Heatwave Cooks Thousands of Mussels to Death on NorCal Coast

Photo: NOAA

Weather extremes have been palpable in Northern California the past seven years, with wildfires from drought and flooding from extreme downpours putting the national eye on the North State. And now a recent extreme on the NorCal coast has caused a massive die-off of mussels.

In the village of Bodega Bay, the worst die-off of mussels in the past 15 years occurred over mid June, with thousands of mussels cooking to death due to high heat and low tides. On June 11, a heatwave sending 75 degree temperatures during low-tide was most likely the culprit of the massive die-off, causing the mussels to stick to rocks heated to 105 degrees by the sun.

“Every part of the mussel bed I touched, there were mussels that had died,” Bodega Marine Reserve research coordinator Jackie Sones told Bay Nature magazine.

Bodega Bay. Flickr/Peter Salanki

Typically, temperatures that high aren’t seen until later in the summer when low tides occur in the cooler morning. And with the extreme weather on the Pacific Ocean, the deaths of the mussels will send a ripple effect through the entire coastal 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 Sones.

While the effects of climate change in Northern California are largely seen in wildfires and flooding, the little changes in the environment are now becoming much more apparent.

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