Sunday, September 16, 2012

Tea Burglers

Fleet week has begun in San Diego, and I could be down at the cooler harbor, taking part, (we're having a record-breaking heat wave), but instead I'm luxuriating in AC, reviewing stacks and stacks of super-interesting information from the TPERP conference I attended all day Saturday at Cabrillo. Which was, thankfully, held in the only air-conditioned building at the park, the public auditorium. Yes, your park service rangers and staff at Cabrillo do without AC entirely; it's not installed in their offices, shops, meeting rooms, library, kiosks, or anywhere else they work, and last week has been so hot and humid that even going inside to use the restroom has been like punishment. Unless you're dressed for a sauna. Which might freak out the staff a little.

TPERP stands for Tidepool Protection, Education, Restoration, and Preservation. Unwieldy, right? Hence the acronym...which frankly wasn't easy to remember, either - until I thought of the mnemonic image of two burglars (perps) having tea. How do I know they're burglars? They're wearing masks. What did they burgle? Why, shells from the tidepools, of course. Like most government organizations, the NPS has a whole library of acronyms. I've been a military wife and we're military parents, quite used to abbreviations for everything that could possibly be acronym-ed, but I've yet to come across one that beats the complete gibberish of what was bestowed on our oldest son, who works for NOAA. His job title is fifteen words long. I'm not kidding. It's easier to explain what he does, which I don't even understand (if you have a degree in physics, you're welcome to try explaining it to me), than to remember his job title OR the grouping of acronyms that substitutes. And then there are letters after his name, too. It's a wonder he ever receives any official correspondence, it takes so long just to address him.

The TPERP conference trains docents to interact with tidepool visitors, provide natural history (and other park info), and to gently but firmly remind visitors of the rules that protect the wildlife there. Cabrillo is the third most-visited national NPS site; over 800,000 people a year. More then 200,000 of them visit the tidepool. No wonder they need protection! As the Cabrillo marine biologist says, imagine two hundred thousand people traipsing through your living room each year. The wear and tear on your carpet, the gradual accumulation of debris brought in from outside, the attrition of your personal belongings (each person thinking "I'm only taking this one water glass; they have so many dishes they'll never notice"), the pure STRESS of putting up with all those visitors.

If there was one word that summed up the creatures who live in the tidepools (or more correctly, live in the rocky intertidal; in fact, many don't live in the actual pools), it would be HARDY. Those dudes put up with a lot! It's an irrefutable fact of human nature that people do not cotton to change. Intertidal creatures live for change. Every quality of their environment changes constantly, from extreme to extreme. The tides are a gradient, always rising or falling; then there's variation dependent on the cycle of the moon, and environmental variation due to changing seasons, and there's weather variation. They also have to deal with the physical force of waves; wind; changes in humidity, salinity and temperature; and UV rays. Intertidal organisms are subjected to variations that can be as abrupt as a 40 degree drop in temperature within a few seconds; some creatures are wet by waves only a couple of times a month, and hold their breath in between those times. I would not want to live in the rocky intertidal.  

But lest you think that "hardy" equates "tolerates handling", note that as in nature everywhere, surviving and thriving are not the same. Their feats of survival are dependent on the allocation of enormous physiological resources to dealing with their constantly changing environment; it's what they adapted for. They haven't adapted for being pried from their homes; being forcibly moved from one neighborhood where they get along with their neighbors, to another one with hostile neighbors; or to being pooped or peed on by dogs. (Yes, you can pick up dog poop; and you'd better! But you can't pick up pee, and urine chemistry may be more damaging than feces. Dog urine is pretty acid -- a pH ranging to 5.5 is normal -- and urine leaves their body at around 102 degrees. Surely a sudden deluge of hot acid urine isn't good for anemones or sea stars, or anyone else. That was a joke -- you'll rarely see sea stars in the tidepools; they mostly disappeared a couple of decades ago due to a bizarre and poorly understood wasting disease.) Surprisingly, dogs are allowed at the tidepools; the only place on Cabrillo you can bring your dog. Please don't, though. There must be better canine outings than a long walk on sharp rocks. 

Anyway, the rocky intertidal is treat, a real marvel. And I thank the TPERP docents for letting me peek in on the first day of their training.

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