Drawing Connections: Cabrillo National Monument

Drawing Connections: Cabrillo National Monument


Can you remember a time when you had to take
a really difficult test? If you did well, it’s probably because you
took excellent notes in class, set aside plenty of time to review the material, and maybe
even joined a study group. Then again—sometimes—we can buckle under
stress when it’s difficult to know exactly what to review or even find the time to do so. Our experience in the classroom teaches us that
good preparation makes all the difference on test day. The Rocky Intertidal Zone at Cabrillo National
Monument is one of the most extreme ecosystems on Earth, where plants and animals are tested
every day. From the crashing waves on the shore at high tide,
to the intense wind and sun when the water recedes, this is an environment characterized by stress. If anything is to survive the daily strain
of life along the waterline, preparation is essential. Over time, the inhabitants of the Rocky Intertidal Zone have developed tools and strategies for success. In much the same way our bodies form bones
and teeth, many of these creatures use calcium and carbonate to form protective structures. Some hunker down behind shells and coverings
as a stronghold against the elements. Others use claws and spines to help ward off
the threat of predators. For many animals living along the coast, the
availability of carbonate is absolutely necessary for survival. Today, ocean temperatures and pH levels are affected by increasing atmospheric concentrations of
carbon dioxide. Excess CO2 in the atmosphere drives ocean temperatures higher, and as this excess carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, makes it increasingly acidic. As this occurs, calcium carbonate becomes
harder to develop and less available to the marine life that needs it. So—for the inhabitants of the Rocky Intertidal
Zone—climate change is a high-stakes test. The warming and acidification of ocean water
can stress marine wildlife and harm the ability of sea creatures to create and maintain
protective shells. Furthermore, these changes can make it more
difficult for organisms to sense danger, locate good habitat, or otherwise adapt to the already
stressful conditions on the edge of land and sea. And in some instances, these changes could
be happening at a rate faster than animals are able to prepare. Projections tell us that some marine life
may pass this difficult test, but others could fail. Fortunately, projections are not necessarily
predictions. Our efforts to monitor ocean acidification
at places like Cabrillo National Monument can help. Collecting data now and studying the impacts
of climate change to the ecosystem provides insight into how we might intervene to turn
the tide. Science can help guide the actions we take
both now and in the future to help preserve our wildlife along the coast. So the question remains: how can we best help the inhabitants of the Rocky intertidal zone—and ourselves— prepare for and pass the high-stakes
test of climate change? Can you picture it?

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