he California coast is home to a treasure-trove of fascinating creatures that one doesn’t have to scuba dive or snorkel to find. An exceptional viewing opportunity sits a stone’s throw from The Resort at Pelican Hill,® in the tide pools at Crystal Cove. Teeming with spectacular sea life, the pools can be accessed via the Historic District at the park’s midpoint or Pelican Point to the north.
“Tide pools are where the sea meets the land,” said Sara Ludovise, director of education for the Crystal Cove Conservancy. “One of the reasons we have such cool tide pools is because our cliffs have concretions, or rock blisters, that formed millions of years ago.” The concretions resulted from boulders falling from the cliffs to the beach, leaving large, sometimes flat rocks that were ideal homes for tide pools.
The ever-changing water level in intertidal zones means that only the hardiest of aquatic souls can survive life in a tide pool. Plants and animals, said Ludovise, “have to adapt to both underwater living and to the sun, heat and air when the tide goes out twice a day.” Changing ocean conditions present further challenges, according to the president and CEO of the conservancy, Alix Hobbs. “We’re starting to see more drastic tides and storm events, and that’s causing increased stress on all the animals,” she said.
Sea creatures are also increasingly susceptible to pressure applied by people, Ludovise said, noting that visitors are prohibited from removing anything from the tide pools. “A shell might look like nothing is living in it, but a lot of these creatures discard their shells and take up residence in a larger one. If we remove the shells from the habitat, that is a potential problem for the growing marine creature looking for his next home.” Perhaps most importantly, any living thing removed from the shore cannot survive outside its natural environment. The tide pools are explored by millions of human visitors each year, and if everyone took home a souvenir, the impact on the ecosystem would be devastating.
Tide pool dwellers are visible and their rocky habitats accessible only during low tide, ideally when the water falls below 1½ feet. (Find tide charts at tide-forecast.com and other online sites.) A note of caution: The rocks can be sharp and slippery, so wear sturdy shoes that you won’t mind getting wet.