After surfing at one of his favorite California reef breaks
known as Terramar, my partner, Paul, returned home to tell me about massive amounts of red ‘crawfish-looking’ animals swimming around him in the water. Because crawfish are freshwater crustaceans, I felt compelled to investigate. As it turns out, the San Diego coastlines are in the midst of an invasion of tuna crabs!
The tuna crab, also known as pleuroncodes planipes, pelagic crab, red crab, langostilla, or squat lobster, is a bright red animal resembling a lobster. They only grow up to 5 inches in length and are a favorite food for several kinds of tuna, which explains its common name ‘tuna crab.’
This influx of tuna crabs also explains the unusual amount of fishing boats anchored just beyond the surf! Additional misfortune for these open ocean crabs is if they wash ashore, as they have been doing by the thousands in south San Diego, they will not survive even if thrown back in the water.
This species of crab is known to fill an important ecological role that feeds a number of fish, including many species of birds and other marine animals such as whales and sea otters. Tuna crabs are commonly found in warmer waters in Baja, Mexico (southwest of San Diego) where they typically feed off of plankton collected in micro-hairs on their legs. Winds and currents are said to be responsible for their visit to San Diego indicative of a persisting El Niño.
An El Niño is a temporary change in the climate of the Pacific Ocean in the region around the equator. The results of an El Niño can be seen in the ocean and in the atmosphere, where the ocean surface warms up and weather patterns change and move eastward along the equator. Both of these changes have big effects on the world’s climate.
A typical El Niño pattern can sometimes include wetter-than-average conditions over portions of the U.S. Gulf Coast and Florida, while drier-than-average conditions can occur in the Ohio Valley and the Pacific Northwest. However, many different components are at work in the global climate system making exact predictions impossible. Forecasting its strength continues to be challenging but U.S. government scientists say there is a 90 percent chance that this years El Niño will persist through the summer, with an 80 percent chance it will last through fall.
So now you might be asking yourself: How does the El Niño and tuna crabs in San Diego affect me?
The real answers rooted in this story include some easy steps we can take to not only reduce the effects of climate change like an El Niño, but also sustain the life in our oceans! Below are a few ways you can make a difference.
- Be energy conscious – Install compact fluorescent light bulbs. Turn off lights and appliances at work and at home. Reduce your driving whenever possible by walking, biking, or using public transportation. Each of these energy conscious efforts will reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that dirty our air and make our oceans more acidic.
- Reduce, reuse, recycle – Plastic bottles and trash that gets into our oceans destroy marine habitat and contribute to the death of many marine animals that might ingest a floating bottle. Re-using a water bottle, using cloth bags versus plastic bags, and general recycling of paper and waste are inexpensive solutions that will limit pollution.
- Be water conscious – Saving water reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases trap heat and make the planet warmer. A warmer planet means negative impact to our air and our oceans. Turn off the water when shaving and brushing your teeth. Run your dishwasher with a full load. Water your landscape only when needed, and during the coolest part of the day. These are just a few ways your water usage can help keep our earth’s temperature cool.
- Knowledge is power – Check in with your friends, family, and kids about the simple ways we can take care of our environment. Add an energy conservation hashtag to your next selfie on social media to help spread the word!
I consider it a gift that one playful surf session, with stray tuna crabs, can teach a lesson about the water, the climate, and the part we humans play in sustaining both.
Play often and play mindfully.