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Beachcombing: Loss of isopods raises questions about beach health (photos)




David Hubbard, a research specialist at UCSB's Marine Science Institute, looks for crustaceans called Isopods on a Malibu beach on July 24. Hubbard and a group of scientists have found that the Isopod population has disappeared from 60 percent of Southern California beaches.
David Hubbard, a research specialist at UCSB's Marine Science Institute, looks for crustaceans called Isopods on a Malibu beach on July 24. Hubbard and a group of scientists have found that the Isopod population has disappeared from 60 percent of Southern California beaches.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
David Hubbard, a research specialist at UCSB's Marine Science Institute, looks for crustaceans called Isopods on a Malibu beach on July 24. Hubbard and a group of scientists have found that the Isopod population has disappeared from 60 percent of Southern California beaches.
Isopods crawl on Hubbard's hand. Although they look like insects, they're crustaceans that burrow into the beach sand and are nocturnal.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
David Hubbard, a research specialist at UCSB's Marine Science Institute, looks for crustaceans called Isopods on a Malibu beach on July 24. Hubbard and a group of scientists have found that the Isopod population has disappeared from 60 percent of Southern California beaches.
UCSB researcher David Hubbard sifts through Malibu beach sand looking for Isopods. Scientists say the shrinking of their population is a warning sign for the health of Southern California beaches.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
David Hubbard, a research specialist at UCSB's Marine Science Institute, looks for crustaceans called Isopods on a Malibu beach on July 24. Hubbard and a group of scientists have found that the Isopod population has disappeared from 60 percent of Southern California beaches.
Hubbard uses a sifter to look for Isopods. The crustaceans like to burrow in semi-moist sand, similar to the consistency of brown sugar.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
David Hubbard, a research specialist at UCSB's Marine Science Institute, looks for crustaceans called Isopods on a Malibu beach on July 24. Hubbard and a group of scientists have found that the Isopod population has disappeared from 60 percent of Southern California beaches.
Nick Schooler, a UCSB graduate student in marine science, takes down tide measurements of a Malibu beach on July 24. Once a month, UCSB researchers spend three days tracking the crustaceans in the area.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
David Hubbard, a research specialist at UCSB's Marine Science Institute, looks for crustaceans called Isopods on a Malibu beach on July 24. Hubbard and a group of scientists have found that the Isopod population has disappeared from 60 percent of Southern California beaches.
Both Beach Hoppers and Isopods burrow into the sand. During the summer they burrow one foot or more into the beach, and up to three feet in the winter.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
David Hubbard, a research specialist at UCSB's Marine Science Institute, looks for crustaceans called Isopods on a Malibu beach on July 24. Hubbard and a group of scientists have found that the Isopod population has disappeared from 60 percent of Southern California beaches.
UCSB graduate student Nick Schooler measures wave frequency at a Malibu beach.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
David Hubbard, a research specialist at UCSB's Marine Science Institute, looks for crustaceans called Isopods on a Malibu beach on July 24. Hubbard and a group of scientists have found that the Isopod population has disappeared from 60 percent of Southern California beaches.
David Hubbard holds a Beach Hopper. Crustaceans like Isopods break down kelp, and are a source of food for shorebirds.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC


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You remember pill bug, those little roly-polys that curled up in the palm of your hand as a kid.

Their scientific name is isopods and they have cousins that burrow into the sand along the coast, but those isopods have disappeared from a number of southern California's beaches.

In the latest installment of our Beachcombing series, KPCC's Molly Peterson explores why we're losing isopods, and what it might mean for the health of our coast.