Some of Anacortes’s most valuable treasures aren’t found on Commercial Avenue or in the Anacortes Museum. Rather, look to the island’s perimeter to discover natural wonders hiding under rocks, buried in sand, and clinging to kelp in fascinating yet fragile ecosystems called a tide pool. It’s here you’ll find essential links in the interdependent food web on which all life depends—including our own.
Along rocky shores are the best places to find tide pools. Pools of saltwater are left in depressions in the sand and rocks when the tide goes out. The best Anacortes tide pools are at Sunset and West beaches in Washington Park (on Oakes Ave., just beyond the ferry landing) and at the southern end of Rosario Beach in Deception Pass Park (Discover Pass required). In town, look for marine life clinging to dock pilings and rocks at city waterfront parks. You can also find them in marinas, and along the Tommy Thompson Trail.
To identify tide pool life, it helps to know the tide pool ecosystem has five different zones.
Individual plants, animals, and microorganisms have adapted to survive within the conditions in particular zones. They are: wet-dry, dark-light, warm-cold, more or less saline (salty), whether favorable to reproduction, and degree of safety from predators.
From highest and driest to lowest and wettest, these zones (and some of the creatures in them) are:
- splash zone, which may receive only sprays of water during high tides (barnacles, lichens, periwinkle);
- upper intertidal zone, covered with water only during high tide (barnacles, periwinkles, hermit crabs, limpets;
- mid intertidal zone, covered and uncovered twice a day, as the tide comes in and goes out (anemones, barnacles, hermit crabs, mussels, whelks);
- lower intertidal zone, out of water only during low tides (all mid intertidal group creatures, plus eelgrass, sea cucumbers, sea stars, sea urchin);
- subtidal zone, always under water (all lower intertidal species, plus fish, squid, whales, etc).
So, while intertidal creatures have adapted to many conditions, they haven’t adapted to human impacts. Being a good tide-pool explorer means following good beach etiquette:
- At Rosario Beach, stay on the designated trail marked by secured ropes. (In 1995, this once stellar ecosystem was almost destroyed. The footsteps, curiosity, and thoughtless actions of some 1,200 individuals trampled the tide pool on a day with an exceptionally low tide.) You should walk only on large, bare rocks. Many creatures use rocks for cover. Walking on smaller rocks can crush these creatures.
- Do not pick up or remove anything from a tide pool.
- Return any disturbed or lifted rocks to their original position.
- Avoid stepping on seaweed and plants.
- Don’t collect, disturb, or destroy tide pool organism; it’s not only poor etiquette, it’s against the law.
Now, you are armed with this knowledge and your own curiosity!
Gather your family, your picnic, and a guide book. Bring a magnifying glass, and go search for some of the most interesting treasures in Anacortes!
Then, before heading home, take the time to share discoveries and stories over a cup of chowder at Bob’s Chowder Bar, a steaming bowl of mussels at Adrift, or some sweet Dungeness crab at Anthony’s. It’ll be a day to remember.