Sea Star Hatchlings


Burt’s photo from Feiro Marine Life Cen­ter (Six-rayed Sea Star, Lep­tas­te­rias hexactis)

Thanks, Burt (Kalaloch North and Kalaloch South) for shar­ing the photo of sea star “babies” at the Feiro Marine Life Cen­ter thanks also to Jody and Janis for their in-situ pho­tos from Ruby Beach (part of Olympic National Park). With both of these hit­ting our inbox at the same time, we won­dered, is this just coin­ci­dence? When do sea stars repro­duce in our coastal waters?

Janis and Jody’s photo from Ruby Beach (5-armed: Pur­ple Star, Leather Star, etc — check them out here:

Sea Stars are part of the Phy­lum Echin­o­der­mata (lit­er­ally ”spiny-skinned” in Greek). Male and female sea stars (like Com­mon Mur­res, only THEY can tell the dif­fer­ence) release sperm and eggs directly into the water col­umn (April-July). The result­ing embryos become free-swimming lar­vae, and after sev­eral months meta­mor­phose and set­tle on sub­strate as tiny ver­sions of the sea stars we rec­og­nize. The sea stars in Burt and Jody and Janis’ pho­tos are set­tled plank­ton from last summer.

And why do we care? Why are sea stars so impor­tant? Well, we need not look far! Just knock on Dr. Bob Paine’s door, Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton Biol­ogy Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus. It’s through years of research on Tatoosh Island that Dr. Paine devel­oped the key­stone species hypoth­e­sis, a land­mark hypoth­e­sis in ecol­ogy and con­ser­va­tion that describes the impor­tance of (and result­ing impact from) preda­tor removal to all other species in an eco­log­i­cal com­mu­nity.  So while small, we’re well-served to pay atten­tion to these stars, now and in the future.

Learn more about Dr. Paine’s research, includ­ing what he sees as the most press­ing ques­tions to be answered by future gen­er­a­tions in his inter­view with Hillary, when she was a UW grad­u­ate student.

Adventures in Marine Debris

This win­ter, COASST marine debris stu­dent interns embarked on sev­eral field trips across Wash­ing­ton to develop and refine a pre­lim­i­nary pro­to­col for the new marine debris pro­gram. Interns this quar­ter included a photo team, Abby and Jes­sica, and a field team, Ange­line and Kaili.

Reports from the field:

A total of 14 beaches so far, from Decep­tion Pass to Ocean Shores! Dis­cov­ery Park was our first stop, to trial the small debris sur­vey meth­ods — lots of beach glass at both this site and Alki Beach.

 Interns Kaili and Abby survey for small marine debris at Discovery Park

Kaili (left) and Abby (right) use a 1 meter quadrat (i.e. square) to define the search area for small marine debris at Dis­cov­ery Park (Seattle).

Together with ser­vice learn­ing stu­dents Christie and Yi, we vis­ited Whid­bey Island beaches Ala spit, Penn Cove, Joseph Whid­bey State Park, Fort Casey, and Use­less Bay. The phys­i­cal dif­fer­ences between these five sites was quite sur­pris­ing (sub­strate, wood, wrack, bluff, dunes, expo­sure) given they’re all within a few kilo­me­ters of each other. Spe­cial thanks to COASSTers David and Can­dace, who ori­ented us to their beaches and shared some (much needed) chocolate!

Service learning student Christie paces the width of the beach.

Christie paces the width of the beach on a medium debris tran­sect at Penn Cove (Whidey Island).

From the Puget Sound, we ven­tured to Ocean Shores to check out North Jetty and South Tau­rus beaches. Super wide, sandy beaches made the marine debris sur­veys much slower than those in Puget Sound.

