When we want to go beach combing in Peru we have always gone to a beach about an hour’s drive from here. This year, things seem to be changing. The beach is normally empty except for a row of seabirds wading along the edge. There are mole crabs (muy-muy) under the sand where the surf crashes and people have been collecting them for bait for as long as we’ve been here.
Now there are a lot of mole crab carapaces on the shore. Are they molting? If so, why are there also a lot of mole crab legs out there, too. There are also regular crabs. There have always been lots of crab burrows and little crabs scurrying in and out. This year there are a lot of dead crabs and some still dying, lying upside down waving their legs just a bit.
We also have sea stars and sea urchins washing up, something that I don’t recall happening before, especially the starfish. We saw some tiny mole crabs eating a dead sea star.
In addition to the new sea life, dead or alive, there are more shells washing up. We didn’t used to find many shells and now we find limpets, big barnacles, slipper shells, some clams, turban shells and the occasional loco (Chilean abalone, Concholepas). Not fancy species, but a lot more than the broken mussel shells that used to be most of the beach material. We also find live limpets and locos. What makes them let go of their hold on the rocks and wash in to the beach? The other day a couple were poking at this sea slug that washed up. It was still alive. Why did it wash up? Can it be natural fluctuation of ocean conditions? Peru is a place where there can be unusual variability in the temperature of the water. The warm phase is the El Nino phenomenon (last winter). Could these changes come from increased water pollution? Only a portion of Peru’s waste water is processed before being dumped in the ocean. Could that be making a difference? What kind of by-catch comes from anchovy fishing? The fishing fleet is out full tilt, trying to close in on 100 million tons before Christmas. Most evenings the stench of the fishmeal processing plant in the nearby town of Supe floats over to us for a few hours. Fortunately, there will be a hiatus for the holidays, and the season closes before summer ends. So to quote the immortal bard (one of them), “There’s something happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?” Neither do I.