Settling Plate Experiments Begin!

by rbehnam

Several weeks ago we finiished building and installing settling plates around Pier 15 in an effort to continue Karen Kalumuck’s experiments, formerly known as Dock Schmutz. This name affectionately refers to all the amazing creatures that grow on side of the docks in our bay. In more scientific terms, these creatures are known as intertidal invertebrates, and include both plant-like and animal-like organisms.

We decided to make our plates using PVC plastic, wood, and metal, and to hang them along the pier on both sides to see if we noticed any differences between the creatures on either side. And it wouldn’t be an Explainer experiment if we didn’t give each plate a strange name. So, the eight plates are named as follows:

1. The Old City – an entirely PVC plate that was installed prior to our official move to the piers by Karen. We estimate it was attached in the fall of 2012.

2. Boris – a series of two wood plates. Unfortunately, we somehow lost Boris a week ago and have to build a Boris #2.

3. Triplet City – a series of three, small PVC plates installed just outside the tinkering studio.

4. Rainbow City – Our only plate containing wood, PVC and metal layers, on the southwest corner of the pier.

5. Rusty Heartbeat – three metal and one pvc plate. Two of the metal plates are perforated with many holes. This plate is nearest to the gates by the Seaglass Restaurant.

6. Root Canal City – One of the older plates that was installed at the same time as The Old City, but is on the north side of the pier. Interestingly, the life growing on this plate looks very different from its brother plate on the south side.

7. Dedo Muerte City – a stacking series of both clear and white PVC plates hanging at the end of the echo tube.

8. Delicious Pineapple City – three wood plates hanging in the plaza, near Disappearing Rings.


Here is an example of the drastic changes we are seeing. Triplet City went from this,


to this,


in a matter of weeks!

And sometimes, very interesting things happen where we least expect it, like on the rope or bucket rather than on the plate itself. Here is a black limpet that has found a good home on the bucket of Rainbow City:


We are excited to see what will become of our plates! As they have only been hanging for a month, the biggest changes we have noticed is how quickly they become covered with black, brown and green sludge of all kinds. The Old City seems to represent the great diversity of creatures that could potentially grow on our plates, including tunicates (both solitary and colonial), skeleton shrimps, worms of all kinds, barnacles, mussels, scallops, limpets, bryozoa, and a variety of seaweeds.

Here are some thoughts and questions that have arisen in our notes and observations over the last month:

  • How much biomass is there? And how fast is it growing?
  • What is all this slime, mud, sludge really made of? Is it of any value?
  • Why do some of the buoy buckets get covered more than the plates?
  • What happened to Boris?
  • Are those long, spindly, pinkish seaweed things with bulbs on the end plants or animals?
  • Do creatures have trouble attaching to the smooth, metal plates?