The fol­low­ing week we returned to Ocean Shores to sur­vey Damon Point and North Jetty to see if debris had shifted/accumulated/changed. We also vis­ited the annual Beach­combers’ Fun Fair where we saw Heidi (COASST staff), and other marine debris enthu­si­asts, Cur­tis Ebbesmeyer and Alan Ram­mer. The col­lec­tions and dis­plays at the fes­ti­val (that’s right, 44 exhibit cat­e­gories, includ­ing “assem­bled unadorned pieces of drift­wood”) helped us iden­tify many objects we’ve been see­ing in COASSTer pho­tos and on our beach surveys!

Out at Damon Point, we almost lost our small debris sur­vey­ors (and equip­ment!) to a rogue wave. For the rest of the trip, we trekked all the way around the perime­ter of Damon Point look­ing for par­tic­u­larly complex/interesting items to add to our marine debris teach­ing col­lec­tion. Where did we find the most stuff? At the very tip! (fingers/points/spits tend to snag debris and birds — just ask the folks at Ediz Hook or Dun­ge­ness Spit).

Dur­ing spring and sum­mer quar­ters, we’ll con­tinue to test and refine the marine debris mon­i­tor­ing pro­to­col, get­ting it ready for Prime Time!

Angeline, Abby and Kaili enjoy the view at South Jetty after a long day of marine debris monitoring.

Ange­line, Abby and Kaili (left to right) cel­e­brate on the north­ern edge of Gray Har­bor (Ocean Shores) after a long winter’s day of marine debris mon­i­tor­ing (shoes not required).

Using marine debris photos

Karen (left), Abby (middle), and COASST Data Verifier Charlie (far right), assess marine debris objects during a survey refinement session where we asked the question: do Karen, Abby and Charlie agree on the characteristics of each object?

Stu­dents Karen (left), Abby (mid­dle), and COASST staff mem­ber Char­lie (right), assess marine debris objects dur­ing a sur­vey refine­ment ses­sion where we asked the ques­tion: do Karen, Abby and Char­lie agree on the char­ac­ter­is­tics of each object?

Thanks to a recent award from the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion Advanc­ing Infor­mal STEM Learn­ing (AISL), COASST is expand­ing to mon­i­tor marine debris. Since Decem­ber, we’ve assem­bled a team of stu­dent interns and staff ded­i­cated to devel­op­ing this new pro­gram lead by Marine Debris Pro­gram Coor­di­na­tor Hillary Burgess. What have they been up to? Cre­at­ing a sci­en­tific pro­to­col for mon­i­tor­ing debris that col­lects infor­ma­tion use­ful to the resource man­age­ment com­mu­nity AND is do-able by COASSTers.

Like the beached bird pro­gram, marine debris COASSTers will doc­u­ment basic beach and human use data (wood, wrack, humans, dogs and vehi­cles) and for this pro­gram, the quan­tity and char­ac­ter­is­tics of debris objects. These data link to how harm­ful debris are to wildlife and wildlife habi­tat, where debris comes from (some obvi­ous, some we haven’t thought much about), and the path debris take to get to the beach.

Thanks to the ded­i­cated effort of hun­dreds COASSTers, the marine debris team hit the ground run­ning and began ana­lyz­ing a data­base of over 6,000 marine debris pho­tos from about 200 beach sites in the Pacific North­west and Alaska. Photo team interns Jes­sica and Abby are inde­pen­dently assign­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics to debris objects — so far, they’ve reviewed nearly 900 pho­tos! Paus­ing along the way to com­pare results, ana­lyze sources of dis­agree­ment, and make adjust­ments accord­ingly, these pho­tos have been extremely valu­able in the cre­ation of the new survey.

Beyond pho­tos, we’ve also launched an expert panel to help deter­mine which types of char­ac­ter­is­tics should be included: bite marks? color? weath­ered? Although it may sound fairly straight­for­ward, marine debris comes in a seem­ingly infi­nite array of shapes, hues, mate­ri­als, and sizes — deal­ing with the chal­leng­ing vari­abil­ity has led to many hours of debate and discussion.

