Walking on the beach you may notice transparent spheres, thinking that you encountered jellyfish that washed ashore. Afraid, you may be scared to touch them, taking that you may get stung. No worries, you are perfectly safe. You have met harmless salps, planktonic tunicates with a dorsal nerve cord, making them much closely related to us than to jellyfish.
Salps have been washing on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean for some time now. They feed on plankton, and routinely break away from their colony. Salps are known to form giant colonies, one attached to another in a chain, but like any chain pieces can break away. With strong currents and winds, they drift all over the Ocean, ending on our beaches.
They are beautiful to look at. If you look closely, you will see their nerve cord and other internal parts. They play an important role in the carbon dioxide flux, and are a food source for many species of fish. With about 45 species inhabiting our oceans, salps are critical to the oceanic food chain and our atmosphere.
Far Rockaways Beach is also home to American Oystercatcher. As their name suggests, they are one of the few birds capable of opening the hard shells of oysters and clams. They have a very characteristic red beak and red eyering.
Many of the American Oystercatchers nest on the New York beaches. It is not something we think of when we go to the beach. It was not something I thought of for years, mainly because I have never seen nesting birds on beaches I went too. Thus, as I was walking on the beach, I realized that even if we collect all of the garbage we bring to the beach, the foot traffic alone, blankets, and digging in the sand, that is enough to make a huge impact on the bird populations.
Everything around us serves a purpose, and nature learns to adapt every day.
From plants that can live in the sand…
…to birds hiding in their shadows.