Sunday, March 2, 2014

Tidal Pools of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

I awoke to the bright sun sneaking in through the cracks in the drapes, I had slept far longer then I had been as of late, the lack of noisy roommates letting me slumber undisturbed. The sky was blue and clear, a hopeful sign that my outing to the tide pool wouldn’t be a repeat of the prior day. The hostel had a strange policy where you had to leave while they cleaned, although I had little intention of spending the beautiful day cooped up indoors. 

Low tide wasn’t till 3:06, so I drove off in search of something to do, pulling off to go explore Milagra Ridge County Park. I choose this place simply because I saw the sign for it. The park didn’t even have a parking lot, so I pulled over to the side of the road and headed up the trailhead. A cold wind was blowing in from the sea, a boil of hawks drifting in the updrafts. I ambled about the park, admiring the wildflowers and plethora of avian species. At the Milagra summit the wind whipped violently, forcing me to descend rather quickly as the cold air nipped at my exposed flesh. Lower on the ridge were old military bunkers tucked into the side of the hill, abandoned they were, a seeming trend in the area, coated in graffiti. The wind erased all the sound from the air, creating a haunting silence as I sauntered about killing time. 

The wildflowers flourish on the backside of the ridge, protected from the wind, I am sure they are more prolific in the spring, which must be an amazing sight to see, as the sporadic presence now was magnificent. Bright oranges, yellows and pinks dotted the otherwise brown landscape. Their magnificent displays beaming in the midday sun, tiny beacons of beauty in an simple landscape. 

I decided to head down to Pacifica Pier, still needing to kill a little more time before heading to the tide pools. The waves smashed against the pier, waves crested over the seawall into the street that ran along the shore. Down the pier a slew of fisherman leaned against the walls, waiting for a bite. I watched as the waves churned the see, a dark cloud dumped rain on a distant mountain. I headed back to the car, too eager to get to the tide pools to delay any longer. 

The sun was hiding behind the clouds when I arrived at the beach, the diluted sunlight a perfect setting for viewing into the shallow rock pools. I had to find a starfish, I told myself, not considering this too extravagant of an ambition. The tide was still relatively high but I began my search, anemones flourished in the still pools, large crabs scuttled as I walked past, the pools seemed to be livelier today, or maybe it was just my willingness to stand still and watch. I watched as a sculpin, a tiny fish that resides in the tide pools eating small crabs and shrimp, darted about, seemingly unaware of my presence. A bed of mussels stretched out along a rock, forcing me to walk around in order to not crush any of the wheeled creatures. 
As the tide retreated, I bravely wandered out further from shore, At the very end of the outcropping I stumbled upon a vagrant of sea urchins, their royal purple standing out against the dull gray of the rocks. Small fish swam expertly around the venomous prongs of the urchins, but there was still no sign of the echinoderms I was in search of.
Sea urchin
I plodded about searching high and low for the elusive sea star, always coming out disappointed. The tide receded further and I followed suit, trending nearly as far as the shoal where the seal were still loafing about, I wonder if they had even moved since the day prior or if they just laid there for the past day. Further out there were more large crabs and a few impressive fish, the anemones were absent, as were most of the animals from the shallower pools.  
Sea anemone
I decided to head over to a section I had yet to search, I had by this point covered whole square miles of tide pools in search of the starfish, and with the tide about to start rolling in I hastened my search. A vietnamese lady asked if I had seen any starfish, as did a grandfather and his grandson, I had to sadly inform them I had not, but I assured them I would. The section I was off to was harder to get to, and present the real possibility of stranding me if the tide were to come in enough. I hurried over, always looking back at the natural bridge that stretched through a deep canal, searching every pool with little luck. I found a sea cucumber, oozing a white liquid into the otherwise transparent still water. The creatures over in these deeper pools were larger, I hoped this was a promising sign. 
close up of anemone tentacles
I was watching a large sculpin dart around when an orange burst caught my eye, “A starfish,” I exclaimed! My hours of diligent work finally paying off. The beautiful outstretched arms clung to the side of a rock, the specimen was larger than my hand, an excellent find. 
Ochre Star
Then I got greedy, if I had found one I could find more, maybe even a constellation of them. My optimism peaked I wandered in search of me, finding another not terribly far away, it was the same type, and Ochre Star, five brilliant orange arms extending from a textured pentagon, although this specimen had a purplish center. A jellyfish sat immobile on a bed of seaweed, a clear burger like blob waiting for the tide to return it to the sea. 
Bat Star, which is also called "bat man," I'm not lying, but wikipedia might be!
Further along I encounter a Bat Star, this sea stars body is wider then it’s arms, a distinct contrast from the Ochre whose long arms made up the better portion of their size. I looked out in amazement, slightly upset that I hadn’t bothered to scour this section earlier, as clearly this was where all the starfish were. I was watching a pool diligently when I noticed a tiny six legged starfish, his lanky arms propelling him across a rock, he couldn’t have been much larger than my thumb. I watched as he moved along, much quicker than I would have guessed a starfish can move, although he did have six legs, a distinct advantage to my measly two. 
Six-legged Starfish
I found the vietnamese lady and led her over to a bat star, she smile and celebrated, her friend pointed at a giant sea anemone and asked me what it was called, I told her and she repeated the word flawlessly. Having clearly done my job for the day I headed back, seeing an array of starfish as I navigated my way back to shore. I sat at a bench along the shore an celebrated my small victory, watching as the vietnamese ladies excitedly continued to find life in the pools. 

From small children to elderly grandparents all enjoyed watching the life contained in these small worlds. It was amazing how such simple things touch people on such an inner level. I spent nearly three hours at the pools that day, and had spent an hour the day before, but I was still unfulfilled, after all I never even saw an octopus. 
Silly hermit crab
underside of a Red Abalone 

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