Know your beach-this week from the beach

#3 in the 2017 series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin. 

baby octopus

I was talking with a great family last weekend at the beach and their 4-year-old son said to me, “The water is coming back! That is bad news!”

He was talking about the tide coming back in. Indeed, it was bad news for us humans who love exploring the wondrous tide pools during low tide, but very GOOD news for the myriad sea creatures who struggle to survive a few hours out of the water that keeps them alive. We had lots of good stewards join us at the beach this week who helped to ensure that the animals, whose homes we like to visit, stayed protected during the stressful time of low tide by observing with our eyes, leaving animals where we found them and sometimes even giving animals a little extra protection with a covering of cool seaweed.

Communing with a Lewis' Moonsnail

One animal particularly vulnerable during the low tides is the Lewis’ moon snail. These large, marine snails spend much of their time burrowed in the sand for protection. They live out in deeper waters during the fall and winter and come closer to shore in the spring and summer to mate and lay their eggs. Their large shells (sometimes almost 6” in diameter) house their even larger bodies, including their tremendous foot that can extend up to 12” in length! Although moon snails can pull their entire, enormous selves inside their protective home and close themselves in with their front-door-like operculum, they will suffocate to death if they stay shut inside for too long. A good reason to observe them where they are rather than picking them up and scaring them back inside their house!

Moon snail diagram

So many moon snails were observed this low tide series! It was a treat to get to watch this gal at Constellation Beach gather sand on her foot and burrow herself deeper into the sand. It was looking as though she might have been getting ready to lay some eggs! You can see the remnant of a moon snail egg collar next to her. The ultimate egg sandwich—the moon snail gathers sand on her large foot, deposits a layer of eggs, adds more sand and then seals it all up with some thick, sticky mucus! Five hundred thousand babies will hatch out in about six weeks as the egg collar starts to break apart. You can also see evidence of a moon snail meal in the photo above. They love clams and will use their tongue-like organ, called a radula and covered in hundreds of tiny, sharp teeth, to drill into the clam’s shell in order to suck out the meaty insides with their proboscis. Those holes in clams were not put there by someone to make a necklace!

mossy chiton

woody chiton

Underside of a Chiton

 Gumboot Chiton

Like the moon snail, chitons have a soft body with a large foot and a protective exterior. Rather than one single shell, chitons have a coat of armor consisting of eight hard plates. These plates are visible on almost all species, the gumboot chiton being an exception. The gumboots have a leathery, skin-like girdle that covers their plates of armor. We have a resident gumboot at Constellation Beach. Well, actually, several! The one pictured here, seen on the smaller, rocky breakwater, is a whopping 10” in length. It seems to have made a home for itself in deeper waters, so we only get a glimpse of it on our super low tide days. You are more likely to see smaller species, like the mossy and woody chitons, clamping down on the rocks during low tide. They keep moisture in this way and also protect themselves from being eaten by ravenous gulls. Every once in a while though, I spot one on the move. As you can see here, they are pretty speedy!

jellies

The jellies are back! People often ask me at the beach, “Can I touch it? Will it sting me?” All jellies sting, but some have more potent stings than others. Coming into contact with these two species, the water jelly and cross jelly, probably won’t have much of an impact on your human skin. However, some people are extra sensitive, so always err on the side of caution when you see jellies. Both of these jellies are small in size, usually maxing out around three inches. They are translucent and hard to see during the day unless you are really keeping a close eye out for them. At night, they both have the ability to glow in the dark! Did you know jellies are plankton? Even though we tend to think of plankton as something we cannot see with the naked eye, the word plankton refers to any organism that cannot effectively swim against the current. Ever seen a giant mola sunfish? They are plankton too!

sand dollars

Sand dollars

Underside of Sand Dollar

Underside of a sand dollar

Burrowing Sea Cucumber

Burrowing sea cucumber

Ochre Star

Ochre sea star

Believe it or not, sand dollars, sea stars and sea cucumbers are all related. They’re all in the same phylum, Echinodermata, meaning “spiny skinned.” In the above photo of the sand dollars at Seahurst Beach, you can see the living animals, covered with deep purple spines and the remains of a dead animal, the white shell or “test.” On the top of this “test,” we see a flower pattern with five “petals.” This is where the sand dollar has tube feet that help in respiration. When you flip that “test” over and look at the underside, you’ll see a central hole and radiating branches. The hole is the sand dollar’s mouth and the branches are grooves that, along with mucus, help ferry food to the central mouth.

