Low Tide Ecology

July 19, 2021

Low Tide Ecology

On June 27th, children, parents, walkers, hikers, bikers, and nature lovers flocked to the Environmental Volunteers’ Low Tide Ecology event in the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve. It was a perfect clear-blue morning as participants embarked on a socially distanced exploration, discovering the (almost) hidden beauty of the Palo Alto Baylands at low tide.

The intertidal zone along the coast of California is an extraordinary environment. As the tide rolls in and out, completely submerged habitats begin to appear on rocky and muddy surfaces for multiple hours every day, revealing an intricate ecosystem with only the most resilient organisms. In facing the continuous changes of the Baylands environment, many organisms protect themselves with hard exoskeletons or shells, including crabs, barnacles, snails, and mussels. However, other organisms such as seagrass, sponges, anemones, and octopi often use their own unique adaptations to thrive in this unique ecosystem.

Participants discovered the beauty of Baylands through self-guided exploration and interactive stations, which proved to be a hit with children and parents alike! The Bay Mud table was especially interesting as guests were invited to examine the “barren” substance a little closer … there is more to salt marsh mud than meets the (human) eye.

“Visitors were invited to see what they could find in the tub of mud that had been collected nearby that morning. One sharp-eyed mother noticed that a “stone” which had been tossed aside by her son during his quest began slowly moving around through her portion of mud. With the help of our mud diorama, visitors could see what kinds of creatures live under the surface. It is actually a hospitable place for inhabitants like worms, snails, mussels and clams that have the right adaptations. Food is very plentiful if you like eating microscopic plants and animals or decaying organisms. Mud is a good material to tunnel into to hide from the many birds that forage in the Baylands. And it protects from the drying sun during the low tides.” – EV, Kristina Blouch

American White Pelicans at the Palo Alto Baylands
Taking a walk along the boardwalk behind the Lucy Evans Nature Center may also reward you with some American White Pelicans feeding and floating in the Duck Pond, or cleaning and basking on the bank!

The ecosystems appearing in the Baylands at low tide was captivating for all guests as they searched through the mud. But don’t forget to look up!

“Cool things to see right here first, on our own EcoCenter deck! The yearly mud-nesting of the Barn and Cliff Swallows right up in our own rafters and under the building too. And the low tide had provided all they needed for nests with lots of exposed, sticky mud.” – EV, Diane McCoy

EV – Diane McCoy pointing to the swallow nest in our rafters

We loved seeing everyone in person again at our Low Tide Ecology event! We are excited to be returning to in-person socially distanced outdoor programming as well as on-going virtual offering. Check out our upcoming events!

*Photos by Dianne McCoy and Drew Thompson