The Yaquina Estuary

image A short geography and life science lesson…

Across the bridge and on the other side of the Yaquina Bay, lies the 49 acre site of the Hatfield Marine Science Center for research and education.

image hmsc.oregonstate.edu

Operated by Oregon State University, the Visitor Center is a mini-museum with live marine animals, exhibits, interactive displays, games, and puzzles for exploring ocean science.

image roadtripsforfamilies.com

image hmsc.oregonstate.edu


Outside is an interpretive estuary trail

image oregonhikers.org

that captures our attention not only because we like to walk, but also because Jeff and I are familiar with the term,””estuary” but are hard pressed to define it. So, we go find out.


But first I stop, look at, and snap a pic that calls my name.

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Estuaries link ocean and river systems. In other words, salt water and fresh water meet creating a habitat that is an ideal breeding ground for coastal organisms, from shellfish to shore birds, to waterfowl. This nutrient-rich habit is ideal for plants, animals, birds, and fish. (plaque at trailhead)

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The picture below shows the 3 components of the Yaquina Bay Estuary, from left to right, the river, the bay, the ocean.

image blogs.oregonstate.edu

Fresh water from the river mixes with the salty sea in the bay, the transition zone.

The marshes and shrub wetlands provide a home for fresh water fish, wintering waterfowl,

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and anadromous fish, such as salmon. Pacific salmon spend part of their lives in the ocean but return to fresh water to spawn and die.

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As the tides ebb and flow, salt is deposited in the mud flats created by river runoff.

Below is a picture of the tidal creeks traversing the mud flats.

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Organisms that thrive in the mud flats can live in the fine-grained sediments of low tide and can survive the flooding of high tide.

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The mud flats are beneficial to many living systems. Humans and shorebirds harvest clams, shrimp, and worms. At high tide fish nibble at the algae and microscopic organisms. Birds frequenting the estuary, in turn, feed off the fish. Benthic creatures, the bottom-dwellers, also play a crucial role in the food chain. (plaque on trail)

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The 3,900 acre Yaquina Bay Estuary, located in the heart of Newport, is one of the largest and most important estuaries in Oregon. It is a critical habitat and breeding ground for waterfowl and migratory shorebirds. Unfortunately almost 70% of these estuarine marshes are gone. Efforts to save and restore the wetlands are underway with local, state, federal, and private support. (aquarium.org/exhibits/estuary-trail)

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Dungeness Crab Capital

image The Newport Bayfront

As we leave Yaquina Bay Lighthouse and State Park, we pass under the most photographed bridge on the Oregon coast.

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The Yaquina Bay Bridge is another architectural achievement by  C. B. McCullough. (visittheoregoncoast.com)

Our destination is the bustling, salty, tourist-populated Bayfront of Newport.

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According to visittheoregoncoast.com, Newport is home to the West Coast’s largest commercial fishing fleet.

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Trawlers set out and return to unload their catch.

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Fish-processing plants and canneries line the street.

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And harbor seals and barking sea lions bask along the docks looking for fish scraps.

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A little farther out the more adventurous wait on this rock and check out the returning fishing trawlers.

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You could definitely nickname this outcropping Seal Rock, but then folks would confuse it with the small town south of Newport with the same name.


According to the Lincoln County Historical Society plaque at Seal Rock State Park off Highway 101, J. Brassfield set up a post office and ran a hotel here in 1890. The town received its name because of the seal population living on the rocks.

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The views of the ocean and rocks of the Oregon coast from this wayside are just too awesome for me not to share them with you.

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Notice how this picture from the south loses the blue sky.

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2 Lighthouses

image Newport, Oregon

Today we start our adventures in Newport, some 15 miles north of McKinley’s Marina and RV Park, and check out the Yaquina Head Light. This structure is the tallest lighthouse in Oregon, standing 93 feet tall.

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It sits on 100 acres of land now operated by the Bureau of Land Management and classified as an Outstanding Natural Area. (visittheoregoncoast.com)

I get a chuckle out of this sign beside the lighthouse.

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We opt out of making reservations to tour the lighthouse and choose to whale watch around the premises instead. It’s a cloudy day. The sea looks ominous. The rocks remind me of angry ogres from fairy tales.

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There are birds dotting the jagged boulders above; a colony of murre

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and cormorants.

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To everyone’s delight, a few whales make their presence known by exhaling misty sprays from their blow spouts. Uninvited, little, pesky kelp flies show up as well landing in clusters on shoulders, jackets, backs, and caps. Even Jeff is itching so we quickly head down to the cobblestone beach.

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There’s no sand on this beach, just tons of gray cobblestones washed smooth by the waves from the sea.

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I capture a nice view of the lighthouse from here.

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Finally, as we pull away in the car, I take this shot of the whole area we just visited.

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Traveling south from the Head Light we pull over at Yaquina Bay State Park

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and Newport’s 2nd lighthouse.

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The Yaquina Bay Lighthouse is the only wooden lighthouse and the only one with attached living quarters in Oregon. Built in 1871, it only operated for 3 years. The house is now a museum. (visittheoregoncoast.com)

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According to the docent, a family of 8 lived here. Below is the view from the window in the hallway on the 2nd floor.

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The 3rd floor is the light keeper’s watch room. An iron ladder  ascends to the lantern room, which is not open to the public.

In 1996 the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department restored the lantern room into a working navigational aid. The light, operated by a photocell, shines a steady white light from dawn to dusk 161 feet above sea level. (yaquinalghts.org)