“The Edge of the Sea”

“The edge of the sea is a strange and beautiful place.  All through the long history of Earth it has been an area of unrest where waves have broken heavily against the land…”          Rachel Carson, The Edge of the Sea
And along the edge of the sea, in wondrous intertidal zones,  live a multitude of organisms…
as our Oregon Master Naturalist class discovered when we investigated the Rocky Shores found at Yaquina Head near Newport, Oregon.
5-16-14_What do you see?

At first glance, most would gaze upon the rocky shoreline and recognize a lot is going on.

  • “What do you see?”

That’s a BIG question… but, easily answered with the assistance of a set of Nature Guidebooks.

5-16-14_Looking closer

  • “Why are animals and plants living where they do?”
  • “How can organisms survive in this area of unrest where waves break heavily against the land?”

These two questions are more complex. They require us to analyze the environment, and to evaluate how needs for survival are met in the habitat zones located along the rocky shores.

Intertidal Habitat Zones-
Chart: A Guide to the Side of the Sea; http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/735/files/TidePoolGuide02ScienceBackgroundPart1.pdf

Fortunately, our cadre had skilled instructors from diverse backgrounds who showed us how to look at the edge of the sea with the literal and critical thinking skills necessary for seeking out the answers to all three questions.

I shot a potpourri of photographs during our morning-long exploration of the rocky shores.  Once the images were on my computer screen, the realization hit… my notes from an afternoon class were excellent clues, but not enough to answer all three questions…

Understanding why the plants and animals lived where they did, and how they were able to survive in a particular habitat zone made sense. Cynthia Trowbridge, Ph.D., Senior Research Associate, Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, was an impressively knowledgable instructor who helped me to bridge those understandings with information she shared on the beach and in the classroom. 


Where I stumbled a bit was on the identification of all the Rocky Shores flora and fauna! Time to pull out the nature guide books, and to find some helpful websites.  

Then organizing the photos was a lot of fun…

I proceeded to synthesize information gathered from exploration on the beach, interaction in classroom, and time researching to create photo galleries for each of the intertidal zones found at the edge of the sea…

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Zone 1: Spray or Splash Zone
It’s no surprise that only the hardy live in the Spray Zone!
Imagine experiencing moisture only when:
  • the highest of salty waves reach you… usually at high tide during a severe winter storm,
  • ocean spray drifts your way,
  • fresh water washes down your rock face during times of rain and occasionally snow.

Then imagine the influences of being exposed to:

  • temperature extremes,
  • light,
  • wind.

The combined result of all these factors is desiccation. Only organisms that have adapted mechanisms to prevent the effects of extreme drying can survive here.

Although there can be large numbers of individuals, the Spray Zone supports fewer species than other zones. Some of the organisms I observed are pictured above. See if you can identify them. Check your thoughts by running your mouse over the photo.

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Zone 2:  High Intertidal or Rockweed Zone

Zone 2 is exposed to the air about 35% to 75% of the time. Flora and Fauna that dwell here also experience harsh changes in temperature, salinity, and availability of water. In addition, animals and plants must attach themselves securely to the rocks to survive wave action.

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Zone 3:  Middle Intertidal or Mid-littoral Zone

In the Middle Intertidal Zone, tides cover and uncover the plants and animals about twice a day. Changes in temperature and salinity are less severe than in zones one and two. It is exposed to the air about 7% to 35% of the time.

Many animals here depend on the tides to carry food to them. In a healthy Middle Intertidal area, the zone is rich in diversity and numbers of organisms. Dense covers of algae provide food and shelter for many of the animals.

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Zone 4:  Lower Intertidal or Infra-littoral Zone
Red Encrusting Sponge, Iridescent Seaweed
Sea Anemones
Gastropods (Limpets & Snails)
Spiny-Skinned Animals- Sea Stars, Sea Urchins, and Sea Cucumbers
Ochre Sea Star-
First row- signs of Sea Star Wasting Disease
Second row- healthy Sea Stars (for now)
Fish- Tide-pool Sculpin

You will need to look very carefully, but I assure you, there is a sculpin in each of these photos.

Organisms in the Low Intertidal Zone are fortunate to have water cover most of the time. The zone is exposed to air only at the lowest tides… about 9% of the time. Most plants and animals here can only survive short periods of time out of the water.

Temperature and salinity changes are much less severe. More organisms are found in the Low Intertidal Zone than in any other of the zones.

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I add this category as a way to include the birds and mammals that rely on the Rocky Shore environment to meet some of their needs for survival.

Test your observation skills in the last two photos. See if you can find the mother seal with her newly born pup… the baby still has its umbilical cord visible.

Never stop looking… you never now what wonders await for those who stop to watch at the edge of the sea.

