Maine’s Intertidal World
Photographs and Article by Linda DeStefano BrownMaine often conjures images of harsh indestructible cliffs bracing against vociferous waves: waves pressing ever forward along the rocks and exploding into a shroud of water. But there is another Maine. A Maine of gentle bays and coves inhabited by small fishing villages.
In the calm of the coves, when the sea retreats, a vast New World of the intertidal zone is exposed. It was in Goose Cove on Deer Isle that I wandered through this world of the coastal state. What piqued my interest were the patterns of line, color, and textures created by the advancing and receding sea. Substances cling to rocks or hide in pockets. Pebbles are smoothed over time by the tides and pushed into piles by the movements of the sea. Empty blue shells of mussels gather in colonies along the ocean floor and wall of rocks. The magical light of early morning or late afternoon creates feelings of mystery and an eerie sense of another world.
Knowing that the white crust on a rock is actually a barnacle is of little importance when I have camera in hand. At that time, I don’t need to know that the striking pattern of color and texture on the rock is called lichen or that the greenish-brown and yellow weeds are algae. It is only after the image is printed and others quizzically ask, “What’s that?” that I retreat to the computer and google it to find out exactly what those things are. What I found about this New World is an amazing story of symbiotic life: A harsh life where each depends on the other to sustain their respective individual yet interdependent existence.
At the upper-most region of the intertidal zone, you find bright yellow lichen clinging to the pink-toned granite of Maine. The lichen is the epitome of symbiotic existence. It is a companionship of two organisms: algae and fungus. The algae affix itself to a surface and the fungus envelopes it in a protective cloak. The two live simultaneously together: the fungus protecting the other from the harsh elements, the algae holding water and producing food for both.
Further down the zone you find what I have always called seaweed of which there are many varieties. This type of algae securely affixes itself to the rocks. While under water, the bulbous sections of the algae, air bubbles, help the seaweed float. In this state, the algae perform a function much like a forest canopy, branching out to form an umbrella of shade and protection for many of the organisms of the sea. As the sea withdraws, the seaweed flattens to caress the rocks and shore with intricate patterns of lines and colors. Intertwined with this woven pattern of seaweed are barnacles and other tiny crustaceans clinging to the rock, all creating a colorful abstraction of life.
Barnacles appear to be some kind of crusty build up. Quite the contrary, they are living organisms that attach themselves to the rocks and await the food brought in by the sea. Twice a day the sea returns with water and nourishment. When the tide envelopes them, tiny appendages emerge from their hard shell and draw in food particles floating by. When the tide retreats, their shell closes tightly to hold water inside until the next rush of water envelopes them. The water held within their shell acts as an insulation system, providing warmth in the cold of winter and coolness in the heat of summer.
Bereft of water, the damp intertidal zone is gradually revealed by the early morning sun and slowly concealed as the sun sets below the horizon. In the light of dawn or dusk, there is an eerie sense of calm. Perhaps that feeling is fashioned from an underlying sense of the antithesis of calm. The melodious succession of tides is undeniably a world of extremes: flooded at high tide, exposed at low tide. Repeatedly laid bare to the elements of a blistering summer sun or the glacial cold of winter. Smashed by the waves in a violent storm. Soothed by the stroking hand of a calm sea. Yet the evolution of life here has adapted itself to the harshness and gentleness found in their homes at the edge of the ocean.
For those who take the time to look, this land of amazement offers an innate beauty in every aspect of its being. As you walk through this World, look down and respect the life you see at your feet. Tread lightly on this delicate balance as you visit the homes of this intertidal zone.