Beach etiquette tip of the week: Leave your furry family members at home. Dogs are not allowed on our Seattle beaches—on leash or off.

It was another great week at the beach—thanks again to all of our amazing volunteers and visitors! Wait, did I mention already we saw a baby octopus at Lincoln Park Beach?! There’s nothing better than that! Anyway, if you enjoy taking photos of your beach explorations, make sure to tag them on social media with #seattleaquarium, #beachnaturalist, #knowyourbeach. We hope to see you the week of June 22 for our next low tide series. Happy tide pooling!

Meet Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists on local shorelines this summer! Check our website for dates, times, locations and directions.

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About Jen:

Jen writes:

“I ventured westward from Albany, NY and fell madly in love with our city from the moment I arrived. It was 21 years ago this August when Seattle first charmed me with its lush, forested parks, beautiful beaches, and water and mountain views (when the skies are clear enough) all around.

I spent the first half of my 21 years here immersed in Seattle’s wonderful coffee culture. My husband and I owned and operated Victrola Coffee on Capitol Hill until 2008. We sold our business that year to spend more time with our newborn son and I have been a stay-at-home, homeschooling mama and budding photographer and naturalist ever since! It started with me taking my young son to the beach, gazing into tide pools and wanting to know more about what we were looking at. Soon, I was going to the beach by myself, every low tide I could, and following the Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists around asking questions. 🙂

I signed up to be an interpretive volunteer at the Seattle Aquarium in 2013, became a beach naturalist volunteer in 2014, and this will be my second year as an official member of the Seattle Aquarium staff as a beach captain. My favorite place to be is on the beach, with my camera, sharing my love and knowledge of our intertidal dwellers with the hope that I will inspire others to love and protect the Salish Sea and the ocean beyond.”

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WOW(W): a 10-year anniversary!

WOWW diving

Guest post from Cari Garand, marine science interpreter and diver at the Seattle Aquarium

Our Window on Washington Waters (WOWW) exhibit is celebrating a big milestone. Ten years ago on June 21, 2007, WOWW became the exhibit that welcomes visitors from around the world to the Seattle Aquarium. This exhibit showcases what life is like along the outer coast of Washington state—specifically, a dive site called Mushroom Rock, found in Neah Bay.

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WOWW offers the perfect way to get to know our underwater neighbors, many of which you could find hanging out under the Aquarium itself. This 120,000 gallon exhibit houses hundreds of local species from coho salmon to the much-adored wolf eel.

The water has changed color over the years.

As cold Puget Sound water rushes through at 1,600 gallons per minute, it brings with it plankton that have settled down and started to grow. The colonization of this exhibit has been amazing to watch over the years. Encrusting coralline algae, baby anemones, even nudibranchs grace the cracks and crevices of the rocks, creating a dynamic and thriving ecosystem. These animals are just a few examples of our “other group of volunteers” that call the Aquarium their home.

The local marine life in the exhibit is definitely a draw—and so is one specific type of mammal that can be found floating in its waters at 10am, 11:30am, 12:15pm and 3pm on the weekends: Aquarium divers! Dive staff and volunteers have been giving high fives through the 12.5-inch-thick acrylic since the beginning. Diving in our cold Puget Sound water (which varies from around 45 to 55 degrees F) does require a lot of gear but that has never stopped our divers from adding a little flair to their outfits. WOWW has seen the likes of hula divers, Seahawk fans, and even Santa!

WOWW provides a unique opportunity to connect people to the water beneath us in Puget Sound and Washington’s outer coast—all part of our one big ocean. So come and explore to help us celebrate the Window on Washington Waters exhibit’s tenth birthday!

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Know your beach-this week from the beach

#2 in the 2017 series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.