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Helpful Resources:

Oregon Rocky Intertidal Field Guide- mytilus.science.oregonstate.edu/speciesID.pdf

Rocky Intertidal Zonation- netartsbaytoday.org

Oregon Tidepools- oregontidepools.org

Tidepool Etiquette- http://oregontidepools.org/etiquette

Pacific Fission Worms- fission_worms

30 thoughts on ““The Edge of the Sea”

  1. Thank you, Jane, for those fantastic photos and the lesson that came with them. Baby seal’s position looks a bit precarious if a decent wave comes along!

  2. Informative post, Jane. Really enjoyed reading it, as coincidentally have been gathering pictures with the same subject in mind. Am a fan of Rachel Carson’s writing too :). It’s interesting to note the similarity of species – here on the Cape Peninsula the coastline is tempered by two ocean currents, making for a range of sea flora/ fauna. Was chuffed to see that nudibranch and also what looks to be a sea hare? Wonderful to see such a rich tidal edge through your galley of photos.

  3. WOW!!!! Talk about getting the most out of a field trip! This post has certainly added to the great day with the Oregon Master Naturalists. I got alot out of that day, but Jane you have opened my eyes. I want to learn to be computer facile with my camera; you have definitely inspired me Thank you so much. –Bonnie Joyce, Coquille Watershed

  4. I was wondering who the lady with the camera was! Verrrry Cool. I have not seen your blog before, so will have some fun with it soon. See you at graduation?!

  5. Hooray for rocky shores!! I love these photos – the mid-intertidal zone was a major focus of my dissertation (especially the Purple Ochre Sea Star and mussels). I miss the beauty and hidden “treasures” of tide-pooling. You got some great photos of the diversity that resides there!

  6. Thanks, Jane! A lot of work involved on your part but what a nice summary of the day. Really appreciate it!

  7. Hi Tim-
    Yes, that was me! I loved putting the camera to work during our field studies. What an enlightening experience each class turned out to be… having the photos helps me to remember things better.

    I do hope you will come back to the blog. It’s fun to have these little conversations with others.

    Hoping to be at graduation… however… our first grandchild is due right about that time. She will have preference!!!!!!


  8. Hello Bonnie Joyce-
    I’m so happy you are inspired! Just have your camera handy and take LOTS of photographs… then play around with editing for improving composition with cropping, etc. I usually use Lightroom 5. I started with Aperature, but now tend to lean more towards the Lightroom features.

    I’d love to see your photography. Email me links when you get your project off the ground. I’m an amateur at this and learn a lot through trial and error, but if I can be of help… please let me know.


  9. Hello Ken-
    So happy you enjoyed the post.
    I agree with you, the way seals position themselves on the rocky shores does seem troubling to the human eye. I suppose we are left to trust the ways of nature… tampering “to save them” often goes more wrong than right.
    A thought that crossed my mind was how little time the mother seal and pup had to rest and recover before the tides would come in. Then your observation most certainly is a factor.


  10. Hello Becca-
    I’m happy the photos took you along on to your favorite place! Agreed… there is SO much diversity. That’s where I’m grateful to have the photos to “freeze” things for a longer look. I had to laugh at myself – the sculpin in the urchin and sea star observations totally eluded me until I discovered him during photo editing!!


  11. Hello Liz-
    I’ve admired Rachel Carson ever since I was a little girl… I still have my “child’s” edition of “The Sea Around Us” that Santa brought for me when I was ten years old. At the time, my dream was to be a marine biologist when I grew up!

    I look forward to your rocky shores photos from the Cape Peninsula!
    I’m going back to the photo of nudibranch to see if I can spot a sea hare. That’s the amazing part of photography- the ability to look again, and to continue finding more in the richness of the diversity in species.


  12. Understood… the total absence of the bright color of sea stars down here is somber.
    You clearly went to considerable effort in photographing this excursion, and as well the literary illumination is greatly appreciated, it has filled in a lot of gaps of mine own knowledge.
    Tube worms and purple sea urchins can be seen close at hand in tide pools at the Strawberry Hill beach access, just south of Cape Perpetua. North from the turn out, up the beach at low tide and on top of the furthest accessible lava fingers are pools which offer good observation.

  13. Hello Eric-
    I am so grateful to have the photos… I missed a lot of species at the my first observations made on site. Cynthia Trowbridge left so many helpful comments after my initial efforts to identify species! The tube worms escaped my eye… not knowing what to watch for. Now I can understand what you are describing down your way.

    Your careful directions are only making it easier to get a move on… and to plan that camping trip south! Guess it’s time to get the RV supplies topped up 🙂

  14. Tube worms are very sensitive to vibration and shadow over the pool, one has to stay low and move slow approaching the pools edge.
    Chinook RV Park up the Alsea River 3 miles from Waldport is neat and tidy, they’re good folks and usually have a space available.

