After 3 years of spring mostly in the tropics – where you either have the long season of the short rains, or the short season of the long rains – the magic of this spring is amplified for us. The novelty of winter never quite wore off, and spring feels like it has come too fast, but the signs of spring are clear. The kelp is growing at a very rapid pace. Fishermen have come out of hibernation and lines are forming at the GearShed cashier (our local ship chandler and sporting specialists). The shorebirds are arriving just in time for the shorebird festival. And last week we discovered a whole new way to witness the arrival of spring – Plankton! The Kachemak Bay Research Reserve (KBRR) held an algae workshop. It’s one of those citizen science efforts that gets us very excited. We had a full family day of phytoplankton sampling training last Friday, under the expert tutelage of Catie Bursch, KBRR Marine Educator and via phone Jeff Patternoster with NOAA’s Phytoplankton Monitoring Network. Our training included a visit to Homer Harbor to do a plankton tow, and an afternoon in the lab, where we learned to identify the very organisms that feed our oysters (and yes sometimes wreak havoc with their edibility).
It’s fascinating that only weeks ago we could clearly see the sea floor under our docks, the water was a crystal clear lense, like a polynesian lagoon. Now, with just a little bit more sunlight (~10 minutes more each day right now), and a 2-3 degree increase in water temperature, and look what’s floating beneath our very feet! A delicious oyster buffet of diatoms and dinoflagellates. We’re excited to see the feed has arrived! Soup’s on! Our little mollusks will come out of their dormant state to feast on this breakfast of champions and grow to fill our plates and yours. But ours is not just the joy of farmers seeing a payoff of extremely hard work in the not too distant future, but this soupy green nutritious mix is breathtakingly beautiful under the microscope. We are all thoroughly and completely captivated. And we’ll be checking frequently now that we know how, keeping a sharp eye out for the evil Alexandrium – the oysters don’t seem to mind it, but it’s the nasty bugger that can cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) in humans. We test for PSP weekly in the summer, monthly in the winter, and now we’ll be watching for its main perpetrator too.