Washington residents have the unique opportunity to explore and discover a wide variety of marine intertidal habitats which are special areas where the land meets the sea. These areas or "neighborhoods", from the perspective of the plants and animals that live there, can be found in our quiet sheltered bays and estuaries of Puget Sound or along the dynamic and ever changing outer coastline. These areas can consist of large boulders, cobble, sand and mud and are often strewn with seaweed, pieces of wood and shells -- the equivalent of "furniture" in our own homes!
It is important to remember that we, as beach goers, are guests at someone else home as we explore the shoreline marveling at the richness and diversity of the plants and animals. It is important to act responsibly in these fragile and sensitive neighborhoods.
Always be aware of where you are walking -- never run! You will miss many of the smaller, more colorful members of the beach community if you move quickly. Moving quickly or hastily can result in crushed animals and possible injuries to yourself. Walk slow and quietly for the best viewing success!
Enjoy the full beauty of the beach by viewing each animal or plant where you find it -- especially if it is attached to the substrate, such as mussels, barnacles and sea stars. If you do pick up an animal, make sure your hands are wet, and that you always place the animal back exactly where you found them. Remember, each area of the beach, including each rock with its associated plant and animal life, is a special neighborhood where the animals thrive. If you move them away, they will most likely not find food and shelter or be eaten by other animals. If you must turn rocks over, do it very carefully and always return them to the exact position in which you found them -- as a guest to someone else's home you do not have the right to rearrange "furniture" of the beach inhabitants.
Remember that no living plants or animals come home with us unless we are harvesting it for food and then we must be sure to have a license and know the harvesting regulations specific to that plant or animal. Empty shells and rocks should be left on the beach as potential "homes" for more animals to use for their new homes.
Visiting our northwest beaches is a popular and growing activity. Children and adults find this experience exciting, educational and very rewarding. If we are attentive to our behavior and set good examples of stewardship for others as well as ourselves, we can minimize our impacts to the intertidal inhabitants and their environment. Our beach experience will end on a positive note and we can return once again to marvel at this rich and diverse neighborhood on another day.