(OCEAN CONSERVATION) An often overlooked part of the ocean’s ecology are shorelines and coasts, like the Southern coast of California. Laguna Beach, CA has an enormous variety of coastal habitats, including tons of tide pools. One organization, Laguna Ocean Foundation, has taken on the job of educating the public about tide pools, and why it’s so important to protect them.

Education coordinator Jake Bonus talking with a couple exploring the tide pools at one of the sites he oversees. Photo Credit: Jonathan Chandler/Chandler Photography

Education coordinator Jake Bonus is in charge of interacting with people who venture down to one of three locations to learn about tide pools. Treasure Island, located behind the beachfront resort the Montage, is one of three busy sites that Bonus educates at. From tourists visiting, to locals returning to explore the rocky and colorful scenery, people come all day, every day.

In 2003, the Laguna Ocean Foundation was an established organization, however it began with a group of concerned citizens living near the area who walked around the pools in shifts, casually educating visitors about the marine animals and how to approach the pools. Now with a full staff and funded research projects, people can be educated along with experiencing an incredible hike.

In 2006,  the foundation received a generous donation from the Montage resort to initiate a Tidepool Interpretive Program at Treasure Island.  This donation provided a small staff of scientists to join its existing volunteer program and now the public can have a fun day at the beach and learn facts about the permanent residents around them.

“Our goal is to protect the ocean waters off Laguna, while also educating anyone who’s interested in tide pools,” Bonus says. While running three tide pool programs, Bonus knows first hand about the interest people have in protecting coastal ecology.

A visitor checking out some baby fish living down at the bottom of a tide pool. Photo Credit: Jonathan Chandler/Chandler Photography

As popularity grew, Treasure Island and the other two locations, Crescent Bay and Heisler Park, started drawing crowds of adults and kids. “I’m pretty surprised how much adults are interested. Kids are always interested and curious, but adults show a lot of attentiveness as well when it comes to exploring the pools,” says Bonus.

Kids, however, are the ones with the hardest questions. “I’ve been asked intricate biological questions [from kids] that even I had trouble with,” laughs Bonus. Reaching out to the young generation about how delicate the coasts are is key to protecting them. The interest kids show for their ocean environment is what is going to keep tide pool plants and animals alive.

Up close and personal of a dog winkle snail shell, which possibly houses a hermit crab living in one of the many pools at Treasure Island. Photo Credit: Jonathan Chandler/Chandler Photography

Many different species of animals and plants live in and around the rocky tide pool zones. From big fish to sea grasses, diverse populations of marine life exist throughout the tide pools and in ecosystems beneath the surface surrounding them. A large species of kelp is famous along the Laguna coast, containing fish, sharks, sea snails, sea slugs, starfish, crabs, urchins, and sea anemones.

Abalone also live in the tide pools, and with different species of mussels and sea urchins, hunting has always been a problem for the survival of these animals. Politicians, however, realized that keeping these species and their environments safe was critical.

California State Legislature adopted the Marine Life Protection Act in 1999, and now six zones along the Orange County coast are federally protected. The zones, called Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), are constantly monitored for fishing and species intake. With some areas requiring size regulations for marine life take, others do not allow hunting, whether fishing or abalone gathering, at all.

The six sites are Bolsa Bay State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA), the Bolsa Chica Basin SMCA, the Crystal Cove SMCA, Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve (SMR), the Laguna Beach SMCA, and the Dana Point SMCA. Bolsa Chica Basin SMCA, Laguna Beach SMR, and Laguna Beach SMCA are the three locations that do not allow any animal take whatsoever.

Purple sea urchins litter every pool in the hundreds. Photo Credit: Jonathan Chandler/Chandler Photography

“Tide pools are fragile areas that we take for granted.  They are a home and a food source to a wide range of species, and by polluting and not following the simple regulations to tidepool without disturbing the habitat, they could dramatically change.”  Jake Bonus and his colleagues at Laguna Ocean Foundation are trying to educate visitors about the importance of intertidal areas so that they may be preserved for future generations.

“Tidepool ecology is extremely important.  They are vulnerable ecosystems and it has been demonstrated that humans can have a huge impact on them. Education is the best way to connect with people and inspire them to care about these areas so that they may be healthy, vibrant ecosystems,” Bonus says.

Working everyday different locations, Bonus sees a lot of people throughout the year. Add the three different locations together along with the guests from Montage, Bonus and his associates are reaching hundreds of thousands of people each year.

Jake Bonus chatting with a curious tide pool explorer. Photo Credit: Jonathan Chandler/Chandler Photography

“It gives a general sense that if we weren’t there, what would happen? Now, we are here, and it’s making a difference,” he says. Protecting and educating is what Jake Bonus and the Laguna Ocean Foundation are doing, and their hard work has inspired thousands of people to think twice about their environment. The small and sometimes forgotten creatures living in tide pools now have someone looking out for them, and it’s working.

Click to check out the Laguna Ocean Foundation’s website to learn about how to go to the tide pools, how to volunteer, how to donate, and to see what research they are gathering!

— Candice Chandler, exclusive to Global Animal