Critters and curiosity abounded last Thursday when a group of Homer area residents were treated to a tour of Peterson Bay by the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies. From sea stars to barnacles, they were taken through the gamut of natural phenomena that can be found in Kachemak Bay’s local ecosystem.
The center hosted the tour as a preview of its popular Peterson Bay trip, on which a handful of residents got to experience aspects of the trip offered throughout the summer. Starting on the beach and working back through the forest at Peterson Bay, the trip ended with a look at the center’s field station, where educational camps are held and where two staff members stay during the summer months.
Participants can sign up for a guided tour of the beach at Peterson Bay and a coastal forest nature hike, a nature hike combined with a kayak trip through St. Augustine’s Kayak Tours, or an overnight stay in one of the field station’s yurts.
Education Program Coordinator Seth Spencer and Caitlin Marsteller led the group of seven along the rocky beach and through a muddy forest trail, peppering their guests with scientific factoids all the while.
Marsteller served as the field station coordinator last year, and has returned to the center for a few months this summer for research. With a focus on marine life, she was able to identify numerous crustaceans and other sea life for the visitors, especially when it came to the center’s “touch tanks” back at the field station.
First on the agenda was a leisurely float past Gull Island. The water taxi, provided by St. Augustine’s Kayak Tours, slowed as it reached the rookery for Marsteller and Spencer to point out the various bird species nesting there. Also making the island their home for the moment were several otters and their pups.
Once at the Peterson Bay field station, the group set off across the beach under moody skies and amid a plus 8 foot tide. Normally, Spencer explained, the center likes to show groups the tide line during a minus tide, when many more sea creatures will be visible. Thursday’s group was content with identifying several molts shed by crabs that washed up on the rocks.
While meandering back toward the field station by way of the coastal forest, Marsteller and Spencer talked about the various wildlife that can be seen in Peterson Bay, including black bears and nesting eagles. They helped participants identify plants and fungi during their walk through the woods, which became warmer and more humid the closer the group came to the field station.
Once there, the wanderers got a break to look into the station’s touch tanks, which hold a variety of sea creatures. They’re separated into the “predator tank” and the “prey tank,” Marsteller said. This originally wasn’t the case, and the organization had to be changed when staff realized they were missing a few specimens.
Marsteller brought three examples of sea life up to the field station’s lab, where visitors got to study them up close through a microscope.
All this and a water taxi ride on both ends of the trip had the group back to the Homer Harbor by noon.
As representatives of the local tourism and business industry, some of the guests can now refer their guests and patrons to the hours the center offers.
If all the spots are filled for one of the guided Peterson Bay tours, families and friends can also participate in Creatures of the Dock tours, which take place right at the Homer Harbor.
Marsteller and Spencer said several of the sea creatures that would be seen on the tours can be spotted without crossing the bay. Sometimes, dock tour participants even see specimens that Peterson Bay tourists don’t.
For more information on the tours and educational opportunities offered by the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, visit akcoastalstudies.org.