I am so excited for my second year of being a beach naturalist and the chance to keep blogging for the Seattle Aquarium. My first shift of the season was at Dash Point State Park in Federal Way. This is the most southern beach our naturalists cover. Dash Point is a unique beach for our team for a couple reasons:

  1. It is a state park so the rules are a little different. There were lots of dogs on the beach and lots of families out harvesting shellfish (more on that shortly).
  2. It is all sand. No rock shelves or boulders for sea creatures to hide on. This meant we had to look for the smaller creatures and the ones that live under the sand.
Dash Point’s wide sandy beach

Dash Point’s wide sandy beach

It was Memorial Day weekend and the sun was out. The park was absolutely packed with families out enjoying the warm temperatures and blue skies. Our naturalist team hit the beach and we had no shortage of curious kids and families. Since I knew I was not going to find any sea stars or anemones I focused my attention onto the moon snail egg collars. These gray, rubbery, plunger-looking things that most people think are washed-up trash are actually made by the large moon snails that love sandy areas like the ones at Dash Point. The egg collars not only hold millions of moon snail eggs, they also serve as homes and dinner for a variety of tiny creatures. When you find a moon snail egg collar, gently turn it over, keeping it very close the ground. There are often a variety of sea slugs and snails underneath. One of the creatures that I was finding under almost every other collar was a type of sea slug called an opalescent nudibranch. This gastropod is one of the favorites of beach naturalists. They can grow up to three inches long. They are a beautifully shimmery, almost translucent pearl color with brilliant orange tips on their feathery cerata (the part that helps them breathe). They also can have bright teal streaks along their body and their horn-like rhinophores just add to the adorable factor.

Unique opalescent nudibranches:

unique opalescent nudibranches collage 1unique opalescent nudibranches collage 2

Since shellfish harvesting is allowed at this state park (check this URL), we got the rare chance to see massive horse clams (Pacific gaper) and geoducks out of their sandy homes below the surface. We generally only get to see their siphons sticking a few inches out of the sand, filtering water in and out as they eat. The geoducks were so fascinating to see—they are huge! Their body and shell can be to three to four feet below ground, and their long siphon can still reach up to the surface to feed. Watching the families work as a team to get these mollusks from their deep homes was really interesting, and I was exhausted just watching them.

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One last unique feature of Dash Point’s beach is a massive sand dollar aggregation. This area is filled with thousands of eccentric sand dollars. The purple ones are alive, covered in dense, tiny spines. They can live for up to 10 years, and what we often find on the beach is the white exoskeleton after they have died.

Eccentric sand dollar aggregation

Eccentric sand dollar aggregation

A live Eccentric sand dollar makes its way deeper into the sand

A live Eccentric sand dollar makes its way deeper into the sand

Meet Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists on local shorelines this summer! Check our website for dates, times, locations and directions.

About Bobby:

This is Bobby’s second year as a beach naturalist.

His passion for the Salish Sea started when he and his wife moved to Seattle four years ago from San Antonio, Texas.

Bobby is an avid photographer and enjoys capturing his adventures of the Pacific Northwest. During the week you will find him biking to work where he leads a creative team at a local marketing agency.

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Know your beach—this week from the beach

#1 in the 2017 series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.

Captain Bill talking about crabs

Sunshine, warmth and extremely low tides (some of the lowest of the summer) were a great way to kick off our beach naturalist season over Memorial Day weekend. I want to give thanks, not only to the 160-plus naturalists who volunteer their time with us to share their love of Puget Sound and all its wonderful sea creatures, but also to all the enthusiastic, curious and engaging visitors who came out to see us. We love all of you!

Speaking of love…I decided to focus most of my report from the beach this week on a really important activity among all our tide pool denizens—reproduction! It has been on my mind since the trainings with our new and veteran naturalists this spring because we had a very exciting reproductive event occur while we were out on our West Seattle beaches in late April: herring spawning. The significance of this event is still unfolding and will continue to be monitored by WDFW (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) and by citizen scientists like you! Kersti E. Muul and Buzz Shaw were the first to report the unusual sighting of millions of herring eggs covering sargassum (an invasive seaweed) at Constellation Beach in West Seattle. I asked Kersti to describe what her initial reaction was:

Millions of herring eggs on the Sargassum

Millions of Herring Eggs on the Sargassum

“On April 30, 2017 I excitedly headed down to Constellation Point to marvel at the very low tide (-2.06). I wanted to see and photograph the wildlife that would be out in spades. One of my favorite quotes from Northwest native culture is: ‘When the tide is out, the table is set.’ This couldn’t have been more evident on this day.”

