Notice: The ELP webpages have been updated for 2023-2024. They are under final review. Thank you!
Going Easy in the Intertidal

Going Easy in the Intertidal

Going Easy in the Intertidal: Exploration Without Devastation (Monterey Bay Aquarium, 1999)

We humans can have a major impact on tide pools and beaches. Here are some ideas how we can explore with lesser impacts on these resources.

Where to Walk – The entire Intertidal zone, sandy beaches and rocky shores alike, are teeming with life. Virtually everywhere you step there will be plants and animals underfoot, some very fragile, others more rugged. In addition, you need to watch your footing to avoid slips and falls. Try this:

  • On the rocky shore try to step on solid, bare rocks. Stepping on seaweed is not only a slippery way to travel, but many creatures take cover under the seaweed during low tide. Stepping on loose stones is unstable and you may damage animals living underneath the stones.
  • Walk in a line, placing your feet where others have stepped. If you spread out in the Intertidal, you also spread out the trampling effect.
  • Keep on boardwalks, posted trails or other established paths.
  • Avoid stepping on fragile dune plants going to and from shore.

Examining Animals – Many Intertidal animals have exacting requirements for where they live, right down to a particular hole or depression in the rock that only they fit into. Many of these animals may be handled briefly to examine them, but should be treated with the following courtesies:

  • Always keep your hands wet when touching these animals, and keep these animals wet as well.
  • It is always best to look at a plant or animal in situ; try bending over to get a closer look in a tide pool or rocky crevice rather than bringing the plant/animal out of the water up to your level.
  • If you must remove an animal from the water, place it in a small, clear plastic container with fresh seawater briefly to allow everyone to see it. Be sure to replace the animal exactly where you found it.
  • If you must roll a stone or driftwood over to look underneath it, try not to crush animals in the process. Always replace the stone or wood gently in its original position. Remember, a loose stone or wood turns into a wrecking ball with the next high tide and can do a lot of damage to those Intertidal animals.
  • Similarly, if you lift up algae to look for creatures hiding underneath, replace it when you are done. The algae form a vital “wet blanket” over the rocks to keep animals cool and moist, as well as hiding them from gulls and other predators.

Do NOT Remove – Limpets, snails, abalone, chitons, mussels, sponges, tunicates (sea squirts) and attached animals or plants from the rocks. Most algae, mussels, tunicates (sea squirts) and sponges will not be able to reattach themselves before the next high tide and will be tossed up on the beach to fall victim to the sun or a predator. Many gastropods (limpets, abalone, and snails) easily succumb to internal bleeding if damaged while forcefully removing them from the rocks. (Their Internal cavity walls are easily torn and these animals lack clotting compounds in their blue-green blood to repair their damage).

Collecting –  Nearly everyone that visits the beach or tide pools is fascinated by what they see and desires to bring some souvenir or an object of beauty or curiosity back home with them. However, we should consider nature’s viewpoint when tempted to collect.

Living marine plants and animals have complex requirements for food and general living conditions that can’t be matched in most aquariums at home or at school. Removing live specimens from their Intertidal homes is a certain death sentence for them.

Dried specimens of certain algae or invertebrates may be attractive when properly prepared. However, preparation may be complicated (and perhaps a smelly) process you may not want to undertake.

Collecting shells has been a popular hobby for many people. However, each shell is often a complex microcosm of creatures, many of which live on long after the “original owner” is dead. If you look closely at a shell you are very apt to see tiny white spirobis tube worm shells attached to the inside or outside, or perhaps some boring sponge or even a small boring clam living in tiny holes in the shell. There may be barnacles, colonies of bryozoans or beautiful coralline algae encrusting the shell, and that shell may be just the right size for a naked hermit crab looking for a new house. In short, just about every shell is an important home for a multitude of organisms; when you take the shell home, you add to the housing shortage in the Intertidal.

For all of these reasons, and  many others, the state and many local governments have enacted strict regulations prohibiting collecting of plants, animals, shells and even rocks from beaches and tide pools.

The single most important way we can minimize human impacts on Intertidal areas is to educate everybody about better ways to treat these fragile resources. Please pass these tips along to others using beach and tide pools. When you’re in the Intertidal, please model the best behavior possible for others; we all learn best by observing others.

1999 Monterey Bay Aquarium