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Summer Tide Pools on Oregon Coast Are Different, and There's a Mystery

Published 07/15/2016 at 6:51 PM PDT - Updated 07/15/2016 at 7:51 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

tide pool season on the Oregon coast

(Oregon Coast) – In a lot of ways, it is indeed tide pool season on the Oregon coast – but a different kind. It's certainly safer to view them with these calmer conditions, but summer's higher sand levels can drive them to extinction in many spots and move them around in other situations. This season also makes for a scientific mystery.

Summer changes what you see in tide pools just a tad, including the kinds of creatures. But the landscape is different as well, thus you may actually find slightly less tide pool spots in some areas, and yet other beaches will reveal a lot more.

Inside the tide pool itself, Seaside Aquarium manager Keith Chandler said one big difference you'll see is more algae and kelp because things are warmer. There are more nudibranchs this time year, and more gumboot chitons. The gumboot feeds on the algae and kelp.

Gumboots are odd, blob-like creatures, usually fairly red and up to a foot in length. They have one foot that sticks to the rocks, but they can easily get dislodged and then get tossed around.


Nudibranch photo: Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium

Nudibranchs are spectacular, wildly space-alien-looking creatures, coming in blazing, bright colors. They're a kind of slug, really. .

There's other oddities tucked away in there, but Chandler said they're impossible to spot unless you have a trained eye. (Tide pool photo at right: Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).

“In spring and summer it's like a nursery in the tide pools,” Chandler said. “There are a lot of Perch rockfish hiding in the kelp. Yosu can't see them unless you have the right equipment or know exactly where to look.”

These are all babies, Chandler said. The juvenile Perch rockfish get about half an inch to an inch long.

“When they get bigger they venture out into the the briny blue,” Chandler said.

During the summer, sand levels get higher – sometimes a lot higher. Especially in recent years, a lack of gnarly, sand-scouring winter storms has made for incredibly high sand levels from July through September, which tends to broaden beaches considerably. This even makes normally dangerous rocky spots much more easily accessible.

Oceanside's Maxwell Point or the Devil's Punchbowl are good examples of this. Summer's high sands make it appear there's a huge low tide, because the tide line is a lot farther away than usual. In these spots, you can often go around Maxwell Point quite safely and sometimes even get inside the Devil's Punchbowl.

This also changes tide pools.

“There's more sand so the tide pools aren't as deep, but some are more accessible,” Chandler said.

Places like Arch Cape are a good example. But here, most of the tide pools seen the rest of the year are gone (these are only accessible during low, low tides). During summer, Arch Cape's tide pools are more safely gazed upon because the tide line is farther away, but they're farther down the beach, closer to the water.

Again, same dynamic with the Devil's Punchbowl area: the marine gardens next to it. More stuff is visible because high sands have built sand bars out beyond the breakers and they're keeping the waves away.

Conversely, however, the tide pools normally found at Arch Cape and other places are covered by the sands this time of year.

The tide pool creatures simply move on, it seems. But some can't, like the anemones. They're mostly stuck. What's happening there is not well known. Are they moved somehow? Are they simply covered up and new ones move into the new tide pool real estate?

The puzzler here is that Chandler says he sees the same tide pool spots come to life with anemones once the sands have retreated. So are they possibly living under the sand for three months or so?

“I think they do,” Chandler said. “The sand gets soaked by the ocean and they're still getting nutrients down there somehow.”

However, Chandler and other Oregon coast scientists aren't sure how the anemones live on. So, for now it's a bit of a mystery. Oregon Coast Beach Connection is looking into it and should have an answer soon.

In the meantime, state officials are urging you take advantage of these calm summer conditions to go check out the tide pools. You can find the Complete Oregon Coast Tide Pool Guide here. Where to stay for this - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour

Tide pool photos below: Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium



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