Lettuce, cucumber, lemons, peaches, pork, fried egg, and bread—this may resemble a picnic ingredients shopping list, but they are in fact local marine species. The Salish Sea is rich with biodiversity and sea lettuce, sea cucumber, sea lemon, sea peach, sea pork, fried-egg jelly, and bread crumb sponge are all out there waiting to be spotted.
As residents of this island paradise we are spoiled for choice of locations to explore. Along with some pre-planning—proper clothing, sunscreen, tide checks, and picking a location, there are things to consider upon arrival at the beach. A colleague in marine education asks students if they’d head over to a friend’s house and proceed to overturn cushions, knock over lamps, tear up stuffed animals, and throw food wrappers on the floor; their answer is always no. The point of course is to make a parallel with visiting a beach countless animals call home. These tips will help you explore while minimizing your impact on the intertidal environment.
Be prepared. Along with the pre-planning tips noted above, one essential piece of preparedness is footwear. Sand can suck off flip flops, exposed toes will lose in a battle against barnacles, and rocks are often more slippery than they appear.
Take a book, a guide book. Even experts come across surprises and species they’re not familiar with; a good field guide will help you identify animals and algae on the spot.
Stay low. How far down are you willing to jump or fall? Dropping an animal from your standing position is a monumental distance for most creatures. A quick scuttling shore crab held in non-confident hands can result a long and dangerous drop for the animal. Stay squatting near the ground.
Stay where you are. Staying where you are with feet firmly planted in place reduces the risk you’ll slip and fall but also prevents an animal from tumbling out of your hands. It also avoids the question, “where did I find it?”, when it’s time to put the animal back. Find something cool? Call others over to you instead of moving the animal.
Hands clean and wet. Rinse the palms of your hands clean of sunscreen and keep them wet for touching or holding animals. Intertidal creatures without shells or other hard protective coverings need to remain wet. Some fish have a protective coating that can be damaged by holding them with dry hands.
Return it. Animals living under a rock are adapted differently than animals adhering to the top of that same rock; it’s important to pay notice to where the animal was found and place it back in the habitat you found it in. When turning rocks over, choose rocks small and light enough you can roll it gently towards you and after a good look, carefully roll it back into its original position while watching out for the creatures and your fingers.
Be gentle. To withstand wave action and protect themselves from predators, many rocky shore animals adhere tightly to the shoreline. If an organism is attached after a gentle touch, leave them be and simply observe. When holding an animal, the 10 second rule is best; count one thousand one, one thousand two, and so on until reaching 10 which is your cue to return it.
Patience. Camouflage is one of the best ways to survive in nature so at first glance you may see little to nothing at all; remain still and let your eyes adjust to the location. Your incoming movement and shadow may have sent species scurrying but as you stay still, a tidepool can start to come alive.
Look up and out. Fascinating beach finds aren’t only at your feet. Survey the landscape by looking up and out; there is the chance to see seals, sea lions, whales, birds and more.
Pack it in, pack it out. Remember to take all of your belongings with you when you leave, including garbage and recycling.
Take 3 for the sea. You’ve learned a few things, snapped some pictures, returned everything as you found it, and left no trace, but before you turn on your heals and head home, take three for the sea. Take three for the sea is a new spin on the old adage, “leave a place better than you found it.” If we all picked up three pieces of trash from the sidewalk, park, beach, or anywhere, we’d make a huge difference on the health of our environment.
Write a shopping list, make a picnic and head to the beach to explore. Perhaps you’ll find a sea lemon while sipping lemon water or spot a sea cucumber after munching a cucumber sandwich.
Tina Kelly is the Director of Learning at the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea.