Beach Combing & Tidepooling
You have now crossed over into... The Intertidal Zone
Exploring Alaska's beaches and tide pools is a favorite activity for many visitors and locals alike. That's because in addition to the sweeping beauty of Alaska's rugged and rocky coastline, there are an amazing array of marine invertebrates (animals without backbones) making their homes in the space between low tide and high tide.
The "intertidal zone" is divided into four sub-sections. Sea cucumbers and sponges live in the low-tide zone, but can only be seen during extreme low tides. The mid-tide zone offers the most exciting finds including hermit crabs, sea stars and anemones. Look for hard shelled creatures like barnacles in the high-tide zone. And at the high water mark, or splash zone, one might find dead sea weed, drift wood and marine debris washed ashore.
Marine Debris is defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as “any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned in the marine environment or Great Lakes.” Given the extent of Alaska’s coastline, it should not be surprising to hear this state has been dealing with “ocean trash” for a long time. The problem, was however, made greater in March of 2012 when a tsunami slammed the shores of Japan following a 9.0 earthquake, releasing 25 million of tons of new trash and pollutants into the Pacific. This tsunami debris is expected to land on the West coast of US and Canada for the next several years.
Don’t let this discourage you from visiting Alaska’s beaches. In most places you’re not likely to see anything but pristine wilderness and if you do find some trash, it’s not likely to be toxic. If you want to help clean up Alaska’s beaches, there are statewide efforts underway, including in Kenai Fjords National Park, and volunteers are always welcomed! Information and links for volunteers are available on the volunteer page of our website.
To learn more about Marine and tsunami debris and clean up efforts, please visit the following links:
Tide Pool Etiquette
While you are certainly encouraged to go “tidepooling” here in the last frontier, there are safety precautions one must follow in order to ensure both you and the animals you’re visiting all go home at the end of the day unharmed.
- The green and brown algae found on the rocks near tide is extremely slippery. Hiking or rain boots with good tread are essential. Walking, as opposed to running or jumping will not only reduce your risk of slipping, but will also exerts less pressure on any plants and animals you might be stepping on.
- Explore tide pools from their edges, not by standing in the water. This will allows for better viewing conditions and leaves the animals undisturbed. If possible, study the fauna and flora from floating docks, thus taking pressure off natural areas.
- When turning over a rock, do so gently. Be careful not to crush the sometimes tiny animals next to or underneath the rocks. Remember to always put rocks and animals back exactly where you found them.
- If you dig for clams or other animals in a sand or mud flat, fill in the holes. By leaving unnatural piles of mud or sand, you may inadvertently kill small clams or other animals whose burrows can no longer reach the surface.
- A special permit is required to take animals for research or for an aquarium. Please visit the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s website for details on obtaining a permit.
- Don't collect or disturb animals and plants in areas designated as biological preserves. If you are a professional biologist and need to access a preserve, contact the appropriate federal, state or borough authorities for permission.
- If you collect animals, keep them cool, aerated, and do not overcrowd them.
- Don't take more animals or plant samples than you really need. One living example of each species may serve an entire class.
- Optimize use of each animal taken by conducting a thorough study while it is alive and if possible preserve the animal in such a way as to allow continued study after death.
- Avoid collecting altogether in highly sensitive or unique natural areas.
- Returning some animals to the beach is not permitted. This helps prevent transmission of disease as well as the introduction of exotic or invasive species to Alaska.
- Obey fish and game laws with respect to open season, bag limits, and allowable size and sex of animals taken for food.
- Practice good stewardship. Our level respect and love for nature today will have much to do with what we leave future generations.