Going to the beach? This is the time of year to explore a beach at low tide. Check the tide tables before you go. The heights of the tides, or how much beach is exposed, are constantly changing.
The intertidal zone is the rich and diverse part of the beach that is exposed at low tide and covered by water at high tide. The habitat changes as you walk from the upper part of the beach down to the water and you will see different animals and plants adapted to live in each area. Animals in the zones nearer the water can only be out of water for a short time at low tide.
As you are exploring, remember, this is their home. To learn the most about an animal, bend down and look at it in its own house. If you turn over a shell or rock you might see different things hiding underneath. These animals are staying cool and damp. Replace the shell or rock just like you found it so the animals don’t dry out and die. If you touch a living animal, use a wet finger and touch very gently.
A huge number of our local sea stars (starfish) have died from a disease called sea star wasting syndrome. The good news is that sea stars may be making a comeback. A recent low tide revealed a multitude of teeny sea stars, no larger than your fingernail. Leave all sea stars where they are. Intertidal life is often in a certain place for a reason. Look closely and you may be able to see the sea stars feeding or moving on their tube feet!
Barnacles are everywhere. Like many animals, they close their shell at low tide to retain water. You may not realize they are alive but if you have a bucket with you, fill it with sea water and put a barnacle in the bucket. It won’t be long until the barnacle starts feeding. This is what they do when the tide comes in!
You never know what you will find. Snails (sometimes with egg cases), limpets, sea slugs, sea anemones, sea urchins, sea stars, sea cucumbers, crabs, barnacles, mussels, chitons … maybe even an octopus hiding in a rock crevice.
We are lucky to live in such a rich marine environment. Don’t forget to look for whales going by! Explore, be safe and have fun.