Gull with herring at Constellation Beach

Gull with herring at Constellation Beach

“As I got out of the car, it was evident that we had a ‘super-event’ underway. There was a wall of people lined up along the sidewalk videoing the dozens of sea lions barking in joy, thermos-regulating, dining and splashing. I have never seen that many people there, even on the grandest of orca fly-bys. As I clumsily made my way to the shore, slippery seaweed threatening my every teeny step. I noticed seagulls diving and fighting over chrome-bright herring. Not the usual seagull stuff. Three juvenile eagles sat on glacial erratics, herons stood in stoic silence. Children screamed at squirting siphons and adults were hunched over everywhere, pointing at things.

I moved closer and saw it. The pearly white haze stretched as far as I could see on either side of my feet. Eggs. Millions of eggs. They were all over the sargassum. Nobody was looking at them. As I reached Aaron (my boyfriend) and our friend Buzz Shaw, I was already screaming; ‘These are herring eggs!’ I immediately started texting people pictures and later learned that my friends didn’t realize the implications of this, or my excitement; they just thought I was a ‘fish-nerd’ enjoying her time at the beach.

I have searched for herring eggs in the eelgrass year after year to no avail. I have not seen herring eggs here in West Seattle my whole life. Buzz agreed that it probably had been at least 30 years for him.

All of the bulkheads here, as well as pollution, have been detrimental to our eelgrass and herring stocks. Seeing the sargassum as such a good choice of substrate for this [as yet unknown] stock of herring gave me such a thrill. I immediately began daydreaming about what this could possibly mean for our Salish Sea:

  • More forage fish for dwindling salmon runs
  • More forage fish for predating wildlife, like seals, that actually prefer herring over salmon, meaning
    • less stress on salmon populations
    • More salmon for our critically endangered resident orcas
    • A possible fishing season for me in marine area 10 in the near future! (I opted to not fish last season due to such poor forecasts and starving Orcas)

I have been a fisher-woman my whole life. The implications of what I was seeing hit me immediately. I felt like a protective mom out there as I watched dozens of people trampling over the tiny pearls. I reached out to as many as I could to expand the joy, knowledge and protection.”

Herring Eggs with Eyes showing

Herring eggs with eyes showing

Well, I had to go and see the eggs for myself. I remember seeing a map during our naturalist training that showed where herring spawned in Puget Sound. There was only one tiny stretch near the Olympic Sculpture pocket park. I was always seeing photos in the springtime from a friend of mine up north, in Canada, of blades of eelgrass dripping with beautiful, translucent beads of herring eggs. I had always wanted to see some in person. I had never seen them at Constellation Beach and was really excited at what this could mean. My first visit was astounding. The number and variety of birds congregating and eating was incredible. Getting to see the beautiful herring eggs strewn about the sargassum in such huge numbers was like nothing I have seen before. I returned about 10 days later to check on them, and was treated to seeing the babies inside the eggs, moving about and getting ready to hatch out into the world. I learned that the gestation period for these herring is 10 to 14 days.

When I returned about 14 days after first seeing them, they were all gone. There was no evidence that they had ever been there! The herring eggs on my home beach were an unusual and exciting event. It remains to be seen if they will continue to return to the West Seattle beaches in the future. I certainly hope so. More forage fish in our waters, like herring, mean more food for salmon and that can mean more food for our beloved orcas and maybe even for us too!

Spring and early summer are great times to look for eggs on the beach. Walk slowly and with gentle footing, and you are sure to find some amazing life on the verge of hatching out into the world! Here is what we saw this weekend in West Seattle:

sculpin eggs

Sculpin eggs

Sculpin eggs! Check out their cute, little eyeballs! You will find sculpin eggs in the crevices of rocks and they can be a variety of colors from yellow to orange.

