It’s become a common scene at our Northwest Washington beaches: Overcrowding, litter, discarded pet waste, trampled and displaced sea life. As with most forms of outdoor recreation, we have a natural tendency to assign blame to the worst offenders, and think less about how our own impacts on the land and sea can help protect beaches. It’s also easy to forget that hundreds of species rely on beaches and intertidal zones, but we must remember that this is their home and we all can play a role in protecting it. Here is a checklist to use to practice responsible recreation and share in enjoying these incredible living systems.
- Be mindful when you turn over rocks! Try not to turn over rocks larger than your head as they are specialized habitats for many marine organisms. If you do turn over small rocks to get a better look at what lives underneath, always make sure to put the rock back exactly where you found it! Organisms live under rocks for a reason: they provide shelter and shade from the sweltering sun that can quickly desiccate (dry out) marine organisms.
- Take care where you walk on the beach. Many rocks are covered with ulva, a green seaweed that can be quite slippery when walking on. Make sure you have sure footing so you don’t slip and fall. You also want to make sure that you aren’t trampling any critters beneath your feet!
- Be careful with marine organisms and wet your hands before touching them. It is ok to carefully and gently touch marine organisms, although make sure you wet your hands before doing so. Make sure you don’t move the organism from its original spot!
- Don’t move animals from one tidal zone to another. A tide pool in the low tide zone has a different temperature and salinity than one higher up on the beach. A low tide zone animal, such as a sea urchin or sunflower star, would not survive in the high-tide area.
- Take photos and leave only footprints. This might seem obvious, but it’s not ok to take any marine critters or organisms out of their natural habitat.
- Fill any holes you make, including clamming holes!
- Keep pets on a leash and pick up their waste. Not only is it gross for other beachgoers, but pet waste introduces bacteria and nutrients that are harmful to marine ecosystems. It’s a contributing reason Whatcom County has some of the state’s least swimmable beaches.
- Pack it in and pack it out. Picnics on the beach are fun, but garbage isn’t! Make sure to pack everything out that you brought in. In doing so, you’ll be preventing more pollution in the aquatic environment.
- Leave no trauma. In addition to the “leave no trace” principle, leave no trauma. Take inclusion as seriously as you take conservation. Do your part to ensure that other beach visitors feel welcomed back to the beach. Keep in mind that policing and shaming are often less motivating than inviting curiosity and education. Do more “calling in” than “calling out”.
Remember that when you visit the beach, you’re also visiting the home of thousands of marine organisms. Following these tips will make you great beach visitor; the critters will appreciate it too!
Throughout this summer you can find RE Sources volunteers and staff serving as Beach Stewards at Larabee State Park and Birch Bay State Park, offering interpretation for those with questions about marine life and ecosystems, as well as responsible recreation practices. Learn more about this program, delivered in partnership with Whatcom Marine Research Committee and Washington State Parks.
Interested in helping to care for our region’s amazing beaches and shorelines? Consider becoming a community scientist and contribute valuable information to broader protection efforts.
By Lilya Jaeren, Americorps Aquatic Reserves Monitoring and Stewardship Coordinator