Where the land meets the sea

by Pooja Rathod


Today’s article is not about animals walking on land or swimming in the ocean. It’s about big and small creatures living in-between – that is, where the land meets the sea. In this ‘inter-tidal zone’, the water rises and falls every few hours, alternately drowning and then completely drying out this zone. Only the hardiest of creatures can live here, as they need to cope with being submerged in salt water for part of the day, while being exposed to hot and dry sun for the rest of it.

Let me tell you my story of how I discovered this beautiful world at the edge of the sea.

One evening as I was walking on the beach in the Lakshadweep, I noticed that the tide had receded and the water which otherwise would be one foot deep was now 20 metres away from where I stood. I decided to get closer to the sea and watch the sun set behind the horizon.

As I was dodging the little leftover mud pools, I saw something startle. I bent down to look in the rock crevices. To my surprise, it was an octopus. But what was it doing here? An underwater animal was now stuck in a little pool of water, using its amazing camouflage to hide. I was amazed, and began scanning the little crevices within rocks to see what more I could find. Tripping and slipping on the slimy green algae that carpeted the rocky floor, I managed to get a glimpse of the life in this in-between world.

Myriads of creatures occupied the nooks and crannies in the little rock-pools the tide had left behind. Blue coloured sea stars, the top predators of this zone, moved sluggishly on the rocky floor trying to locate unwary prey. The silky porcelain shells of tiger conches filled the rock fissures. Snake-like moray eels appeared, their heads bobbing from their tunnels. Crabs with eyes placed vertically above their heads held pincers high in defence.

There were also spiny sea-urchins grazing on the algae, leaving behind trails of their journey. And hermit crabs, armoured with an old snail’s shell over their body to protect their soft bellies from predators. As the hermit crabs grew, they would need to abandon their old shell and find a new, larger shell to fit. There was so much around, I had to watch my footsteps to make sure I wasn’t crushing anything beneath my feet.

So the next time you go to a beach, don’t let these creatures go unnoticed. The sea and the shore and the world in between have a lot to tell us, if we are curious enough to listen and observe. So, stand at the shore, hear the waves’ sound, watch the crabs make little homes in sand, the somersault of dolphins, and the flight of shorebirds that have travelled continents for centuries.

This article appeared in the Hindu in School on 2 December 2015.

Photo: Ghost crabs, with their elongated eye stalk and pincers are common inhabitants of the intertidal zone. They dig deep burrows in the sand and are extremely swift runners.

Credit: Rohit Jha