EELGRASS, JOHN STEINBECK, and DOC ED RICKETTS
California's Most Famous Writer and Marine Biologist
Neither one has a PhD or even a Baccalaureate Degree

Excerpts from John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts' 1941 Book
Sea of Cortez, page 261-262, Viking Press, N.Y. 598 pages


1941 Excerpt of John Steinbeck and "Doc" Ed Ricketts Sea of Cortez:
"AT TEN O'CLOCK we moved toward the northern side of the entrance of Agiabampo estuary. The sand-bars were already beginning to show with the lowering tide. Tiny used the leadline on the bow while Sparky was again on the crow's nest where he could watch for the shallow water. Tony would not approach closer than a mile from the entrancee, leaving as always a margin of safety."

"When we anchored, five of us got into the little skiff, filling it completely. Any rough water would have swamped us. Sparky and Tiny rowed us in, competing violently with each other, which gave a curious twisting course to the boat."

"Agiabampo is a great lagoon with a narrow seaward entrance. There is a little town ten miles in on the northern shore which we did not even try to reach. The entrance is intricate and obstructed with many shoals and sand-bars. It would be difficult without local knowledge to bring in a boat of any draft. We moved in around the northern shore; there were dense thickets of mangrove with little river-like entrances winding away into them. We saw great expanses of sand flat and the first extensive growth of eel-grass we had found. 1 But the eelgrass, which ordinarily shelters a great variety of animal life, was here not very rich at all. We saw the depressions where botete, the poison fish, lay. And there were great numbers of sting-rays, which made us walk very carefully, even in rubber boots, for a slash with the tail-thorn of a sting-ray can easily pierce a boot."

"The sand banks near the entrance were deeply cut by currents. High in the intertidal many grapsoid crabs [Oxypode occidentalis] lived in slanting burrows about eighteen inches deep."

"Some of the eel-grass was sexually mature, and we took it for identification. On this grass there were clusters of snail eggs, but we saw none of the snails that had laid them."

"As soon as the tide began its strong ebb we got into the skiff and started back to the Western Flyer. Collecting in narrow-mouthed estuaries, we are always wrong with the currents, for we come in against an ebbing tide and we go out against the flow. It was heavy work to defeat this current."

"1. The true Zostera marina according to Dr. Dawson, botanist at the University of California, who remarks that it had not been reported previously so far south."


Reflections & Observations
by
Robert 'Roy' J van de Hoek
Field Biologist & Geographer
Wetlands Action Network, Director of Research and Restoration
December 21, 2001

That grand book, Sea of Cortez, written by John Steinbeck and "Doc" Ed Ricketts has a fascinating passage about Zostera marina, Eelgrass. I excerpted the passage that even refers to a young scientist, E. Yale Dawson, who gave information to Ricketts and Steinbeck about the biogeography of eelgrass. It would be about 50 years later, that a new generation of Eelgrass biologists have shown that this Eelgrass at the Cape Region of Baja California is an annual growth of Eelgrass, rather than a perennial year-round growth.

I take note that both Steinbeck and Ricketts talk in their book about the "multitudes" of birds and the Oystercatcher that hunted the burrowing crabs, "diving at them as they sat at the entrances of their houses. It was not a difficult collecting situation; the pattern, except for the eelgrass, was by now familiar to us although undoubtedly there were many things we did not see. Perhaps our eyes were tired with too much looking."

Recently, I've learned that the Great Blue Heron depends on fish that live in Eelgrass meadows near Vancouver, Canada, from the book by Robert Butler entitled: Great Blue Heron. I am interested to learn if the especially unique subspecies of Great Blue Heron of the Cape Region of Baja California utilizes the Eelgrass there.

There are two photograph presented below at two enlargement scales of the small boat that entered the Agiabampo Estuary of the Eelgrass and mangroves in the Sea of Cortez. Ed Ricketts, Tiny, Carol and John Steinbeck are shown in the small boat called the Baby Flyer.


Photograph of Ed Ricketts, Tiny, Carol and John Steinbeck in small boat called the Baby Flyer in the Sea of Cortez

Enlarged Photograph of Ed Ricketts, Tiny, Carol and John Steinbeck in a small boat called Baby Flyer in the Sea of Cortez