East of Boothbay Harbor, Maine 5
Sea Life in a tide pool
East of Boothbay Harbor V
The morning proved to be quite foggy with a strong smell of salt and brine. The spruce trees dripped with moisture. Not to be dicouraged, I headed out with my collecting net over slippery rocks toward my favorite tide pool on Reeds Island that is connected to the mainland at low tide. My timing had to be perfect. When I reached the edge of the sea, the fog had lifted and sea gulls circled a lobsterman's boat hoping to catch a few scraps of used bait.
Favorite Collecting Spot
On Reeds Island (near Ocean Point), you can find many fascinating tide pools; some are only a large puddle in size and others can be as large as a small swimming pool. The constant pounding of surf forms these pools by cracking open rocks leaving crevices and hollows behind. When the tide rolls in each day, it brings with it fresh new marine life. When the tide recedes, creatures are swept into rocky pools to be trapped until the next high tide. As the sun climbs higher in the sky, the pools' waters become so warm that they start to evaporate, dangerously lowering the water level. But just in the nick of time, the tide rolls in again and fresh revitalizing sea water once more fills the pools.
My pool was large, close to the low tide mark. Dr. N.J. Berrill showed me this pool weeks ago where he collected specimens and I have ever since returned here. When I arrived at this pool, the tide had not yet receded enough, so I returned to the nearby woods for a feast of fresh and wild raspberries. By this time, the fog had been completely burned off and each tide pool glistened in the sun. I returned to find my pool completely free of the sea as I proceeded to it over tough, white volcano-like barnacles and slippery seaweed. The water of the pool remained crystal clear. On its seaward side I noticed a large stationary colony of "crumb of bread" sponges, brownish-yellow in color. I could see the many peak-like osculum or mouths of the sponges. They indeed looked like a pile of bread pudding, heaped up. They can vary in size from that of a pea to a fist. A group of starfish slithered over to them, intent, no doubt, on having a feast.
Tidal Pool Full of Marine Life
On they came, looking like an advancing army, blackish-green in color with tiny yellow "eyes" or madreporites on top. Although they are called "eyes," they are really sieves through which water enters their bodies as Dr. Berrill earlier explained. But wait, what was this? Unless I was mistaken, it was a Northern or Jonah crab, much larger than the little rock crab common in New England. He scuttled across the bottom of the pool with a pair of "ragged claws" to quote T.S. Eliot. He hid himself in seaweed (Eliot's character hides himself in the seaweed of society). I watched him closely. What would his next move be? Out came his feelers (antennae) and there stood his scary little eyes! But the sea was jealous and sent a huge wave that drenched me completely and blurred the surface of the pool.
Strong Waves of Incoming Tide
By the time I caught my breath and the pool was once again clear, the creature had sneaked away. Wet as I was, I climbed around to the other side and looked intently into the pool. Below me a group of purple-brown sea urchins had gathered. Smooth-surfaced starfish slithered nearby. I lowered my net to scoop up a smooth starfish. I marveled at his bright red surface and yellow underside. Bands of edible periwinkles crawled over the surface of exposed rocks. Most of these "sea snails" had smooth surfaces but a few had rough ridges. Their straw-colored shells twinkled in the sunlight. One of them had fern-like branches attached that actually grew on its shell.
Dr. Berrill had explained to me only a week ago that these "ferns" growing on periwinkles were fern bryozoans that support smaller creatures within their branches. Thanks to the periwinkle that their attached to, they are mobile and can search for microscopic food more effectively. Just then I spotted a hermit crab living in a borrowed shell to protect his soft inner body. Only little green crabs scuttled about in search of open mussels (attached to underwatwer rocks) for a bit of lunch.
I reached down to pull up a rubber-like plant called kelp that had firmly attached itslf to a colony of mussels. As I pulled it out of the water, out flew a tiny serpent starfish blackish in color. Others were green and brown. Some can even be white with a bright orange disc out of which grow five thread-like arms. They too search for open mussels to eat. The tide started to roll back in and I got splashed with spray just as I had almost dried off. But there was one thing left I wanted to see--the beautiful soft sea anemone, bright orange in color, with a delicate array of white tentacles that sawy back and forth in search of underwater food. Just as I got down on my hands and knees to look, a huge wave rolled in. I had to get out of here soon or I would have to swim ashore.
Far out to sea, I could make out all sorts of craft heading for the harbor. The sea did a good job of tossing them about. Bell buoys clanged away and foghorns started to blare; fog rolled in fast. No doubt each boatland, homeward bound, thought they had experienced the best of the sea that day. I felt that I had! And instead of going miles out to get it, I let the sea bring it in with its tide and form an ocean aquarium for me to watch.
The late Dr. N.J. Berrill was more than a great marine biologist, he was a fine writer and author of many well-receive books including The Living Tide (my favorite), Journey into Wonder, and The Person in the Womb.
© 2010 Richard Francis Fleck