The rocky, barnacle encrusted beaches along the central Oregon coast harbor rich webs of life.
Various “sea weeds,” algae, and plankton provide food for many sorts of animals.
Many more plants grow along these Northwestern beaches than we normally find along the Atlantic beaches I have known so well.
Every sea washed rock and tidal pool holds these beautiful aquatic plants.
Others grow directly from the sand. Suspended and buoyed by the waves below the high tide mark, one finds them strangely flat and “deflated” when the tide recedes, leaving them behind.
These beautiful aquatic plants come not only in different shades of rich green, but also in an autumnal set of shades ranging from reds to browns, golds and purples.
Many are edible. Sushi lovers already know Nori.
But there is a range of edible “sea weeds” many of us in North America have never explored.
So many different types of plants grow together along the Oregon beaches.
Long strands, pulled loose by forces under the sea, wash up along the beach with each tide.
We saw these as they normally grow in the Newport Aquarium. They attract their own food chains of animals large and small which congregate around them.
Many plants cling to coastal rocks, below the high tide line, in a rich tapestry of life with mussels, barnacles, Sea Anemones, and other small animals.
Schools of fish feed among them when the tide is in.
Gulls and other shore birds move in as the tide recedes.
Birds feed from the rich banquet on the rocks, pulling tender flesh from their shells, until the tide returns and covers the rocks yet again.
Many types of crabs, Starfish, Sea Cucumbers and Sea Urchins crawl around these shallow pools at low tide, live among the pilings of docks, and inhabit shallow bays.
These bright, technicolor animals glow green and orange, purple, pink, gold, and red.
I last visited the Oregon coast four years ago. Thick clusters of starfish could be found on nearly every rock formation.
They were large and healthy. Sea urchins crawled freely around the pools at low tide.
The change in four short years amazed me on this visit.
I found only one starfish living in the wild during an entire week of walks on the beach.
Many factors, including warmer water and greater levels of acidity and pollution have reduced the animal populations.
These beautiful tidal areas no longer hold large numbers of animals as they once did.
Clusters of mussels and barnacles also litter the sand at low tide.
But these were the only shells I found. No other species washed up with the tides.
I don’t know enough about climate and ocean chemistry to know whether these conditions can be reversed.
I hope they can. I saw clear evidence of life dieing out along these beautiful beaches.
But finding so much plant life encouraged me, if only a little.
So long as the plants remain, they continue to do their part to cleanse and oxygenate the water.
They provide food for many species.
And they are beautiful. I was endlessly fascinated with their many strange colors and forms.
Planted only by nature, these strange aquatic gardens filled me with wonder.
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
Photos from the Oregon coast and Newport Aquarium