditions, one around the Gulf and one to the Islas Marias, a well-protected archipelago (and home to one of the few remaining penal colonies in the world) in the extreme southeast Gulf that had not been officially visited by marine scientists in several decades! Each of these expeditions was filled with interesting discoveries, some of which we have already published (including the benthic diatom) and some of which we are still preparing. Stay tuned for more interesting natural history! Without these natural history efforts, managing and conserving our Gulf of California resources would be that much more difficult. Please keep supporting GCMP, and keep supporting natural history exploration!
Author: Grant Galland is a graduate student researcher of marine biology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego. Grant studies marine resource conservation, ocean change biology, and reef fish ecology. His current dissertation research focuses on changes to shallow, rocky reefs in the Gulf, with respect to human activities and their interactions with natural oceanographic processes.