Mendocino, California: a town so small, with a singular stoplight, that you can drive right past it in minutes. I ventured back to Mendocino this June and met up with Tyler, a dear friend from college. He is one of the people in those years who helped me begin to realize my outdoorsy potential – helping me acquire my first pair of binoculars for birding, studying vertebrate natural history together, and adventuring with me on my earliest camping trips.
Tyler harbors an incredible, infectious enthusiasm for the natural world, and a knack for sharing his knowledge in a fun, sometimes musical, and always engaging way. His high school students are lucky to have him as their teacher. For me, it was a treat to visit this summer and spend the morning with him in the tide pools.
On the west coast, tide pools are fairly abundant. When you visit a rocky shoreline during low tide, the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth, and its gravity pulls the oceans away from where you stand. The water recedes revealing the intertidal area where live an abundance of creatures: sea anemones, snails, sea stars, fish, octopi, crabs and more. Tyler led us to the shore below the Mendocino Headlands, where I tried my best to cause the least disturbance to the pools and keep my footing on the slippery rocks.
One of my favorites in tide pools is the sea lemon. This little animal is an eye-catching, vibrant yellow gastropod (like a snail or slug). Luckily, Tyler had taken us to a rocky tunnel in the bluff that sheltered some of the tide pools from the glare of the sun, and I was able to take photos from above the water of the little sea lemon and its neighbors.
The animals continued about their lives unhurried in the pool that had become their entire world for the next several hours until the tide returns. We were especially on the look-out for a minuscule, six-armed sea star of the genus Leptasterias (pictured above). We photographed the Leptasterias for documentation of their presence, since some populations of sea stars are being devastated by a recent epidemic called sea star wasting disease. Scientists are trying to determine why it’s happening and how the loss of sea stars will affect ecosystems, since sea stars are keystone predators in the intertidal zone.
The tide pools and their inhabitants are at once both durable and fragile. The aquatic creatures there withstand exposure to sun and wind for hours each day, and also can be injured easily by a visitor’s foot in the wrong place or mishandling. Knowing this, visitors should tread with care and respect, and in return, the tide pools surely won’t disappoint! They offer hours of exciting exploration for people of all ages.