Spring has Sprung—Underwater!
By Jim Covel, Senior Manager of Guest Experience
With the official arrival of spring on March 20 we all start to look forward to longer days, more sunshine, warmer temperatures and perhaps putting away those winter clothes for a while. We see those signs of spring reflected in nature as well. Dormant plants come to life and bloom. Birds begin singing as they announce nesting territories and start looking for a mate. Perhaps you catch a glimpse of a small, spotted fawn accompanying mom. While these sure signs of spring are familiar to us, have you ever stopped to think about what spring looks like beneath the surface of the ocean? You can actually observe “underwater spring” here at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Let’s start in the forest—the kelp forest. The giant kelp and bull kelp are much like land plants, springing to life with longer days and more sunshine. These seaweeds photosynthesize like land plants; you could say they “eat” sunshine to get the energy to live and grow. With more sunshine available, growth rates pick up dramatically, exceeding five inches per day in our Kelp Forest exhibit! If you’re a regular visitor, you’ll see our kelps rapidly stretching for the surface where they can get closer to more sunshine. Just now, looking at the Kelp Forest web cam, I could see the distinctive scimitar blade at the tip of a growing frond of kelp. (The same scimitar blade that forms the aquarium’s logo.)
Sunnier days usually translate into warmer days on the land, but that’s not true in Monterey Bay. Spring signals the traditional start of our upwelling season, where cooler water surfaces from a few hundred feet deep, so spring and summer actually bring some of the coldest water temperatures to our part of the coast. While that may not be the best news for surfers and divers, it’s great news for ocean animals. That upwelled water is rich in nutrients that stimulate the growth of large seaweeds and microscopic phytoplankton. This is the season of plankton blooms which are the base of most marine food chains. Those blooms of tiny organisms feed larger organisms which feed krill, which feed squid and salmon and blue whales and much more. So springtime upwelling season is the start of some of our best fishing and wildlife viewing.
Welcome to spring above and below the surface of the ocean!