Waves crash nearby as a man explores a rock near shore
MARINE LAND: During the lowest tide of the year, Walter Heady, a Nature Conservancy marine ecologist, collects samples of plants and animals on the Dangermond preserve’s shore. © Bill Marr/TNC

Magazine Articles

Flora and Fauna in a Diverse Tidal Zone

Low tide at the Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve reveals a multitude of living things.

Winter 2018

Brendan Borrell Freelance Writer


This is a companion article to The Crown of the Coast, about the Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve.

For the past 150 years, a lighthouse has stood on the sandstone cliffs at Point Conception—which shares shorelines with the Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve—to warn vessels against straying too close to the shallow, rocky and unpredictable waters on the coast. The same waters that are a hazard to passing ships also happen to be a boon for biodiversity.

Here, the warm currents coming up from Baja California collide with the much cooler waters flowing from the north. “There are a lot of species you find coexisting at Point Conception that you wouldn’t find anywhere else,” says Walter Heady, a coastal marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy.

Point Conception is crawling with unique fauna, and Heady points out a tiny marvel he recently found in the rocks exposed by low tide: a predatory snail that lives here, at the absolute northern limit of its range. Researchers have recorded more than 100 species just in the areas that get exposed at low tide. And the diversity is not only in the smallest things. The coastline is teeming with emerald green surfgrass—a flowering plant that has become scarce in recent decades and provides habitat for a wide variety of invertebrates and juvenile fish. Offshore, magnificent kelp forests provide hunting grounds for sea otters, sea lions and elephant seals, which sun themselves on the beach.

Part of what makes the preserve so special is not just the numbers of threatened species it contains, but how it forms a link between the land and the sea. Coyotes have been observed wandering around the intertidal zone, an unlikely sight anywhere else in Southern California. Mountain lions leave their tracks in the beach sand.

And the preserve does not stand alone. It is part of a larger network of protected areas. “It’s an intersection of marine and terrestrial conservation,” Heady says.

Photos below by David Liittschwager

    Black Burying Beetle

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Brendan Borrell is a correspondent with Outside magazine based in Los Angeles. His writing has also appeared in Scientific American, National Geographic and many other publications.