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Sharks, Tsunamis, the Mystery Spot: Answering Readers’ Top Santa Cruz Questions






We requested you to ship in your questions on the bizarre, wild world of Santa Cruz County, in order that the grad college students of UCSC’s Science Communication program might reply them. You probably did, and now they’ve. Sit again and let the SciCom sleuths discover the reply to our readers’ most intriguing questions

What’s the probability of encountering a shark in Santa Cruz?

Worldwide, shark assaults are uncommon. Sometimes there are fewer than 100 assaults annually, 5 to 15 % of that are deadly. Nevertheless, you’re extra more likely to meet a shark right here than in most different elements of the world.

In July 2017, for instance, a terrific white shark chomped a kayak close to Steamer Lane, leaving a 12-inch-wide chew mark. Officers closed close by seashores for 4 days. And in June 2018, individuals noticed dozens of white sharks off New Brighton State Seashore.

The rationale: We reside of their territory. Santa Cruz sits inside the so-called Pink Triangle, a stretch of water from Bodega Bay north of San Francisco to Huge Sur and out to the Farallon Islands. The Pink Triangle is a cruising floor for the nice white shark, certainly one of nature’s most feared predators. Biologists estimate that 38 % of all nice white shark assaults in the U.S. occur on this zone.

Scott Van Sommeran, who heads the Santa Cruz-based Pelagic Shark Analysis Basis, has tracked the uptick in sightings. “There has never been a better time to see white sharks in Monterey Bay,” he says.

Nevertheless, he argues that there isn’t any good knowledge to recommend that white shark numbers are growing. “The population of sharks is not exploding,” he says. Slightly, they’re following their fundamental prey—elephant seals, harbor seals and sea lions. Over the previous few many years, these marine mammals have thrived right here, bringing sharks nearer to the coast and growing the chance of human-shark interactions.

Even so, shark assaults on individuals are often instances of mistaken id, scientists emphasize. Sharks are cautious and elusive hunters. From under, surfers and kayakers may resemble their primary meals. Should you’re ever a goal, attempt to strike the shark on its delicate nostril, eyes or gills, then name for assist and get to shore shortly.

—Tom Garlinghouse

What are the most endangered species in the Santa Cruz County ecosystem?

Dangerous information: based on a few ecological databases, three or 4 dozen species and subspecies with ranges overlapping the land or nearshore waters of Santa Cruz County are endangered. Some, comparable to the California condor and the blue whale, are high-profile wildlife celebrities that used to stay right here or may move via the neighborhood, however they don’t name Santa Cruz house.

To slender the query, let’s contemplate which of those endangered creatures are the Santa Cruz-iest.

Some endangered species are true locals, proper right down to their names. The Santa Cruz wallflower and the Ben Lomond spineflower develop solely in the Santa Cruz sandhills, a singular sandy habitat scattered all through central Santa Cruz County. Sand mining and housing developments threaten their houses, though conservationists have managed to guard patches of their territory.

Dwindling habitats are additionally the largest menace to the Santa Cruz long-toed salamander, says wildlife biologist Christopher Caris at the Ellicott Slough Nationwide Wildlife Refuge. The 5-inch-long salamanders want ponds, the place they breed and lay eggs, in addition to oak chaparral forests, the place they reside when it’s not breeding season.

However human-built buildings can get in the means of their commute between habitats—or exchange their refuges totally. “You put out a housing development or a golf course, and that’s not habitat,” says Caris. “So the salamanders are stuck in the ponds.”

This endangered animal is exclusive to Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. Orange spots alongside its again mark distinguish this subspecies from different long-toed salamander cousins north of the Santa Cruz Mountains. We don’t know what number of of the salamanders stay, Caris says, however there are simply two dozen breeding ponds. As amphibians round the globe face shrinking territories and new illnesses, this quirky critter is a Santa Cruz gem we’d hate to lose.

Erika Okay. Carlson

What occurs to a customer’s senses at the Mystery Spot?

The brief reply is that you could’t all the time consider your eyes.

At the Mystery Spot, which opened to vacationers in 1941, your eyes inform you unusual issues. Balls roll uphill, individuals appear to shrink, and gravity-defying poses all of a sudden turn out to be potential. Jovial tour guides supply a number of explanations, akin to gas-induced hallucinations or gravitational distortions from a magma vortex. Or a buried alien spaceship.

However since shadowy authorities brokers haven’t overrun the Mystery Spot, maybe the “mystery” is that your mind doesn’t belief your sixth sense—or your seventh.

Your sixth sense is proprioception, or how your mind unconsciously is aware of the place your physique elements are and the way troublesome it’s to maneuver an object. Your seventh sense, the vestibular sense, is the way you detect your bodily orientation.

