How long can you hold your breath? – Life between the Tides

One of my favorite times to head to the beach is during low tide.  The rocky coast here along Sea Ranch boasts some terrific spots for observing tide pools and the broader intertidal zone.  Whenever you’re in the intertidal zone, however, you need to be ever observant of where the waves are, and the status of the tide.   Rogue/sleeper waves can easily engulf you and take you into the surf in a flash if you’re not careful.  The same is true of an incoming tide, which can strand you for many hours or worse if you don’t pay attention.   So, with those perfunctory cautions out of the way, let’s talk about what I’m showing here.

Heads up!

The first image was taken at Del Mar Point in the late afternoon.  I spent some time carefully crawling down the rock formations to this spot where the waves were breaking over an exposed group of rocks.  I was actually a little more interested in where the waves were to notice specifically what species were on the rocks.  But you can see a nice mix of invertebrates and various forms of attached algae.  Needless to say, I didn’t spend too much time there, but it was exciting.



Goose Barnacles and Rockweed

Mussels and More Mussels

The remaining images were taken at Tide Pool Beach, also on Sea Ranch.  The first image in this group shows a very characteristic and recognizable grouping of Mussels (Mytilus spp.)  In the next two images you can also see the tightly grouped Goose Barnacles (Pollicipes polymerus) which are known to closely associate with the California Mussel (Mytilus californicus).  The green marine algae attached to the rock hanging above the barnacles are most likely Rockweed (Pelvetiopsis limitata).  This seaweed grows at a much higher intertidal level, and is submerged in only the highest of tides.  The last image is a close-up of the mussel beds…talk about tight quarters, but I loved the visual effect of the color patterns it produced.

The intertidal zone is an extremely complex environment and it’s worth spending time there trying to identify some of these more common organisms.  It’s also worth noting the various patterns of zonation, i.e. where a particular species is found relative to tidal elevation.  Most of these intertidal organisms have well-defined limits in which they inhabit that reflect their own niche within the marine ecosystem.  For example, the Rockweed described above has evolved to exist in areas where only the highest tides submerge them.  That’s a long time to “hold your breath.”  But that capability to exist within such an extreme environment has given this species a competitive advantage.  Each species has its own story of how it evolved, and found its advantage in how and where it colonizes the intertidal zone.  I hope you’ll go and spend some time between the tides in a beach near you…just watch your back!


Equipment:  Nikon D3s: Nikkor 17-35 mm f2.8 lens (Image 1)  and a 24-70mm f2.6 lens (remaining images)

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