Opalescent Nudibranch

Opalescent nudibranch

Opalescent nudibranch eggs on moon snail egg collar

Opalescent nudibranch eggs on moon snail egg collar

Sea lemon

Sea lemon egg ribbon

It was a nudibranch party out there this weekend! There were SO many opalescent nudibranchs and lots and lots of their eggs, often found on moon snail egg collars (which house 500,000 eggs themselves). Sea lemon nudibranchs were another frequent sight along with their elegant, yellow egg ribbons.

Papa Plainfin Midshipman

Plainfin midshipman

Midshipman eggs

Midshipman eggs

These beautiful fish, plainfin midshipmen, migrate up to the shallows in the spring to mate. After the male sings a song to woo his lady, she will lay her eggs on the underside of a rock, then he will fertilize and remain with them until they hatch out, and the female will return to the deep.

Beach etiquette tip of the week—rocks are homes!

If you lift a rock to look under it, make sure to return it exactly as you found it. All rocks have tops and bottoms. Some animals can only survive topside and others only survive underneath, where they find shelter and protection.

Mating red rock crabs in the eelgrass

Mating red rock crabs in the eelgrass

The crabs were feeling the love too! I did not see any crabs with eggs this weekend, but I sure saw a lot of courtship! Female red rock crabs give off a chemical scent as they get ready to molt (shed their old exoskeleton because they grew a new one underneath). The male picks up on this scent, woos the lady crab and, if she is willing, grabs her and carries her with him until she finally molts. This could take up to two weeks! It is only when she has molted and is soft that the male is able to fertilize her eggs.

I will leave you with a slideshow of some of the other fabulous animals we got to spend our time on the beach with over the weekend. A special thank you to volunteer naturalist Steph Renaud, who found the craziest things this week and was willing to pass on her pictures of a rare sighting of a giant rainbow nudibranch AND its eggs at Saltwater State Park. This guy/gal was 8” long (they can grow as big 12”!) We can’t wait to meet you at the beach again the week of June 8—happy tide pooling!

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About Jen:

Jen writes:

“I ventured westward from Albany, NY and fell madly in love with our city from the moment I arrived. It was 21 years ago this August when Seattle first charmed me with its lush, forested parks, beautiful beaches, and water and mountain views (when the skies are clear enough) all around.

I spent the first half of my 21 years here immersed in Seattle’s wonderful coffee culture. My husband and I owned and operated Victrola Coffee on Capitol Hill until 2008. We sold our business that year to spend more time with our newborn son and I have been a stay-at-home, homeschooling mama and budding photographer and naturalist ever since! It started with me taking my young son to the beach, gazing into tide pools and wanting to know more about what we were looking at. Soon, I was going to the beach by myself, every low tide I could, and following the Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists around asking questions. 🙂

I signed up to be an interpretive volunteer at the Seattle Aquarium in 2013, became a beach naturalist volunteer in 2014, and this will be my second year as an official member of the Seattle Aquarium staff as a beach captain. My favorite place to be is on the beach, with my camera, sharing my love and knowledge of our intertidal dwellers with the hope that I will inspire others to love and protect the Salish Sea and the ocean beyond.”

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Jeff Renner's report from the D.C. People’s Climate March

Ocean acidification and climate change go hand in hand. Just as excess burning of fossil fuels leads to unhealthy changes in Earth’s one ocean, it also creates undesirable changes in the world’s atmosphere. Learn more about ocean acidification and carbon footprint—plus the Aquarium’s sustainability efforts—on our website.

And keep reading for an account from Emmy-award-winning producer of science documentaries Jeff Renner, who went to Washington, D.C. in late April to participate in the People’s Climate March, and kindly agreed to share his experience with us:

The sense of purpose was as palpable as the Washington, D.C. heat and humidity. As an estimated 200,000 marchers left the Mall just west of the Capitol on April 29, the temperature steadily climbed to 91 degrees, tying the all-time record for that date, and clinching the title for the warmest April on record at Reagan National Airport.