The vestibular sense detects the tilted floor of the Mystery Spot. However your thoughts trusts your eyes extra, so it solely partially corrects for the misleading visible cues, explains UC Santa Cruz psychologist Nicolas Davidenko. The Spot’s crooked timber and slanted partitions deceive your eyes, complicated your judgment of what’s “down” and the relative heights of individuals close by.

Your eyes can even override your proprioception. One thing can appear harder to maneuver if it appears troublesome to maneuver. When a dangling ball seems interested in a nook inside the Spot’s famously askew cabin, your mind is tricked into “feeling” extra resistance whenever you push towards that path.

Strolling round the cabin together with your eyes closed places the expertise in a unique mild, Davidenko suggests. “You become much more aware of how sloped everything is, and specifically how the floor is sloped,” he says. “You can actually stop yourself from falling better than if you open your eyes.”

So take pleasure in the tales out of your tour information, however remember that your eyes are deceiving you.

— Bailey Bedford

Is planting milkweed good or dangerous for monarch butterflies, and why?

It might appear that our orange-and-black annual guests would recognize native gardens dotted with their favourite crops. However based mostly on the timing of the monarchs’ life cycle and their migration wants, it’s truly not a good suggestion.

Monarch butterflies migrate in the fall to Pure Bridges State Seashore in Santa Cruz and different coastal California areas to flee chilly winters. They don’t seem to be right here to breed. Relatively, they search sugary meals to construct up the physique fat that gasoline their spring migration.

Every February, monarchs return to their breeding websites scattered west of the Rocky Mountains. There, milkweed is important. It’s the solely sort of plant on which grownup monarchs will lay their eggs, and which their caterpillars will eat after hatching.

But when monarchs encounter milkweed in the winter planted by well-meaning Santa Cruz householders, it might change the butterflies from their non-reproductive winter state to a reproductive one. In the event that they breed, they’re not obligated emigrate, disrupting their pure cycle.

The standard year-round surviving milkweed varieties out there to gardeners are tropical and African, each non-native exotics. These crops cross on parasites to caterpillars that feed on their leaves. The rising monarchs can develop wing deformities or die.

Native counterparts, akin to narrow-leaf and showy milkweed, die in October. Monarchs encounter these varieties briefly, if in any respect, and historic data point out that they didn’t naturally happen right here till just lately.

“Planting milkweed is a bit like putting a Band-Aid on a really big wound,” says conservation biologist Emma Pelton of the Xerces Society in Portland. “It will make you feel good, but I don’t think it’s that important, especially close to the coast.”

As an alternative, says Pelton, monarch supporters ought to beautify their backyards with flowers to offer nectar for grownup butterflies, giving them power for his or her lengthy flights forward.

— Priyanka Runwal

Are redwoods in Santa Cruz in peril of extinction due to local weather change?

Our iconic timber are fantastic for now, specialists say—however some are starting to point out indicators of stress after years of drought.

California coast redwoods, the tallest timber on Earth, tower as much as 380 ft excessive and stay 1,800 years or longer. They develop solely in a cool, moist and slender zone close to the California shore, from the southern a part of Monterey County to the southwestern border of Oregon.

With these redwood-nurturing local weather circumstances now altering in elements of the state, scientists are learning whether or not a few of the picket skyscrapers close to Santa Cruz are liable to dying out.

The menace isn’t quick, says redwoods ecologist Anthony Ambrose of UC Berkeley. “These trees are incredibly resilient,” he says. “They’re tough.” The species––Sequoia sempervirens, which means “evergreen sequoia”––arose in the Jurassic interval, at the least 120 million years in the past. The timber have handled many environmental modifications over the eons. “The redwoods in Santa Cruz will be okay … at least in the short term,” Ambrose says.

Nonetheless, each species has its limits. For redwoods, water is the most necessary useful resource; they want plenty of it. Winter rains and summer time fog nourish the timber of their coastal habitats. Their needles take in water from the fog, an adaptation that permits them to face up to droughts. Local weather change will in all probability have an effect on the quantity and period of coastal fog, however researchers don’t but understand how—or how which may have an effect on the big timber.

The state’s rainfall patterns are additionally shifting, with stronger storms potential in winter and extra excessive droughts in summer time. Dryness already has made the needles of some Santa Cruz redwoods flip a shade of yellowish-brown. Foliage turnover is pure yearly, says Ambrose, however burdened timber shed extra foliage than traditional. A hotter and drier local weather will solely intensify this development.

The way forward for redwoods right here is dependent upon how society offers with carbon emissions globally, says Ambrose—“and whether we start to take this issue seriously or not.”