And lengthy dis­cus­sion does some­times lead to more light­hearted moments and philo­soph­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tion of debris. For instance, is the object a loop? Some objects have very small holes; other objects are rope/line tan­gled into a mas­sive ball of loops. And why do we care? Loops can be super dan­ger­ous to marine organ­isms, caus­ing entan­gle­ment and stran­gling, a threat espe­cially well doc­u­mented in North­ern Fur Seal pups. All this talk prompted Hillary to look up the actual def­i­n­i­tion of a loop online. We pon­dered: if the end is con­nected to the begin­ning, what is the begin­ning or the end?

Stay tuned for more updates from Hillary and marine debris pro­gram stu­dents — we’re rapidly mak­ing progress toward the 2015 launch of marine debris surveys!

What’s Washed In — March 10

MdRvr 2014 0301 931 BRCOb

Sara and Peter at Mad River South (CA) just found this last week.  Let’s take a look at the feet. Webbed, com­pletely webbed, four webbed toes: Pouch­bills. Since the bill is less than 10 cm and the wing chord is less than 35 cm, we know we are look­ing at a Cor­morant.  If we take a closer look at the wings, we’ll notice that the outer pri­maries cut out on the lead­ing edge.  We can tell this is a Brandt’s Cor­morant because the bill is dark and the chin feath­ers are tan (Pelagic Cor­morant, Double-crested Cor­morant, or Red-faced Cormorant).


GrifPrdy20140301_601c_blkiGrifPrdy20140301_601b_blki Time for some wing prac­tice! Take a look at these great pho­tos from Terry and Carl at Griffith’s Pri­day State Park on the South Coast of Wash­ing­ton.

Here we have gray upper­wings with con­trast­ing dark tips. Using either wing key (Alaska, West Coast), we check the upper­wing for stripes — nope.  Next, we turn to the pri­mary feath­ers, notic­ing that some have white fin­ger­nails, but no win­dows (large white spots, not at feather tip). The inner pri­mary plumage is gray, not white-tipped (Red-legged Kit­ti­wakes — Alaska guide).  With a wing-chord of 30 cm, this is a Black-legged Kittiwake.

Using the West Coast wing table, the 30 cm wing chord puts us in the “large” row. Our col­umn is “gray man­tle with white lin­ings and black tips” —  either a Black-legged Kit­ti­wake or a Red-legged Kit­ti­wake. Under­side of pri­maries is more pale than the man­tle  - this is a Black-legged Kittiwake.



Tom found this Gray Whale skull on his first COASST sur­vey at Steam­boat Creek in Wash­ing­ton (beginner’s luck!). After check­ing in with col­leagues at Cas­ca­dia Research Col­lec­tive (thanks Jessie!), it’s likely be an adult gray whale (orig­i­nally 12m!), ini­tially found in 1991.


Here’s a crab buoy found by Joanna on Ore­gon Mile 309, cov­ered or “bio­fouled” with mus­sels, bar­na­cles, sponges, and algae. Did you know? It takes free swim­ming bar­na­cle lar­vae (cyprids, more than 6 months old) a few hours-to-two weeks to set­tle onto nat­ural or man-made surfaces.  

New Footprints — Rosalind Huang


Ros­alind shows off an Dolly Var­den (Salveli­nus alpi­nus — some­times referred to as Char, Arc­tic Char or Bull Trout) from Alaska.

Ever won­der what paths past COASST interns take after their time with COASST? This week, we asked Ros­alind, a Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton grad­u­ate, what adven­tures she has taken on since intern­ing for COASST.

As Rosalind’s COASST intern­ship came to an end, Ros­alind decided to mix things up and accepted an intern­ship with Wash­ing­ton Sea Grant. Ros­alind found her intern­ship with Wash­ing­ton Sea Grant to be “a totally dif­fer­ent type of intern­ship” com­pared to COASST. Dur­ing this intern­ship, Ros­alind was respon­si­ble for orga­niz­ing pub­li­ca­tions and con­duct­ing library searches. When asked how this expe­ri­ence influ­enced her career in the envi­ron­men­tal field, Ros­alind told COASST, “the expe­ri­ence helped tremen­dously later on for [her] own research.”

