An unusual heatwave sent droves of Californians to the beach, where they were met with hundreds of unfamiliar beach-goers – cooked mussels. Consecutive days of high temperatures caused a widespread die-off of mussels along Northern California’s Bodega Bay, a marine reserve and fishing community.

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Ecologists reported similar die-of scenarios throughout a 140 mile stretch of coastline. Although there was a similar die-off of mussels in 2004, this appears to be the largest in 15 years. With low-tide temperatures reaching up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the mussels were roasted right in their shells and washed up on the beaches fully cooked.

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Scientists worry that although they can see the damage to the mussel population by walking along the shore, there could be other widespread damage to other species and ecosystems below the water and out of eyesight, as mussels are a critical species within their ecosystem.

“Mussels are known as a foundation species. The equivalent are the trees in a forest– they provide shelter and habitat for a lot of animals, so when you impact that core habitat it ripples throughout the rest of the system,” said marine research coordinator, Jackie Sones.

“These events are definitely becoming more frequent, and more severe. Mussels are one of the canaries in the coal mine for climate change, only this canary provides food and habitat for hundreds of other species,” said Christopher Harley, a biologist at the University of British Columbia.

Much research about rising sea levels and temperatures focuses on nearshore tropical ecosystems, where coral reefs are sensitive to even the slightest shifts in temperature or acidity. Less research exists for cooler coastlines and open waters such as Northern California, but the mussel die-off is evidence that the negative impacts of climate change have already reached these waters.

Via The Guardian

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