— Rodrigo Pérez Ortega

Might Santa Cruz ever be hit by a tsunami as dangerous as the current one in Indonesia?

Tsunamis can occur in Monterey Bay, often from large earthquakes that drive waves throughout the Pacific Ocean. However the probability that a tsunami might kill hundreds of individuals right here is vanishingly small.

Tsunamis come up when underwater earthquakes, landslides or volcanic eruptions all of the sudden displace big quantities of water. Energetic waves radiate out in all instructions, marching by way of the ocean till they inundate shorelines. The injury they trigger will depend on the measurement and path of the strongest waves, in addition to the preparedness of coastal communities.

The worst tsunamis occur the place lurching slabs of Earth’s crust sink into the planet in “subduction zones” the place tectonic plates meet. These large motions can set off earthquakes of magnitude or greater, shortly unleashing giant surges of seawater. In distinction, offshore earthquakes right here come from “strike-slip” faults, the place the plates slide previous one another with out displacing a lot water, decreasing tsunami dangers.

Big earthquakes in Alaska or Japan, although, can propel tsunamis throughout the complete Pacific basin. Once they strategy shore, these surges develop larger as the seafloor will get shallower, pushing water farther inland.

The curve of Monterey Bay’s shoreline additionally amplifies tsunamis. “When waves come into confined shores or harbors, they tend to grow, because all the energy gets squeezed together,” says UCSC geophysicist Steven Ward, who creates pc fashions of tsunamis. This phenomenon was magnified throughout the most up-to-date tsunami right here, in March 2011. Highly effective waves from a catastrophic earthquake close to Japan surged into the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor and brought on greater than $20 million in injury.

Large marine landslides inside Monterey Canyon, which bisects the bay, additionally pose an area tsunami danger. However these are uncommon, Ward says. He advises worrying about different issues: “By and large, I put tsunamis low on my hazard list here in Santa Cruz compared to a terrorist attack or a wildfire or landslides in the winter. I wouldn’t lose any sleep over them.”

— Katie Brown

Is the bat inhabitants in Santa Cruz declining?

Sadly, there’s no clear reply. However in Santa Cruz, don’t be stunned in case you discover a bat in your backyard umbrella.

Bats take pleasure in enclosed areas the place they’re shielded from the climate, in line with Elise McCandless, co-founder of Santa Cruz Bats, a volunteer rescue group. “They can be in trees, crevices, under eaves, shingles, barns, or dead trees,” she says.

Locals have requested McCandless whether or not our bats are disappearing. “People are saying the bats they used to have are not there anymore,” she says, and her group has fielded fewer bat calls over the final seven years.

Nevertheless, researchers don’t truly know what number of bats reside right here. The animals are elusive, and monitoring their numbers is time-consuming and costly. The California Division of Fish and Wildlife doesn’t monitor bats in Santa Cruz County, though the company has some particulars about which varieties reside the place. The California myotis, for instance, is discovered alongside rivers and streams. In a single ongoing research, biologists discovered 4 bat species so as to add to a earlier record of 11 recorded at Quail Hole County Park in Felton, however the knowledge isn’t but confirmed.

UC Santa Cruz ecologist Winifred Frick stated in an e mail that scientists haven’t documented declines in the county’s one dozen acknowledged bat species, however extra analysis is required. Our flying mammals are lucky in a single respect, Frick notes. White-nose syndrome, a fungal illness that has devastated colonies of hibernating bats in the japanese U.S., is spreading however has not but reached California. Researchers try to sluggish the outbreak, which had killed an estimated 6 million bats as of 2016.

Bats may depart an space for a lot of causes, corresponding to migration or habitat loss. Residents may also help maintain native populations by constructing bat homes for them to roost and checking for bats earlier than doing main home tasks.

— Erin I. Garcia de Jesus

Will steelhead salmon return to the San Lorenzo River?

As lately as the 1960s, tens of hundreds of steelhead salmon migrated up the San Lorenzo River annually to spawn. Locals might spot the glittering silvery scales of the 2-foot-long fish from the river’s sandy banks, an indication of wholesome waters.

At the moment, steelhead are few and much between in the Santa Cruz space, however they haven’t left solely. A 2015 survey counted lower than 20 of the protected fish per 100 ft of river, down from a mean of 80 fish per 100 ft in 1997. Biologists attribute the regular decline to a number of elements, together with decrease water ranges, lack of spawning habitat and rising water temperatures.