While talk­ing with Ros­alind, she empha­sized the impor­tance of hav­ing con­nec­tions and the courage to speak with dif­fer­ent peo­ple about var­i­ous open oppor­tu­ni­ties that one could apply for. She gave an exam­ple of a time when she once asked our very own Seabird Pro­gram Coor­di­na­tor, Jane Dol­liver, if she knew any­one in Tai­wan who was involved with Seabird Research. Ros­alind, orig­i­nally from Tai­wan, was plan­ning a trip back home and thought it would be inter­est­ing to go meet some­one while she was there. After being referred to a pro­fes­sor at the National Tai­wan Ocean Uni­ver­sity, Ros­alind ended up help­ing Con­grat­u­lafins, a non-governmental orga­ni­za­tion whose mis­sion is to stop shark fin­ing, with their social media and dif­fer­ent campaigns.

Now, Ros­alind is set­tled in Cal­i­for­nia where she is work­ing full time at a smart watch com­pany and vol­un­teer­ing for Con­grat­u­lafins part time. When asked what her next big move will be, Ros­alind said she plans “to go back to school in a few years for more fish-related studies.”

What’s Washed In — Feb 3, 2014

We’re hav­ing a great win­ter here at the COASST office and have enjoyed hear­ing about your recent sur­veys and inter­est­ing finds! Hope that you’re all enjoy­ing your­selves on the beach and stay­ing warm. If you need any sup­plies, just let us know.

Here’s a look at what’s washed in recently:

Japan­ese water bot­tle found by Tasha on a Decem­ber sur­vey of Spring Creek Beach in Seward, Alaska. Native goose (goose­neck) bar­na­cles (Lepas anat­ifera) are attached to the cap. Adult goose bar­na­cles release eggs, which hatch into free-swimming lar­vae that set­tle onto all types of sub­strate. For our state and fed­eral fish and wildlife part­ners, pho­tos of fouled items show­case the poten­tial for marine debris to trans­port non-native inver­te­brates into the COASST range.

Caption here

Nancy and Roz found Camp Kirby’s sixth bird ever in Decem­ber, a Double-crested Cor­morant. Using the foot (not pic­tured here) we get to 4 toes: all webbed — stop — Pouch­bills. On the Pouch­bill fam­ily page, we’re asked to sep­a­rate by bill (West Coast guide) or wing chord (Alaska guide). Wing is 33cm, bill is 59mm, which puts us squarely in cor­morants — there’s only one with a stout yellow-orange bill and throat pouch — the DCCO!

Caption here

We chose Steven and Malinda’s photo from Ore­gon Mile 285 for a new per­spec­tive of a com­mon species.  What part of the bird am I look­ing at here?! We can help with that: right wing (tagged), left wing, white body feath­ers. Now it’s time to try out your skills! Using the Alaska guide: dark upper­wing, with trail­ing white sec­on­daries (did you spot them? they’re in the cen­ter of the photo), with white under­wing lin­ings — mur­res that’s cor­rect (wing chord = 20cm). Using the West Coast Wing Key: dark upper­wing, white stripe on trail­ing edge of sec­on­daries (sub­tle on worn wing) — Amer­i­can Coot or Com­mon Murre (COMU has the white under­wing lin­ing). West Coast Wing Table: wing chord = 20cm, dark upper­wing, with white lin­ings — Com­mon Murre for sure.

caption here

Had to dig through a few mur­res and ful­mars to find this one from Sara and Peter, Ma-le’l Mid, Hum­boldt, Cal­i­for­nia. Check out the foot, upper left. Tar­sus width is greater than 12mm across — Loon. With mea­sure­ments: 55mm bill, 30cm wing, 70cm tar­sus, it’s too small for a Com­mon Loon — dark back (no spot­ting) and straight bill lead us to Pacific Loon (LO2-LO3 in Beached Birds).

