After a long winter, and a long nine years of dying starfish, it is nice to again see a very colorful seashore. I finally was inspired to go to the Oregon Coast and get in the water for a snorkel. Heavy winds, heavy rain, cold - this year it was difficult for me to motivate and drive to the coast to photograph in what was likely to be stirred up, dirty and unclear water.
The Pacific Ocean that gently laps, or violently hammers at the 363 miles of the Oregon coast, and the bays and deltas that flow into it, are not renowned for predictably clear water. However, there are days when the ocean water can be exceptionally clear and teaming with life.
This winter was stormy and felt longer than years passed. Also, the storms seemed, over all, more violent and rowdy - unsettled weather leading to unsettled waves and currents leading to unclear water. That can lead to unsettled nerves when you cannot see more than a couple of inches beyond your dive mask.
There are three ocean currents that, due to air temperature, ocean surface temperature, seasonality, tides and the inflow of fresh water from rivers, are regularly vying for dominance to flow passed our shores - The California Current, the Oregon Coastal Current and the Davidson Current. From my observations, it is when the California Current is found to be the prevailing current, bringing clean, clear nutrient-rich waters from the deep that we find the clearest water on the Oregon coast and in its bays.
I first moved to Oregon in 2010 and had been surfing the Oregon coast waves since spring of that year. I remember seeing the rocks and sea stacks absolutely festooned with orange and purple Ochre Stars (Pisaster ochraceous), feeding on mussels between the drooping Green Surf Anemones (Anthopleura xanthogrammica). Orange and purple sea stars piled on top of one-another, stacked, smothering the rocks, piled high, vibrant.
In 2013, it was first reported that sea stars in the Pacific Northwest were dying in alarmingly high numbers, rapidly and wholesale. This was Sea Star Wasting Disease. Up until even last year, a visit to the tide pools of the coast would reveal a paltry showing of Ochre Stars. A spot of orange here and a glimpse of purple there would excite in its rarity. The sea stars were [are] sick.
In May of this year (my first trip to the coast in 2022-unheard of) I found clear water that inspired me to slide into my thick wetsuit, strap on 24 pounds of lead weight, ease into the always-cold North Pacific waters and create some underwater photographs. The clear water was not the only inspiration for me to voluntarily drop my body-temp towards hypothermia - there were orange and purple Ochre Sea Stars EVERYWHERE.
The water was clear and the sea life was abundant. Shoreline algae were swaying in the current and fish were swimming away from me. It was a beautiful and (re)inspiring sight.
Sea Star Wasting Disease is not over, yet, as far as I know. But from what I am witnessing, the shore is beginning to regain its once former colorful complexion.