It's time to let you in on some good sources of information on marine habitats and the communities of organisms that populate them so you can do your own exploring.
There are several books that offer the lay person a window into the workings of marine habitats such as muddy or sandy beaches, floats, pilings and rocky shores. The granddaddy of them all was published by Ed Ricketts in 1939 and called "Between Pacific Tides." Ricketts was a marine biologist, educated at the University of Chicago, who moved west to seek his fortune in the tidepools of the Pacific Ocean at Monterey, Calif.
"Between Pacific Tides" arose from Ricketts' observations of the distribution and interaction of marine animals and plants in the intertidal zone where he collected organisms for sale to schools and other laboratories. Inspired by ecological concepts of the day, Ricketts saw in the tidepools of the Monterey Peninsula a microcosm of the world. He spent the rest of his life visiting and cataloguing intertidal and shallow subtidal organisms from the Baja Peninsula of Mexico to Juneau, Alaska. This included a major expedition to the Sea of Cortez with writer John Steinbeck. You can read about the trip in a book by Steinbeck (based on Ricketts' diary) called "The Log from the Sea of Cortez."
What is significant about "Between Pacific Tides" is that it is not just a book on identification of marine organisms, although it does that; rather, it is a treatise on what organisms live where and why.
For the first time, the habitats within a beach are discussed and explained based on ecological factors such as tides, exposure to waves and currents, and type of sediments. As a result, we can understand why a mud flat has a different community of animals than a sand flat and why animals are different at the high tide line than at the low tide line. Knowledge of the different marine and estuarine habitats provides an organizational framework that allows the casual observer to keep track of what species should be where and helps the marine scientist understand human effects on marine communities such as habitat alteration or pollution.
"Between Pacific Tides" has been maintained and updated by several notable marine ecologists, including Joel Hedgpeth and, most recently, David Phillips in 1985. The tradition has been carried on by Eugene Kozloff in a major publication called "Seashore Life of the Northern Pacific Coast," whose most recent edition was in 1993. Similar, less extensive books are Gloria Snively's "Exploring the Seashore in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon," updated in 2003, and Lynwood S. Smith's "Living Shores of the Pacific Northwest," 1976.
For those of you just wanting to learn the name of crabs, worms, seaweed or snails you saw at a beach or while diving, there are a number of identification books. Examples are "Whelks to Whales, Coastal Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest" by Rick M. Harbo, 1999, and "The Beachcomber's Guide to Seashore Life in the Pacific Northwest" by J. Duane, September 1999. An older publication is by Dan McLachlan and Jak Ayres, "Fieldbook of Pacific Northwest Sea Creatures," issued in 1979.
David W. Jamison is a marine biologist and Boston Harbor resident.