Julia Shares her Waldron Island COASST Walk

One of our San Juan Islands COASSTers, Julia, gra­ciously offered to share her pic­tures from a Decem­ber COASST walk along her beach on Wal­dron Island. It’s a won­der­ful oppor­tu­nity to walk in the shoes of an islander and see the great diver­sity of marine birds that sur­round us in the Sal­ish Sea.


The first is from the cliff above the bay. You can see the heavy sea let­tuce (Genus — Ulva) wrack on the beach, and my dog romp­ing along. Out of focus, near the Madrona tree and below the island to the cen­ter right, is a blur which is a flock of birds.” — Julia


A mixed flock of win­ter­ing birds, mostly Buf­fle­head, also includ­ing Com­mon Gold­en­eye, Red-breasted Mer­ganser and Horned Grebe.  In the COASST guide, Buf­fle­head can be found on WF15-16.  And the Horned Grebe is in GR6-7.


Close up of a Red-Breasted Mer­ganser. Mer­gansers are larger div­ing ducks that have long, thin bills with ser­rated edges to aid in cap­tur­ing fish prey. If you have the Alaska guide, check out pages WF36 and WF38.



Two Com­mon Gold­en­eye accom­pany the Red-Breasted Mer­ganser. It is not uncom­mon to see var­i­ous water­fowl species occupy the same for­ag­ing loca­tion at the same time.


A flock of Canada Geese landed near Pt. Dis­ney, the SE cor­ner of Cowlitz Bay.


The same flock fly­ing over the Nature Con­ser­vancy swamp.

COASST Internships Still Available!


The Coastal Obser­va­tion and Seabird Sur­vey Team (COASST) is look­ing for 2–5 under­grad­u­ate stu­dents to assist with program’s marine debris and beached bird data col­lec­tion projects.

Stu­dents work­ing with COASST gain valu­able, hands-on expe­ri­ence with cit­i­zen sci­ence pro­grams, sci­en­tific pro­to­col devel­op­ment and test­ing and learn the com­plex­i­ties of adapt­ing data col­lec­tion to a broad and diverse crew of par­tic­i­pants. Stu­dents will work directly with the program’s research staff to 1) man­age linked image, beach, vol­un­teer and bird data­bases 2) field-test the marine debris pro­to­col 3) cre­ate and update field toolk­its 4) per­form lit­er­a­ture searches and pre­pare mate­ri­als for talks, train­ings and socials 5) net­work with prin­ci­pal inves­ti­ga­tors, researchers, and partners

Once quar­terly, stu­dents will present their work at lab meet­ings, and attend the COASST field trip (Jan­u­ary 10–12, for the 2014 UW win­ter quarter).

Inter­ested stu­dents should send an email to: Jane Dol­liver, Pro­gram Coor­di­na­tor, coasst at uw dot edu


Welcome, Jenn!


Jenn hold­ing an Atlantic Puf­fin chick on East­ern Egg Rock Island, Maine.

This fall, we wel­comed a new grad­u­ate stu­dent to COASST: Jen­nifer Ma. Jenn comes to the UW from New York, where she com­pleted her under­grad­u­ate degree in Wildlife Sci­ence at the State Uni­ver­sity of New York Col­lege of Envi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence and Forestry. As a grad­u­ate stu­dent, she’ll be work­ing with our COASST data to “explore the unex­plored:” trends and emerg­ing pat­terns from the last fif­teen years of beached birds. Jenn’s first look at the data involves dig­ging deeper into the 2009 algal bloom event on the Wash­ing­ton coast.

