I never thought I could have this much fun in the intertidal zone.
Tutka Bay Lodge is known for their Alaska cuisine. All the food is made with organic, natural, and local Alaskan ingredients often from their own gardens or foraged from nearby places. Every meal was exceptional here, which I could write about in a whole other post. For the three nights and four days in Tutka Bay Lodge, I enjoyed the food and outdoor adventures, but I have to say, I had the most fun while exploring the low tide area and foraging in the forest.
One morning during low-tide, we geared up with rubber boots and went out to the bay where we kayaked the day before. Tutka Bay experiences a very big tide each day. The biggest tidal difference was from 21.45ft to -2.88ft which is more than 24 vertical feet in just 6 hours.
Karyn is a scientist, writer, educator, as well as a nature guide at Tutka Bay Lodge. The intertidal exploration is her program with a passion that she invites guests to connect to the environment. We walked past an island that we paddled by that’s now a barnacle-covered rock.
The first thing I noticed was a lump of jelly lying between rocks. These are sea anemones, the kind where Nemo lives. It took me a good five-minute to finally say the name correctly. Even though they look helpless, anemones don’t die outside of the water. When the tide is low, the retractive muscle pulled tentacles into the mouth until the tide comes in. We got to witness several anemones retracting. Sometimes we stroked the body slowly to stimulate the muscles. We sincerely hoped that it wasn’t something that’s very torturous for them (if so, we sincerely apologize!).
The world is so much more than what it seems. Focusing on where we stepped, we found many kinds of sea stars, sea cucumbers, jellyfish, various types and sizes of crabs, mussels, colorful chitons, and so many different lives. Under the rocks, next to bull whip kelps, and where anemones retracting the tentacles, every inch of this place had different characters. We had to be really careful of where to walk because anemones and jellyfish were everywhere during a super low-tide like what we experienced. Some anemones are the same color as the rocks and jellyfish are transparent, so be aware. How exciting! It seemed so quiet and empty, but the intertidal zone was actually quite a busy society.
“Many people come to Alaska to see the big things: bears, glaciers, mountains, whales, etc — and those are definitely amazing! I like to also help people to explore the treasures of Alaska that may get missed, the tiny things at their feet in the forest or in the ocean. The intertidal exploration is perfect to show people an aspect of Alaska that they may not have known existed.” Karyn explains.
Of course, we have to be careful observing marine life so that we don’t cause too much disturbance to their existence. We put them back where we found them. Karyn opened a small science lab in the lodge to show the diverse environment near the lodge and sometimes she takes some specimens during low tide. “Even if we take some creatures out of the ocean for a temporary touch tank, I always try to return them to the ocean so they can continue their life cycle.” she said.
Karyn summarized the purpose of the low-tide exploration and her passion to explore this environment: “I think paying attention to the world around us is important. We are connected to the environment in ways we don’t always think about until we feel negative effects. Learning the rhythms of the tides, the cycles of life, the seasons of wild food available should compel us to be careful in how we use resources, recognize that we are stewards of areas we benefit from, and help us to see that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves and our own needs”.
We extended our exploration into the forest for foraging for our lunch. Karyn led us through the forest to find hedgehog mushrooms and blueberries. Foraging is also the extension of her passion. “One word that comes to mind when I think of how I want to approach foraging is sustainability. We don’t want to overharvest the ocean or the forest. There are best practices that we should employ to make sure the resources are available for future generations.”
It was an unexpected adventure. A good one, I have to say. As Karyn mentioned, we are always fixated on big things; seeing bears, catching salmon, hiking on glaciers, and so on. We often forget about the part of the world where we have to squat and observe.
It’s a constant surprise that more worlds exit than I realize. I had a similar experience in the Namib Desert when I visited the San Tribe and learned how they sustain their lives in this dry desert. The desert seemed lifeless to us but it is fuller than any other place in the world for those of who know where to look. Through the intertidal expedition in Tutka Bay, I realize once again the importance of seeing what’s beyond and being open for new adventures. Who knew I could have this much fun and learn a life lesson in a low-tide adventure?
Karyn encourages people to stay curious through her teaching and writing. Follow her adventure on Stay Curious Facebook Page and @ktraphagen on Twitter.