March 20, 2012

Leo Carillo State Beach, Santa Monica Mts, California

After a couple of days in Los Angeles, we camped for three nights at Leo Carillo State Beach just past Malibu in the Santa Monica Mountains. The weather was beautiful and warm and we had a great time just hanging out. We had originally planned to stay for four nights, but the impending rain storm caused us to leave after three days.

Dried up chaparral slopes in March 2012
Same area in March 2010
But, the recent rain was desperately needed in Southern California. With virtually no rain all winter, the chaparral covered slopes were brown and devoid of wildflowers. It looked like mid-July rather than mid-March in this region. It certainly looked a lot different than it did when we were in the area two years ago. But, with the fine weather we experienced, we definitely had some nice time to get in a long hike and spend some quality time at the beach.

Two baby octopi were found amongst the rocks in the tide pools.

One day, while cruising the beaches, I discovered nine dead common murres on the beach, many covered with oil. First of all, I was surprised to see that common murres actually came this far south. But, I wasn't shocked to see them covered with oil, as it is well known that just to the north, in the Santa Barbara Channel, there are natural oil seeps (similar to La Brea Tar Pits) that leak thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean every day.

What I did not realize until I got home was that just a few days earlier an article in the LA Times detailed a sudden and massive increase in the number of dead seabirds showing up on beaches in Southern California soiled by oil. In addition, nearly all of them are common murres.

Tar balls and oil splotches like this above are a common site on the beaches in this area

Apparently the common murres only recently returned to this region of California after having been absent since 1912. They established a breeding colony on one of the small uninhabited Channel Islands. Since they are not used to the oil seeps, they have been coming in contact with the oil and ending up on the beaches dead or sick. One nature center has recovered and cleaned up 140 common murres just since January 1st. Anyways, I collected some tar balls off the rocks to take back to my Chemistry and AP Environmental Science classes for discussion and lab demonstrations.

You can see the oil stuck to the breast of this dead common murre.
This indicates it was floating on top of the water and then swam into the oil slick

We took Hilina to the beach every day we were there, in morning fog and afternoon sun. It was glorious to be back on the Pacific Ocean again. I tell you, we've love to live in California if it were not for two reasons...Too many people and too expensive to live there.

Hilina checking out seastars on some sea stacks

On the next post, I'll discuss our adventures inland along Arroyo Sequit and up to Nicholas Flat over 2000 feet above the ocean.

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