End of Season 2007 Update

A Message from Karen Martin, Ph.D., Pepperdine Professor of Biology

Greetings to the Grunion Greeters!

One of the many pleasures of this program is the opportunity to meet you, some of the most amazing people in the world, on California’s beautiful beaches. Over 500 adventurous, dedicated volunteers monitored for grunion on moonlit nights over 50 beaches statewide. More than 100 beach professionals from 40 agencies throughout California followed the runs from your reports. Challenging though it is, witnessing a spawning run as it happens is clearly the most effective way to assess the strength and distribution of grunion populations, and having so many eyes focused on the fish is truly incredible.

Grunion Return to San Diego, photo by Laura Congdon

Grunion, endemic to the coast of California and Baja California, face many hazards when they spawn on the beaches. In 2007 the months of March and April were marked by high waves washing out some areas after spawning had occurred. Luckily, the middle months of May and June had good runs in numerous locations. From late June on, most reports have been of small runs, often with more people than fish. However good runs with thousands of fish were still seen in a few places in mid-July. There were several instances of jumbo squid Dosidocus gigas in association with the grunion, particularly in Newport Beach and in Santa Barbara. The voracious squid are predators of grunion, with unmistakable evidence of stomach contents.

Golden Gate Grunion, photo by Terry Coddington

Grunion runs in San Francisco Bay were substantially lower than in the previous two years Greeters have been monitoring. Grunion appeared on several beaches, but in very small numbers. They may have moved their spawning activities to other sandy shores, but the amount of beach habitat within the bay is very limited, and no one has yet seen them on the outer coast around the Bay Area. So there is some concern. Farther upcoast, Tomales Bay held grunion runs for the third year, maintaining its distinction as the most northern grunion spawning site.

A handful of Tomales Bay Grunion, photo by Cassadie Moravek

The Grunion Greeters program is unique, spanning over 6 years of effort. Thanks to you we have unquestionably the best database in existence for grunion spawning runs, but there are some limitations. One is that the volunteer effort ends in mid June, but the grunion season continues throughout the summer. Another is that coverage of beaches depends on volunteers, and some don't go after they signed up, so the record is less complete than might be hoped. Finally, coverage is limited to beaches that are readily accessible and safe at night, and clearly there are many other beaches where the grunion could potentially run but observations are difficult or impossible for monitors.

Great Los Angeles County Grunion Run, photo by Kacey Hoang

California Grunion have never been common. Within 10 years of the first description of grunion spawning runs in the scientific literature, protective regulations were enacted. Your monitoring efforts with the Grunion Greeters have resulted in changes in beach management practices throughout the state of California, and in changes to permitting procedures for shoreline activities that are overseen by the California Department of Fish and Game, the California Coastal Commission, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Because of your efforts, sandy beaches are now considered Essential Fish Habitat for the grunion.

Also as a direct result of the Grunion Greeters, beach managers, coastal scientists, aquarists and other beach professionals have joined together to form the Working Group for Beach Management in Ecologically Sensitive Areas. This group meets twice a year.

Ventura Grunion, photo by Steve Howard

There is much still to be learned. As you know we rely on funding from several government and non-government agencies for this program. Before writing the next funding request, we are pausing to consider the future of the monitoring program, evaluating its strengths and usefulness as well as its limitations. Please watch for the opportunity to participate in a survey and let us know what you think.

As you know, Melissa Studer represented the Grunion Greeters at the Citizen Science Toolkit Conference at Cornell University, sponsored by the National Science Foundation in Ithaca, NY June 20-23, 2007. Here’s her report:

Summary by Melissa Studer, Senior Program Officer, the Grunion Greeter Project

"Recently I was invited to attend the Citizen Science Toolkit Conference at Cornell University on behalf of the Grunion Greeter Project. Conference attendees included an incredibly diverse and distinguished group of representatives and it was an honor to be among them. Projects ranged from bird monitoring to frog watch to star gazing—all of which rely on the support and contributions of citizen science volunteers.

"Our purpose was to create a framework for organizations to follow when developing their own citizen science projects. As part of the process we considered necessary technologies, how to recruit and manage volunteers, along with data collection techniques and options for analysis. We spent a lot of time discussing the inception of a citizen science project—whether as a result of community demand or a scientific question. Several speakers highlighted the emergence of citizen science as an increasingly important field, with numerous benefits for not only research and policy issues, but for community growth and cohesion.

"I was proud to represent the Grunion Greeter Project and all of our successes, but more so it was a thrill to talk about all of our Grunion Greeters—their commitment, enthusiasm, and reliable contributions as well as the sheer joy it is to work with such an amazing group of volunteers.

"Read more about the conference at http://www.birds.cornell.edu/citscitoolkit/conference." 

Darwin & Melissa, photo by Karen Martin

Enjoy the end of summer and thank you for everything: photos, hot line calls, e-mails, reports on the web, laughter, late night walks on dark beaches, wet feet, and lost sleep. In short, thanks for ALL your help and support during grunion season.

See you on the beach!

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