The irony of the steamy weather was not lost on the marchers, who walked from the Capitol to the White House, protesting retreat from policies and measures to address climate change. “Where are the deniers?” asked more than a few participants. “Probably seeking the comfort of air conditioning.”

It would be easy to dismiss the muggy weather as an anomaly. But 2017 is off to the hottest start of any year in recorded history in Washington, D.C.; despite the clammy winter—and spring—in the “other” Washington (our state), 84 percent of the United States experienced a warmer-than-average winter. And since 2014, global temperature records show each year has been progressively hotter than any year on record.

Given the resolve of the marchers (this meteorologist and writer among them), both humor and courtesy prevailed along the route. Not only was anger and vandalism absent, marchers frequently were heard thanking the police and security officers suffering through the same sweltering conditions. What was also remarkable was the inclusivity of participants, in terms of gender, ethnicity, faith and age. There were young children, parents and grandparents; scientists, educators, business owners and employees; faith leaders from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. As the walk progressed, and perspiration soaked through clothing, sunscreen and snacks were traded and the diverse groups mixed.

If the boundaries between groups dissolved, the sense of purpose, and the messages remained. Some posters, and slogans, remain firmly in mind—and struck an obvious chord with the crowds lining the sidewalks. They fell into several key themes. Here are some samples:

“Let’s have a moment of science”

and                                      

“If 97 engineers out of 100 told you not to take an elevator—you’d climb the stairs”

The ridicule of science and embrace of “alt-truth” was a strong point of contention. One high school teacher, pointing to the mass mailing of booklets by a petroleum and coal industry-supported foundation—booklets denying the strong consensus behind climate science—asked, “Why bother with an education? Why call for more emphasis on STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and math?” Others pointed to decreased government support of alternative energy sources while other nations increase such investment. A marcher carried a sign saying, “China thanks the President and Congress.”

“The Ocean is rising—and so are we”

Maps were plentiful; maps illustrating projections of sea level rise and the loss of coastal land. Other marchers held up images of dying coral reefs and marine life, losses caused by warming sea temperatures and changes in the chemistry of ocean water. Recently updated data show the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 410 parts per million—the highest recorded in analysis of ice cores spanning more than 800,000 years, well before our species walked the planet. And in past programs sponsored by the Seattle Aquarium, scientists have documented how pteropods, tiny snails fundamental to the health of ocean in general and the Northwest seafood industry in particular, are sustaining serious damage as ocean water becomes more acidic.

“Hands off our holy land, our holy waters”

Native American groups led the first segment of the march, expressing resolve and requesting support to continue opposing the building of pipelines over, under and through lands and waters granted by treaties.

“Don’t worry about the first 100 days—worry about the next 100 years”

Marchers stopped to surround the Trump International Hotel, briefly sitting on the sidewalk to chant, “Shame, shame, shame.” While more than a few expressed compassion for coal workers and those employed by other extractive industries, numerous speakers pointed out the inattention of political leaders to many more who have lost jobs in industries eliminating jobs through automation…and to the increasing medical evidence of the impact of exposure to pollutants in aggravating and expanding asthma and related conditions.

“My wife just gave birth—so let’s save the Earth”

Perhaps the most common theme was the sense of obligation to future generations. The sign depicting the words above was carried by a young man, a proud but worried new father. Parents walking with children, grandparents walking with grandchildren, all expressed frustration with the change in policies, and the domination of politics by special interests with large pocketbooks. More than a few said, “It’s unacceptable for us to spend our children’s inheritance…and it’s just as unacceptable for others to do it.”

If feet were rubbed raw on this last Saturday of April by miles of walking on hot sidewalks, so too was the willingness to “sit this one out,” and the reality that groups not accustomed to joining together in dialogue and action are now moving forward together.

Jeff Renner at Climate Change march

As a scientist, a writer and a parent, I felt that same resolve. That’s why my wife Susan and I committed to the expenditure to support my travel to Washington, D.C. for the march. We view it as an investment in future generations—those of our family, our neighbors and of people we’ve never met. There are many critical issues, but all pale if there’s not a habitable planet. I’m reminded of this phrase:

“It’s time to lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

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