SO BE FREE - 1999

SO BE FREE #4

March 21 - 23, 1999

Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB), Charleston, Oregon.


Oregon Institute of Marine Biology is located in the fishing village of Charleston, situated on Coos Head, a rocky headland at the entrance to Coos Bay. Charleston lies eight miles south of the cities of Coos Bay and North Bend whose combined populations total approximately 25,000. The marine lab is approximately 120 miles southwest of the University of Oregon's main campus in Eugene.

OIMB offers access to an unusual range of habitat diversity. All along the Oregon coast, the American Plate is over riding the Juan de Fuca Plate. The resulting coastline is steep, with rugged sea cliffs and headlands leading sharply up to the Coastal Ranges. In comparison to the passive margin of the east coast of the United States, estuaries and sand beaches are rare along the active margin of the west coast.

OIMB's site, however, provides access to a wide variety of coastal and upland habitats. To the south, a typical west coast system of rocky headlands, rocky intertidal zones, and a few protected sandy coves are contained within State Parks. To the north, the Oregon Dunes System of high energy sandy beaches, shifting coastal dunes and permanent and temporary lakes extends for 40 miles and is protected as the Oregon National Dunes Recreation Area. Coos Bay itself, like most west coast estuaries, is a drowned river mouth resulting from sea level rise following the end of the last ice age. It is the largest estuary entirely within Oregon, and contains an extensive network of tidal channels, sand bars, mudflats, eelgrass beds, and salt marshes.

South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (SSNERR) was established near OIMB in 1974 as a 5,000 acre natural area that is dedicated to scientific research, long-term monitoring, and public education about estuaries and coastal watershed habitats. Faculty members and students from OIMB played an instrumental role in the nomination and designation of SSNERR as the founding member of the national system of Reserves, and the SSNERR serves as an important focal point for collaboration between academic researchers, graduate students, and agency resource managers.

Offshore, a narrow continental shelf provides easy access to coastal waters that are characterized by a strong upwelling system with its associated nutrient-rich waters. The surrounding coastal forests include an 80 acre reserve within OIMB and a 5,000 a acre reserve within the SSNERR. The coniferous forest is dominated by Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, western redcedar and western hemlock, with an understory of salal and various huckleberry species. Red Alder is common in the riparian zone. Very little old growth remains in Coos County, but the OIMB reserve is approximately 70 years old, making it one of the oldest timber stands in the county.

The climate is mild, with summer temperatures rarely exceeding 85 degrees F, and winter highs generally in the forties and fifties. The prevailing winter winds are from the south and southwest, bringing warm, moist air to the region. Winter storms bring dramatic high winds and heavy rains. The summer is generally dry and cool, characterized by northwesterly winds and coastal upwelling. Coastal fog is common.

all photos on this page courtesy OIMB