Exploring Piedras Blancas Pt 1: Beaches and Tide Pools

One more (at least) update on Piedras Blancas before I move on to more recent things. I wasn’t there for a particularly long time after all and so didn’t have as much time to explore as I might have otherwise. That said the beaches that weren’t covered in Elephant Seals were quite nice. I never got used to the kelp that would wash ashore though. Its quite different from the seaweed that slowly dries in the sun at the high tide line on Atlantic beaches.

Examining the mass closely (while holding your breath) it's easy to see how the complicated strands of kelp can support so much life, even washed ashore they contain dozens of refugee organisms.

One of the most popular examples of food-web interactions in Ecology is the relationship between Kelp Forests, Sea Urchins, and Sea Otters. Kelp forests are remarkably productive marine habitats, providing safety from predators and a source of food for a wide range of organisms. Sea Urchins, spiny, slow moving echinoderms feed directly and voraciously upon Kelp, but they themselves are fed upon by Sea Otters. In the absence of the fur trade (and of commercial whaling, as it happens) that food web was stable. However, when Sea Otters were all but removed from the equation, the population of Sea Urchins spiked dramatically and unsurprisingly the Kelp Forests suffered for it.

With the cessation of Otter trapping in the Pacific Kelp forests have returned in force, which doesn’t stop them from breaking free of the ocean floor from time to time and washing ashore.

The beaches near Piedras Blancas were studded with shallow tide pools, which were filled to bursting with life. Hopping from stone to stone, my progress was heralded by the small splashes of hundreds of crabs retreating from their dry(er) hunting grounds and descending into the hidden depths of the pools. Some were better at hiding than others.

Shamefully, I've never had the time to figure out what species this one was. Its coloration is certainly distinct though.

Not all of the tide-pool’s residents were so quick to flight however. Largely because flight was a concept completely alien to them.

Anemones are pretty cool really. sedentary creatures are forced to either be nearly invisible to avoid being found, incredibly hardy to avoid being eaten, or blatantly toxic to avoid being messed with. Of the three strategies the Anemones is among the most visually stunning.

Unfortunately, despite my early luck finding a crab with a sub-standard bolt hole I didn’t have any luck taking pictures of the more maneuverable denizens of the pools. Maybe next time.

In the distance the lighthouse and is clearly visible.

I would have loved to stay longer, but the night ended up being somewhat stormy, and being caught on a beach occupied otherwise by storm tossed Elephant Seals didn’t seem like that great of an idea. Even for me.

More to come.

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Posted on March 15, 2012, in Piedras Blancas and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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