Most surfers have a love/hate relationship with mussels - we know they're important critters for the ecosystem balance, but there's nothing funny about having to negotiate a reef packed full of them when you making your way into or out of the surf.
If you've seen ou's wondering about on the rocks at Supers at low tide, with pegs and tape, they're part of a crew helping out with some Intertidal Reef Research between Boneyards and Lower point. They're sussing out the health of the mussels along this stretch of reef. Cos happy mussels generally means happy reef.
Mussels are important dudes and play a key role in aquatic environments and are considered to be "ecosystem engineers" cos they modify aquatic habitat, making it more suitable for themselves and other organisms.
The lil black feet-shredders shlurp up organic matter from the water column which they siphon, processing it to build their body and shell, and then flush out any left-over nutrients - which are then immediately available to nearby plant life, fish and invertebrates to chow. Mussels feed entirely on plankton, and have to filter up to 65 litres of water a day to get enough food for themselves.
During this feeding process, the mussels "clean" the water they live in by removing phytoplankton and the bacteria and fungi that are attached to the non-living organic particles they have removed from the water column. Other not-so-lekker particles and chemicals are then bound in the mussels' poop and deposited on the sea floor.
The mussel's shells are a nice possie for algae and insect larvae to attach to, so when mussels are present in large numbers, they may become like underwater gardens that in turn attract fish to feed in the area.
Reefs with healthy mussel populations will be cleaner and more attractive, so it's important to understand their distribution and population numbers, identify what impacts them and to evolve our knowledge of them. Tiaan Hoeben, who is conducting the research, is a Nature conservation student from NMMU-George campus who's busy with his final year of practical at the Supertubes Surfing Foundation.
The one's Tiaan is keeping an eye on are the Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis) and Brown mussel (Perna perna) on the inter-tidal reefs.
What's been happening recently is that lots of mussels are getting washed-up on shore and there is no logical explanation for this is happening. Hopefully the research might provide some answers.
Some of the objectives of Tiaan's study include making Jeffreys Bay a marine protected area/ World surfing Heritage site; to determine mussel population size & structure; and any changes to these over time and to detect threats on mussel populations, and the impact of these.
Tiaan's research will cover the reef from Boneyards down to Point, a distance of 1.5km. Measurments will take place on 6 week cycle, every spring-low tide.
The next Survey will take place on 25 and 26 November 2015.
So the next time you see dudes with sticks and tape and clipboards clambering around the reef throw them a shaka to say thanks for looking after the health of your surf spot.