Tide pool school

Road Journals Blog—I feel like I just graduated from tide pool school.

Several months ago, when VIA asked me to write about West Coast tide
pools for the January/February issue, I thought I had a good background
with the topic. After all, I grew up near the Pacific Ocean, and have visited tide pools all my life.

But after beginning my reporting—my tide pool school, so to speak—I realized that even though I’d seen (and enjoyed) many tide pools in my time, I had never really seen them. Never taken the time to study them, understand their workings.

Take this critter, for example:

A pretty, orange star fish, right? That’s what I would have said pre-tide pool school. It’s actually a sea bat, an omnivorous sea star (the term “star fish” is no longer used by the pros) that I watched for a good 20 minutes as it moved about a pool, hunting plants and animals to devour.

After visiting a dozen tide pool sites and talking with 26 biologists, naturalists, and other experts from San Diego to Seward, Alaska, to Honolulu, I’ve learned a lot. About tides, upwelling currents, and sandy versus rocky pools; about the huge variety of plants and creatures that live in these places; about the beauty of a deserted, misty beach during early morning low tide.

The experts helped me in choose the handful of exceptional sites profiled in the article—though I should note that one or two experts refused to name their favorites for fear of them being overrun with visitors.

The profiled sites aren’t “the best” tide pools—a ridiculous concept, given the thousands of miles of coastline in California, Oregon, and Washington—but ones that are outstanding and well worth a visit. Among the factors considered in making the choice were scenic beauty, richness of animal and plant life, presence of docents or other educational resources, and relative ease of access. Some choices were tough to make, and in future posts I’ll tell you about two close runners-up.

In the meantime, attend your own tide pool school. Get a tide pool guide and explore a site or two. And if you have any favorite sites of your own, we’d love to hear about them.

Christopher Hall's article, "Pool party," with photos by David Collier, appears on the cover of the March/April issue of VIA.

This blog post was first published in January 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.