Dead birds aren’t the only kind of birds she’s inter­ested in. As an avid birder and for­mer field tech­ni­cian, Jenn has a lot of love for seabirds and other feath­ered friends. Since grad­u­at­ing in 2011, she has done field work in New Jer­sey with Pip­ing Plovers, in Maine with Project Puf­fin, in Aus­tralia with Fairy-wrens, and in New Hamp­shire with war­blers. She’s also trav­eled in between jobs to Ire­land, through­out Aus­tralia, and New Zealand (bird­ing, of course).

Jenn is excited to get her grad­u­ate degree up and run­ning and we look for­ward to shar­ing her results!

What’s Washed In — 10/31/13


Fall is here and the Com­mon Mur­res are hit­ting the beach. We’ve been receiv­ing lots of sur­veys with lots birds! This is noth­ing out of the ordi­nary for this time of year, but you should expect longer and “birdier” sur­veys than your usual. Make sure to start early and bring a snack. Now is also a good time to check your cable tie sup­ply to see if you’re run­ning low of any color.

Here’s a look at what’s washed in over the last few weeks:

-2 A Laysan Alba­tross found by Kathy on the South Coast (WA). Those three-webbed toes and huge foot (tar­sus >75mm) point us to the Tubenose: Alba­tross fam­ily. From here we have three species to con­sider: Black-footed Alba­tross, Laysan Alba­tross, and Short-tailed Alba­tross. The bill length is WAY smaller than a STAL (130-140mm), and the pale bill and feet rule out BFAL, we’re left with the Laysan Albatross.


A Green-winged Teal found by Susie and Bill in Ore­gon North — time for some more wing practice!

Using the wing table, at 17cm, the wing falls into the tiny (wing chord <18cm) row but because it’s right on the edge, let’s also con­sider small (18-20cm) row. That area of con­trast­ing color in the sec­on­daries puts us in the Patch/Speculum group, giv­ing us four options in the two rows; BUFF (WF15), HOGR (GR6), PIGU (AL10) or GWTE (WF7). Buf­fle­head, Horned Grebe and Pigeon Guille­mot have a white patch on the upper­wing — not a match. But the green and black specu­lum with buffy bar in front and white behind is a per­fect match for the Green-winged Teal.

Using the west coast wing key, we’d select “sec­on­daries con­trast­ing and dark” for the first ques­tion send­ing us to Q18. Here, we’d select “green, w/ tan strip above and white below.” With a wing chord of 17 cm, we have a Green-winged Teal.

Using the Alaska wing key, we’d select “w/ light or dark specu­lum and/or one or more white patches” send­ing us to Q17. Here, we’d choose “dark specu­lum, no patch” lead­ing to Q24. The “green w/buffy stripe above and white below” points us to the Green-winged Teal (a lit­tle short for Alaska birds, but that’s okay – this find is from Oregon).


A Mot­tled Petrel found by Sue and Scott on the North Coast. You won’t find a species page on this bird in the COASST field guides, but you can still get pretty far on the ID. The three webbed toes with a small fourth toe and flat heel (not quite vis­i­ble in the photo) would take you to the Tubenoses:Petrels family.

Using the west coast guide, a wing chord of 25cm puts this in the True Petrels group. From here, we con­sider the bill shape, tar­sus, and bill color: thick and short (bill), round (tar­sus), and black (bill color) – group: Gadlfy Petrels. With this guide, we can’t get any more spe­cific than the sub­group of Gad­fly Petrels.

Using the Alaska guide, a wing chord of 25cm puts drops us into the True Petrels group. Bill color is dark, under­i­wng is white, with “dark stripe from wrist to wing­pit.” Yep — Mot­tled Petrel!


A gas cylin­der found by Phil in the San Juans. Remem­ber, if you find an item like this, do not touch or attempt to move. These items should be reported to the National Response Cen­ter by call­ing 1–800-424‑8802 or vis­it­ing their web­site or to local law enforcement.