‘Scoping some surfgrass

Not too long ago, my classmates and I had the opportunity to participate in a rocky intertidal monitoring project with LiMPETS at Carmel Point, CA. LiMPETS (Long-term Monitoring Program and Experiential Training for Students) is an environmental monitoring and education program seeking to increase stewardship of and monitor California’s coastal communities. A core component of LiMPETS is the “Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Program”, a monitoring project aimed at establishing a baseline for tracking rocky intertidal community changes over time.

Our class collected data along vertical transects, which was plenty fun. After collecting data, we decided to poke and explore around the intertidal community.

These type of field excursions make me feel like a kid again. I was the kind of kid that had a blast turning over rocks in the backyard and looking at the little crawly critters hiding underneath. Being in the intertidal and finding little organisms living between and underneath rocks was a real treat.

One of the organisms I was pretty excited to see was the surfgrass, Phyllospadix sp. Phyllospadix sp is part of the seagrass family, a group of marine angiosperms. These organisms bloom and release pollen just like terrestrial plants. However, they’re adapted to living in marine waters! Pretty neat, huh?

Phyllospadix sp. at Carmel Point, California
Phyllospadix sp. at Carmel Point, California

I decided to look at a blade of Phyllospadix sp. using my handy dandy Foldscope. Since my Foldscope lacks a sleek and compact light source, I brought with me a little light box I created out of cardboard, a clothes pin, a mini flashlight, and binder clips.

Vanity shot of my Foldscope clipped onto my trusty light box.
Essentially, the light box is a cardboard rectangle with a hole cut in for the mini flashlight. Here, you can see the mini flashlight peeking through the opening.
Here is an internal side view of the set up. The clothes pin was hot glued onto the bottom of the box. I kept it slightly open so I could use it to keep my mini flashlight stable.

I took a blade of surfgrass and put it on a slide. Then, I clipped my Foldscope onto my light box. I was able to hold the light box up to my face and pan the Foldscope around.

I could see clearly here, the darkness was gone.
I could see clearly here, the darkness was gone.

The set up also made it easy to take pictures in the field. Here are some pictures I took of the fresh, green surfgrass blades:



While they are a bit grainy, you can still see some fine detail. You can see the faint outline of cell walls, which is pretty impressive.

Videos taken on the field also gave some equally impressive results:


Not all surfgrass blades were green and healthy. Some blades looked like they were damaged:


Underneath the Foldscope, I observed a marked difference between green blades and these degraded blades.



The thicker tissues near the shoot of the seagrass blades also looked different:



I took a few blades of surfgrass with me and made a few more videos offsite:


I wonder what caused the surf grass blades to degrade? I know seagrasses degrade in conditions of high heat in a process known as “seagrass burning”. Do surfgrasses also “burn” at high temperatures? Or is this an algae growth on the surf grass that is causing it to degrade?

I had a blast in the intertidal. It was a day full of exploration: peering under rocks, counting marine organisms for LiMPETS, and exploring the micro-level with my Foldscope!


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Manu Prakash says:

    Dear @Cynthia,

    What a fantastic “handy dandy” light box. Absolutely love the creativity of this hack. Beautiful work.

    1) To your question on “dead” sea grass; could that be a viral infection. It’s the most common thing in plant infections.. Plants are known to “kill off” cells around the infection to protect the rest of the plant. I wonder if the patterns you see correspond to “autophagy” in that way. You might have to find seagrass that has patchy dead spots.

    2) Play with the kind of light modules, you will see your resolution will improve a lot. I am compiling some posts that share illumination hacks – for everyone else to play with as well and also as a reference:

    It’s so wonderful to see all the folks in Monterey exploring the inter-tidal zone. It’s almost an alien world out..


    1. CyGonzalez says:

      Hi Manu,

      Thanks for your comment! A viral infection, that’s interesting! Do these viruses attack the plant as a whole or do they just start on part of the plant (i.e. a blade at a time)?

      I have been tinkering with lighting for a while. In a previous post, I rigged up a setup on how to use lamps as a light source: https://microcosmos.foldscope.com/?p=14782

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