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Wealth of Wild Surprises, Shockers with N. Oregon Coast's Beach Discovery Program

Published 07/10/2016 at 6:01 PM PDT - Updated 07/10/2016 at 6:15 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Seaside Beach Discovery Program

(Seaside, Oregon) – In July and August, in the north Oregon coast town of Seaside, you can have some rollicking beach fun time and get your eyes widened in wonder all at once. Seaside Aquarium has begun its Seaside Beach Discovery Program, right out in front of the facility, happening every weekend in July and August. It runs each Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. It's free and great for adults and kids.

Look for the tent in the sand by the Promenade. It is weather permitting, however, as one recent day saw winds pick up their tent for a time.

The aquarium's Tiffany Boothe said the Seaside Beach Discovery Program started in 1995, making it more than 20 years old now. Since its beginning, the program has been a welcome source of education and fun.

“As a free service to the public it does not bring in any revenue, but in terms of humanity it does a lot,” Boothe said. “The program allows visitors a chance to slow down and stop rushing from one place to the next. It’s a place for people to stop and ask questions for awhile before heading down to the water. We answer any questions visitors or locals may have and if we don’t know the answer we do our best to find it.”

It's mostly interactive activities that lend a whole new layer to your coastal experience. There is a touch tank, microscopes, wave tank, magnetic sticks, pamphlets, field guides, shells, and plenty for people to discover.

Each day, staffers collect a different sample of plankton from the ocean for the curious to view under microscopes. They also gather other small specimens and samples of plants or animals that they find on the beach for folks to view up close.

There are displays of creatures you can find on the beach, like mole crabs, blood worms and living sand dollars, among others.

Keith Chandler, manager of the Seaside Aquarium, said one of the big surprise-makers is the wave machine tank, which helps illustrate how and why sand levels change.

He said that when the tides go far up the beach, as in winter, it tears sand away. But when only small waves happen, this allows sand levels to rise. The wave tank helps illustrate this by letting visitors use a paddle to make small waves, and then to make big waves.

It shows the slow processes that happens every year.

“A lot of kids end up splashing their siblings with it eventually,” Chandler said.

Another popular feature is the samples of sand from not just around the Oregon coast, but from around the world as well.

“People come to the Discovery Program, they see that and they send us sand,” Chandler said. “So we've got all kinds of sands from different places around the world, like Galveston or Bolivia. People send us sand all the time. We just got one from South Africa. What makes the sand different is the terrain that's around there.”

Chandler said the activity that seems to surprise people the most is the magnet stick. If the weather is dry enough, they give you a stick with a magnet on it and this picks up a whole lot of magnetite bits. It never ceases to delight, Chandler said, and you can get a jar and take these home with you.

One of the biggest shockers in their exhibits shows how Seaside's landscape changed when the jetties on the Columbia River were built about 100 years ago. Before then, the beaches were much steeper, there was much less space between the Promenade and the tide line, and they were a lot more gravelly.

Chandler said one example they like to point out is that if you look at all those steps going down to the beach at the Turmaround, most of that is now covered up by sand.

“All those steps going down to the beach – there were 16 steps at the time,” Chandler said. “Now there's just a few.”

Where the beach now sits is where a platform once lay. There were plenty more steps going down beyond that, but these have disappeared. Chandler said foot traffic now keeps the dune from growing higher around the Turnaround's bottom.

“They used to have to go out to the tide line at low tide to get sand and bring it back towards the Promenade for people to play on,” Chandler said. "The Prom was originally built to protect the businesses and homes from the ocean waves, but now of course that's no longer necessary.” Seaside Aquarium is on the Prom in Seaside, Oregon. 503-738-6211.

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Photos above by Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium

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