On Saturday, November 16, MSI hosted a low-tide walk at Pillar Point, in Half Moon Bay. Certain low-tide events are better than others due to naturally occurring differences in the tide heights. Saturday’s was at a -0.55 ft at 3:30 pm, which means the height of the water was half a foot lower than sea level and a plethora of animals were exposed! Not only that, but it was in the afternoon on a sunny Saturday in November, so hundreds of people showed up to explore. I would estimate between 800-1000 people were on the hundred yard tide pool while we were there. I have never seen so many people tide pooling before, and while it makes me happy to know that more people are experiencing the joys of nature, I fear that we are loving this habitat to death.
Animals that live in the rocky shore are exposed in small pockets of water when the water level recedes during low tides twice a day, everyday in California. The animals may fall victim to desiccation, or drying out, low oxygen in their limited pool of water, and any number of predators, including humans, attacking them.
By simply turning rocks over we were able to see three types of crabs, sea anemones, snails, four types of sea stars, monkeyface pricklebacks, woolly sculpins, and more! While MSI’s group of 30 were careful to return animals to their pools, not harm any animals while exploring, and leave all shells behind, I cannot say this was true for all the visitors to Pillar Point. We saw some people taking buckets of California mussels home to eat, red rock crabs were being snatched up or smashed under the weight of hundreds of people walking over it, and monkeyfaced pricklebacks were being fished with a poke and pole method.
While most collectors have a fishing permit, some were illegally harvesting or taking empty shells they thought were beautiful. Pillar Point is a Marine State Reserve, which is one type of Marine Protected Area. In a State Marine Reserve even taking shells is not permitted. On Saturday there was a ranger at the exit of the parking lot checking fishing permits and legal limits to ensure a safe and healthy habitat, but you can do your part by knowing what is allowed in certain areas.
We invite you to join the Marine Science Institute for our next low-tide walk on December 14th from 1:45-3:45pm, to get an up close view of rocky shore animals in their natural habitat using dip nets and buckets to get a hands-on experience! Be sure to sign up soon, we always fill up these events!
By: Stephanie Hansen (MSI Instructor)