Annually, grownup steelhead migrate upstream from the ocean to put their eggs. As soon as born, the juvenile fish stay in freshwater streams for as much as three years earlier than touring to the sea. In contrast to their salmon cousins, steelhead can spawn a number of occasions of their delivery rivers earlier than they die. However even with such resiliency, their numbers are dropping throughout California.

There’s no straightforward repair for steelhead in the San Lorenzo, says Jennifer Michelson, environmental packages supervisor for the San Lorenzo Valley Water District. As an alternative, residents should view steelhead restoration as a collective effort and begin taking small actions of their backyards. She emphasizes limiting fertilizer use, leaving fallen timber in the river, sustaining vegetation alongside the riverbank and overlaying unfastened soil throughout storms to stop erosion.

“If we don’t have a healthy habitat for the animals, we don’t have a healthy habitat for humans, either,” says Michelson.

Water District staffers work with native businesses to boost consciousness and full key watershed tasks, reminiscent of a big wooden set up in Zayante Creek set for subsequent summer time. The logs will assist steelhead disguise from predators and create the cool pockets of water they like.

“If the community really takes action to protect the streams, I think there is hope,” says Michelson.

— Helen Santoro

Can we nonetheless see any impacts right now from the historic lime business in Santa Cruz?

From uncovered quarries at UCSC to fern-covered kilns in Felton, the county’s bustling lime business left imprints throughout us. Some impacts are newer than you may understand.

Fall Creek State Park is the good place to time journey again to 1904, a peak period for lime quarrying in the county. Right here, the kilns that when turned limestone into quicklime at 900 levels at the moment are overgrown with moss, ivy and ferns. Different remnants nonetheless stand: a water trough the place staff soaked barrels earlier than they have been dried and crammed with lime; a cellar the place males saved dynamite powder; some wooden stacks prepared for the kilns.

Quarrying operations stripped giant swaths of land and old-growth redwoods, leaving open scars together with the two giant quarries at UCSC. However Frank Perry, an area naturalist and writer of Lime Kiln Legacies, says the business additionally had some constructive impacts. “A lot of these tracts ended up becoming parks and open spaces,” he says. “So while the industry was environmentally destructive, in the long run it preserved a lot of natural environments,” together with elements of the Pogonip, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and Wilder Ranch.

Routine limestone mining in the county nonetheless occurred as lately as 2009 at the Bonny Doon quarry. Chris Berry, watershed supervisor for the Metropolis of Santa Cruz, says these blasts clouded the water from Liddell Spring, a serious supply for the metropolis. At the moment, Berry says the spring’s water is protected to drink, however nitrate ranges are nonetheless greater than regular.

Quarrying in Bonny Doon additionally led to invasions by nonnative species, Berry provides. “You’re turning [the land] into a moonscape, totally destroying soil seed bank and turning soil upside down,” he notes. Invasive crops similar to Portuguese, Spanish and French Broom hitchhiked onto truck tires and now frequent the panorama in Bonny Doon.

–Hannah Hagemann

What would occur to Monterey Bay if international temperatures rise 2 levels Celsius?

On land, we’ve adjusted to temperature swings. We expertise a shift bigger than 2 levels Celsius, or three.6 levels Fahrenheit, virtually each morning when the coastal fog burns off.

However ocean temperatures are pretty fixed, and marine organisms reside comfortably inside particular ranges. In order temperatures rise, life at sea might face greater impacts. The ecological consequence of local weather change “is much more dramatic in the ocean than it is on land,” says UCSC marine ecologist Mark Carr.

Marine species have three choices when their houses get hotter: transfer, adapt or die. In the brief time period, many fish, marine mammals, and invertebrates would probably transfer north to flee warming waters and shifting habitats. If species depart Monterey Bay, we might see an inflow of southern transplants taking their place.

Key habitats like kelp forests would additionally decline, Carr says. Hotter waters include fewer vitamins, like nitrates, that kelp must survive. Whereas waters in the Monterey Bay now vary from 12-14 levels Celsius, the productiveness of kelp forests will lower if ocean temperatures attain 15 levels, scientists predict. Scarcer kelp would imply much less meals for sea urchins that munch on kelp, much less meals for sea otters that eat urchins, plus different ripple results up the meals chain.

Nutrient-poor hotter waters might additionally diminish populations of tiny, photosynthesizing cells referred to as phytoplankton. Many fish and whales chow down on the zooplankton that eat phytoplankton. As plankton numbers fall, native fisheries and the whale-watching business might endure.

In the long run, our marine species may cope. However local weather change might alter their habitats quicker than they will adapt, threatening many beloved Monterey Bay Nationwide Marine Sanctuary locals. “That’s why it’s important to protect large numbers within each species so they have the genetic diversity to adapt,” says Carr.

Sofie Bates