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Monday, January 26, 2009

Day Trip: Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

Last time I went to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, I didn’t think much of it. Sure it was a pretty beach, but where were the famed animals? It was high tide. Yes, my mistake. You have to go at low tide. Duh!

So we went back again recently, on a sunny January day. For once I was not underdressed on the coast. Ah, beautiful January weather in California. Short sleeves and sunblock. This is why we don’t live in a place like…New Jersey.

Mark checked the tide charts before we went, and though we missed the exact point of the low tide by 45 minutes, we still spent several hours wandering around the slick, wet rocks looking into tide pools for hermit crabs, sea anemones, sea stars and the like.

The Reserve is in Moss Beach, and technically runs from Point Montara to Pillar Point. It’s been protected since 1969 as a semi-protected open coastal area. You can walk around the 30 acres of reef, providing of course, that it’s not high tide. While more than 200 species of animals and 150 species of plant are there, we still only found a few we could solidly identify.

And for once, our family enjoyed a solid hour with no complaints of “I’m bored. Can we go home now?”

The star of the excursion (pun intended) was the starfish, otherwise know as a sea star (which is double points for all you Scattergories players). We saw three sea stars, including one stuck to the top of the rocks where we were walking. It’s a good thing Dori was looking down or we could have stepped on it. Granted it’s got a pretty hard shell, but still.

Also exciting...the sea anemones. These spongy sacs attach themselves to the rocks and seek out prey with their tentacles. The open spot in the middle of the disc is the mouth. When open, the tentacles sway with the waves, and if you stick your finger near the tentacles (don’t try this at the reserve), they’ll feel sticky and will close in on you. Zachary threw some small pebbles into the anemone to see what would happen. Before you get mad at me, I told him not to do it again. But I also watched in fascination as the tentacles closed up and the anemone looked like a different creature all together.

The outside of the anemones were covered in small rocks and shells. After a short time it was easy to find the closed ones, because they looked like a dark decorated sac.

You can’t miss seeing hundreds of hermit crabs of varying sizes. It made me happy we had read Eric Carle’s A House for Hermit Crab.

There were itty bitty hermit crabs and slightly larger ones, in varying colored and shaped shells. They were plentiful, scurrying around in the water.

We also saw an abalone shell, empty of course. You aren’t allowed to collect the shells or rocks here, which is too bad for us because we found some great ones.
The other fun sighting? Harbor seals. The Marine Reserve is one of 300 spots where the California harbor seals “haul out” onto land to rest. They spend half their time in the water, and half resting in the sun. They didn’t come onto the beach while we were there, but you could see them swimming and sunning in the distance. They birth there from March to May, obviously a good time to see the pups.

After taking the kids to numerous aquariums, it’s great to see a tide pool in real life. To see the starfish gripped onto the side of a rock. To see the anemones swaying in a wave action that’s real, not from a pump.

A word of warning – wear shoes that can get wet, and shoes with a good tread. The rocks can be very slippery and are often covered with some kind of seaweed or plant life. Zachary accidentally got both shoes wet (and of course we didn’t have another pair with us).

The Reserve is about two blocks north of the Moss Beach Distillery, just off California Street. Look for the sign that says “Marine Life Reserve” on Route 1. Take it to the end (about 2 blocks) and you’ll run into a parking lot for the Reserve. 

It’s a county park, and there is no cost to park or to visit. 

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