  15. Hi Jane,
    What an inspiration she was to so many! And influential – her ‘ Silent Spring’ ignited the environmentalist movement . I’m travelling for the next couple of weeks, so rock pools and the intertidal zone must wait until I return home again.

  16. Inspired photos! I love this bit of Oregon’s coast, and took a series of photos at Lincoln City on the rocky shore there. The creatures are wonderfully colorful and diverse. Such a privilege to explore a living coastline. Our East coast beaches are frighteningly empty of life these days. Best wishes, WG

  17. Hello WG-
    As a child, we often vacationed on the New Jersey shore. My favorite place was Cape May Point because it, then, still seemed on the natural side. After moving to Oregon 45 years ago… I can’t imagine ever leaving the amazing Oregon Coast. We were fortunate to have had visionary legislation that made the coastline public lands… Good for us and, more importantly, the natural systems that depend on it.

  18. That decision was very far seeing… and a huge gift to the entire planet. Our beaches are also largely “public lands”, but controlled by the military. All of the ship traffic, pollution, and weapons testing along the East Coast have had a huge impact. We used to vacation on an island off the NC coast which had living beaches. We loved it there, and collected so many interesting shells and saw so many dolphins, shorebirds, living mollusks, and fish. That is where I leaved to love the ecosystems of the ocean. The last time I was there, about 6 years ago now, the beaches were nearly empty of shells- I still hope to have the opportunity to move to the OR coast, where my grand daughter is growing up 😉 Best wishes, wG

  19. WG-
    I join you in your remorse about the condition of ecosystems as they exhibit the effects of human activities.I wish I could say our ecosystems out here are functioning perfectly, but they, too, are burdened. What we are currently seeing is the effect of upwelled waters that cause ocean acidification- not a good thing for shellfish like oysters and mussels. Scientists are also very puzzled by the Sea Star Wasting syndrome that is rampant from Alaska to California. What we have working in our favor is that many of the tidal areas and estuaries are not as populated as they are on the East Coast… that helps with plans for remediation.

    The Oregon Coast IS an amazing place and many folks deeply care about its past, present,and future! What part of the Coast does your grand daughter live?

  20. Hi Jane,
    Thank you for following Forest Garden today 😉 I’m looking forward to getting to know you better through these chats.
    My daughter is in Lincoln City, and absolutely loves the Pacific beaches near her. She was living there in March of 2011, and I’ve been extremely concerned about the radioactivity now in the Pacific and the fallout blowing across from Japan. We just catch snippets about what is going on, and I’ve been reading about die-offs in parts of the Pacific in recent months. The whole Pacific rim is an amazing place, rich in life, and so beautiful. I’m glad that there is active work to both preserve and restore the coast line there. We have just had beaches closed here for bacterial contamination from the York River south almost to the VA state line. A very troubling situation for everyone along the coast here- and for the rich shore populations of birds here and up along the Chesapeake Bay. I honor all efforts to restore health to our waterways 😉

  21. Hello WG-
    I just read an article in Nature World News about tracking of radiation from Fukushima with a kelp study. Apparently kelp are highly susceptible to absorbing isotopes. Monitoring along the West Coast is, so far, not showing signs of contamination. That is good news.. http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/6957/20140508/west-coast-kelp-safe-from-fukushima-related-radiation.htm

    However, ocean acidification has been a known problem since about 2007 when the oyster hatcheries started to have problems. High CO2 levels in up-welled waters are the problem. Interestingly, the culprit carbon emissions are those that accumulated and sank into the Pacific 50 years ago.

    Seems to me, there are environmental problems anywhere humans have had impact. A global crisis we all must address in little to big ways… from the Chesapeake to the Tillamook.

  22. That is such a reassuring article, Jane. Thank you for sharing it. I’m glad that the monitoring is an ongoing project over such a large area north to south. You are so right about the human impact. Isn’t it interesting that upwelling releases so much carbon deposited in the ocean decades ago. What is the main cause of the upwelling? storms? I”m always happy to plant something to trap a little carbon and filter the air. Seems like a small thing to do, but every gesture helps 😉 Elizabeth

  23. Hi Elizabeth-
    My impression is that the acidification is driven by varying ocean dynamics depending on location. Off the Oregon Coast the upwelling causation was primarily ocean current driven… connected with the El Nino, La Nina effects… but I can’t describe how those function!

    I hope you won’t mind me sharing links… this one for NOAA’s “What is Ocean Acidification?” just kept me engaged for the last half hour or so. The video and story map – Ocean Acidification Around the World- were very informative and “easy” to understand.

    I agree with you, little things do matter, because they all add up!



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