A Naturalist’s Guide to Beach Exploration

Summer is the perfect time to visit the beach with your family thanks to warm weather and daytime low tides. The intertidal zone, the exposed area between high and low tide, is a fun and dynamic place to explore. If you know what to look for this can be a wonderful opportunity to connect with nature and observe fascinating sea creatures. As visitors to the beach, there are many ways we can both enjoy and protect these natural areas. Here are some tips for respectful beach exploration, ideas for amazing animals to look for, and suggestions on regional parks to visit.

Beach Explorer’s Code
1. If you pick it up, put it back. The rocks at the beach are homes for animals. If you are looking under rocks to see who lives there, it’s like taking the roof off someone’s home. When you are done looking, make sure to put the roof back on so the animal can continue living there, otherwise you’ll leave them exposed to the hot sun and hungry predators.

2. Handle creatures gently. Touch or hold animals with care and walk carefully so you don’t step on or disturb shoreline animals. If you want to observe an animal for a few minutes, make sure to keep it in a container full of sea water and try not to drop them from up high. Release animals promptly to minimize stress.

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3. Leave it at the beach. Everything at the beach plays a role there even if it looks unused. For example, empty shells can provide homes for many animals, like the hermit crab who can’t grow its own shell. Hermit crabs tuck themselves into empty shells they find at the beach. As they grow they need to upgrade to bigger and bigger shells.

Island View Beach Regional Park
Island View Beach overlooks Haro Strait, the San Juan Islands, and Mount Baker. Located in Central Saanich along the eastern shore of the Saanich Peninsula, this rocky beach is rich in intertidal life. In the rocks you are likely to find many different kinds of crabs, barnacles, limpets, chitons, and isopods, who are related to the terrestrial pill bug (also called “roly-poly”). In the seaweed near the waterline you might find clingfish (who have a special fin under their body that acts like a suction cup), gunnels (a small fish that looks like an eel), or nudibranchs (also called sea slugs).

Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park
Offering one of the only open-expanses of sandy beach south of Parksville, this regional park is perfect for a long stroll in the sand. Located in Metchosin, the beach overlooks the Olympic Peninsula and has large tide pools at low tide, home to fish like the tidepool sculpin and flatfish. Keep an eye out for clam holes, piles of sand left behind by worms, bubble shell snails, crabs of all shapes and sizes, and shore birds or great blue herons. Please do not disturb these birds as they have limited time to catch enough food for themselves and their babies because of the tides.

East Sooke Regional Park
Classified as a wilderness park, East Sooke Regional Park offers access to several beaches and many seaside views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains across the water in Washington. Visit the small pocket beach, a short 300 m one-way from the Aylard Farm parking lot, to explore for crabs, sculpins, barnacles, and other animals who live on the rocks. If your family enjoys longer, more challenging outings, try hiking to Beechey Head for incredible views and a chance to look for whales, sea lions, and harbour seals swimming in the water below. You can also try driving a bit further to the Pike Road entrance for a beautiful stroll along an accessible trail through a lush coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem to Iron Mine Bay. Here you might find goose-neck barnacles, sea stars, periwinkle snails and sea anemones.

Want to learn more about the many interesting and wonderful animals you find in CRD regional parks? Join CRD Park Naturalists for free guided walks and drop-in events for all ages. For more information, visit crd.bc.ca/parks-events. Please remember that dogs are not permitted to stay in beach and picnic areas until September 15.

Emma Jane Vignola is a Park Naturalist with the Capital Regional District.

Emma Jane Vignola
Emma Jane Vignola
Emma Jane Vignola is a Park Naturalist with the Capital Regional District.