Fancy Digs

Growing up, my concept of the seaside was all about sandy beaches and intertidal mudflats.

I still adore both of these things, but when I visited my first rocky coast as a student, it felt like re-discovering this ‘ocean’ thing anew. The power of waves as they crash on rock. The riot of birds that breed on cliff faces. And looking down in the intertidal, a never-ending string of marvels right before your feet. Tide pools in particular are a delight. To me, they are like windows to a different world that is normally hidden under water.

Needless to say, love British Columbia’s coast, and a great place to explore it is Botanical Beach by Port Renfrew. Make sure you know the tides and waves before you head out, then spend some joyful hours clambering about. Mussels, urchins, algae, rock – all set to amazing views along the coastline and its kelpy waters.

To combine a few of these creatures into a drawing, I enlisted the help of an animal that, strictly speaking, is not a part of the same rocky ecosystem. The black-eyed hermit crab (Pagurus armatus) prefers sheltered, sandy or muddy substrates, and while it may venture into the lower intertidal, it mostly lives at greater depth. Its favourite ‘borrowed’ home are moon snail shells, just like the ones I drew last month.

I also made the crab bigger than it is in real life, and shrunk a few of the other creatures down to fit them on its back.

Most of the critters hitching a ride here are found in upper and mid-intertidal. As far as I can identify them,* we have:

  • Dwarf rockweed (Pelvetiopsis limitata) a brown alga that is common in the upper intertidal of exposed BC shores [a]
  • Blue mussels (probably California mussel, Mytilus californianus), and goose barnacles (Policipes polymerus) [b]
  • Limpets. The ones in the drawing are meant to be ribbed limpet (Lottia digitalis). There may be other types in the photograph in [c]
  • Acorn barnacles (Balanus or Chthamalus), mixed with black snails. Some of these look like black periwinkle (Littorina plena), but again, there may be other species in the photograph [d]

To someone who grew up far from rocky shores, the prize for ‘most weird’ goes to goose barnacles. I had never seen them before I moved to BC, and when I first laid eyes on them, I had no idea what kind of animal I was looking at.

Then again, I have not yet made it out during a low, low, tide, so there is plenty more to explore!


*For information on most of these organisms, and about the flora and fauna of the BC Coast in general, Biodiversity of the Central Coast is a great resource: