This post is from May 2019 and now includes a few updates and new videos!

One of my favorite activities as a child was going to visit and interact with tide pools on different beaches. I grew up just a mile away from Bellingham Bay, just a few miles away from Larrabee State Park in Washington, and my family went on many day and overnight trips along the Washington coast, which meant I had so many experiences with tide pools!

What Are Tide Pools?

Tide pools are found along the shorelines of rock coasts, meaning that there are plenty on the Pacific Northwest coast. These depressions, usually within large rocks, are filled with seawater and animals as the ocean tide comes and goes. During low tide, these small basins are filled with seawater and animals but can vary in size. Some are only a few inches wide and are shallow. Others can be a few feet across and a few feet deep.

Animals like snails, crabs, anemones, sea stars, small fish, barnacles, and more can be found in tide pools. During low tide, those in the pools have to deal with hours of sun exposure, potential predators, and more. During high tide, on the other hand, the pools and marine life are bathed in seawater but also have to deal with crashing waves and fish foraging for food while they temporarily access the shoreline.

Because of these conditions, many marine animals in tide pools will cling to rocks. This prevents any crashing waves or predators from moving them. For example, barnacles are able to produce some of the most powerful glue because it allows them to stay put. Being able to cling to rocks is a vital survival tactic for many marine animals that live in or around tide pools.

Tide pools exist within intertidal zones, which are areas where the ocean meets the land. These zones include steep and rocky ledges, sandy beaches, mudflaps, and estuaries. The species found in intertidal zones will depend, in part, on high and low tides but include animals like seals, sea lions, shorebirds, starfish, mussels, and so much more.

Tide Pool Etiquette

There is some etiquette to keep in mind when you’re interacting with tide pools. These tips are for your safety and for the tide pools! Many species call tide pools and surrounding intertidal environments home and are sensitive to human interaction. Keep the following tips in mind when visiting tide pools (and beaches in general!) to keep the ecosystems and animals healthy.

Be mindful of the tides. It can be easy to lose track of the time while exploring the tide pools but you don’t want to get stuck! Keeping an eye on your surroundings can help but there are resources available to know when the tides change.

Don’t take home any souvenirs! A shell, animal, or rock could be a cool thing to bring home but doing so would greatly affect the ecosystem, as they’re all integral parts of the tide pools and intertidal marine environment. Plus, the ecosystem would be greatly changed if everyone took something when they visited. Simply observing and taking only videos/photos is the best way to remember a trip to the tide pools.

Be careful where you step. This is both for your safety and the animals. Some rocks and other parts of the beach are very slippery, meaning that it’s all too easy for you to potentially fall and hurt yourself. Similarly, be careful to not step on animals!

Carry out any trash. Like any ecosystem or species, tide pools and the animals that call them home don’t do well with litter and trash. The ocean and marine species are all dealing with immense amounts of plastic, which is causing all sorts of issues. So when visiting the beach and tide pools, don’t forget to carry out any trash you bring in or see.

Return any flipped rocks and be gentle with any animals. Some beaches and intertidal areas have rocks that are fun to flip! And sometimes, there are crabs underneath. But once you flip or pick up any rock, be sure to gently return it to where it was. Similarly, the Oregon State Parks And Rec Department has some tips about visiting tide pools, including being gentle with any animals you might find. They suggest keeping the following phrases in mind:

  • “If you pry, it will die.” Don’t try to force anything off of rocks or try to get something open.
  • “Keep it low and let it go.” If you do pick up a crab (or the like), keep it close to the ground in case it falls! Once you’re finished holding the animal, gently put it back where you find it.

Tide Pool Activities

Keeping all those things in mind, going to different tide pools and intertidal environments can be so much fun! If you live near the coast, exploring tide pools is a great day trip but there are plenty of amazing places you can visit on longer trips. Here are some places to find great intertidal ecosystems and tide pools:

And if you’re ever in Bellingham, WA, there’s the Marine Life Center, a great place at the Squalicum Harbor where you can learn more about the marine life in the Pacific Northwest. There’s a touch tank, educational events, and so much more.

While it will be important to keep safety in mind, have fun exploring the tide pools and intertidal ecosystems along the Pacific Northwest coasts! Summer is almost here, meaning that there will be plenty of great weather to go exploring. And with more and more folks getting vaccinated, it may seem like the Covid-19 pandemic is coming to an end but it’s still important to wear face masks and socially distance with people outside your household, even when outside.

Stay safe and don’t forget to respect other people, the animals, and the environment around you! Let me know about your tide pool adventures in the comments.

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