Exposure to the Elements

Rough rocks. Wild waves. Scorching sunshine. These qualities can all be used to describe a special habitat along our coastlines – the rocky intertidal zone.

The rocky intertidal zone is a tale of two environments as, depending on the tides, it can either be covered in water or exposed to the elements above the ocean surface. Now with the description above, the rocky intertidal zone may sound like a pretty barren place, but in reality it is actually full of many species that have the required traits to live in an often-difficult environment. Because they have to handle such variable surroundings you would expect them to be some amazing creatures, right? Well, that is certainly correct – the animals that live in the rocky intertidal zone are definitely some special critters and our Biology 326 class was lucky enough to visit some amazing beaches to take a closer look at these creatures during our trip to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre. I thought it would be a good idea to share about some of the crazy creatures we found living there; it’s time to talk invertebrates!

Armed with headlamps and notebooks we headed down to the beach in the dark. This was our first foray into the rocky intertidal zone around Bamfield. Once we began exploring I flipped over a rock and underneath I found a mess of appendages scurrying in every direction – I had found porcelain crabs! Later on we also found some kelp crabs hugging the rocks. Crabs are common occupants of the rocky intertidal zone. They are covered in an exoskeleton that helps them survive in their surroundings. This exoskeleton acts as a protection from the dangers of the intertidal zone while also potentially preventing the crabs from drying out when the water recedes!


After spending some time with the magnificent porcelain and kelp crabs, I turned my attention elsewhere, determined to find some more invertebrates. One particular type of animal that caught my eye were the chitons. Chitons, like the crabs, have a hard outer layer with armoured plates that aid in their protection. Underneath those plates is a foot that they use to attach to the rocks found in the intertidal zone.

As we moved further down towards the water, a new animal became visible – they were sea stars. Sea stars are able to handle the crashing of the waves by hanging on to the rocks with their tube feet. These “feet” help to keep them secure as the waves splash up against them.


Sea stars clinging to the rocks (Photo Credit: Mitchell Sattler)

Unfortunately, our night of exploring the rocky intertidal zone had to come to an end, but after getting a close look at the variety of animals that call the rocky intertidal zone home, it’s hard not to look at this seemingly uninhabitable place differently!

To learn more about the features and abundance of creatures in the rocky intertidal zone check out this learning resource: http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/ocean/Intertidal.shtml

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