One of the coolest interplays between a marine ecosystem and a surfing wave occurs at Sebastian Inlet.
A peculiar sessile invertebrate, commonly known as Worm Reef, periodically builds colonies along the base of the north jetty. By collecting suspended nutrients and sediment, the Phragmatapoma lapidosa build colonies in the intertidal zone. Plus, they like it rough. Wave breaking action helps activate more sediment making more material available to the Worm Reef to build their homes.
Back in the day, the north jetty at Sebastian Inlet was made up of a series of pilings skirted by a rock base. The Sabellariid would use this combination of pilings and rock to build colonies. Their colonies would then effectively “fill the gaps” between the pilings. Worm reef between the pilings created a unique living wall. This living wall helped to reflect wave energy from the base of the jetty back towards the surfing zone. When a reflected wave would meet another incoming wave, voilá, First Peak was born. Yes. It is true. Not only was First Peak a man-made wave due to the jetty, but First Peak was also biomechanical engineered and enhanced thanks to the worm reef.
Due to deterioration, a major north jetty rehabilitation took place from 2001-2003. A major part of this rehab was to place another row of pilings in front of the existing pilings. Today, the gaps between each piling on the front row are too big for the worm reef to connect their colonies from piling to piling. They can no longer build the reflecting wall that made First Peak so good. Take a close look at the header picture on this web page. Do you see the worm reef colonies? Do you see the gaps between the pilings? Try as they might, these little critters are no longer able to contribute their tubes to make surfing tubes.
At the First Peak Project, we’ve been watching the worm reef over the past decade.
In this time, they have not been able to close the gaps between the pilings. This first picture below shows the worm reef colonies in March of 2015. Notice the front row of jetty pilings with the worm reef colonies around their base. In the background do you see the second row of pilings and the rock base?
The next picture, taken three months later in June of 2015, shows that most of the worm reef packed up and left town. Without the worm reef, there is no chance that the gaps will close and create the reflecting wall we need to restore First Peak. At the First Peak Project, we’re on a mission to better understand the growth cycles of the worm reef. We want to figure out a way to help these sessile suspension feeders close these gaps.
Just a touch of worm reef.
If the Sabellariid only had a little help from their human friends, there is no doubt that we could make First Peak great again. All we would need to do is give the worm reef a little more substrate between the pilings to grow on. This little living wall along the base of the north jetty would return just enough reflection to get First Peak breaking again. It’s a very subtle solution if you think about it. Only if the worm reef could fill the gaps, First Peak could become the world’s first, purposely man-made, purposely bio-mechanically enhanced, living surfing wave. Our friends the worms have been trying to show us this for a long time. η
Help us grow a conversation
If you enjoyed Surfing’s New Superstar and you want to help us grow a surfing wave, please join the conversation below. Please remember that the Sabellariid are delicate and when we talk about them we need to be gentle with our words and respect our comment policy.