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Low tide walks

Join naturalists at Owen and Titlow beaches for beachcombing fun

An octopus discovery at Explore the Beach on Owen Beach, Tacoma. Photo credit: Kristi Berry

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When the waters of Puget Sound retreat, the shoreline reveals a world of fascinating sea creatures. Exploring the beaches at low tide is a fun activity for the whole family. You're likely to spot crabs crawling on the rocks and sea stars clinging to a pier. If you're lucky, you'll see an octopus change color, hold a giant moon snail or get squirted by a clam hiding beneath the sand. 

In summer months, the moon and sun work together to create dramatic, daytime low tides. This, combined with the warm weather, make it a wonderful time to explore local beaches. Reading tide charts and understanding marine life can be intimidating, but luckily you don't have to go it alone. Local beaches offer free low tide walks with trained naturalists. They've already figured out the best days and times and have a team of volunteers ready to help you find and identify intertidal creatures.

Explore the Shore at Owen Beach

Run by Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA), Explore the Shore will be held five times this summer -- noon, June 15; 11 a.m., June 28; 10:15 a.m., July 12 and July 27; and 10 a.m., Aug. 10.

Check in at the tent on the beach near the parking lot. You'll be given a brief introduction and a field guide to help spot common critters. You can walk with a volunteer or head out on your own and wave for help when you find something. 

"Explore the Shore is a great opportunity to discover and learn about animals that live right under the waves of the Puget Sound," said Zachary Hawn, citizen science coordinator at PDZA. "From small yellow shore crabs to giant Pacific octopuses, there is always something to find. It's safe to touch most of the animals such as crabs, sea stars and barnacles. Other animals like seals and octopuses should be observed from a distance."

Recommended for ages 5 and older, the 1.5-mile round-trip walk takes you up Owen Beach to the boat house and back. The walks last about 90 minutes. 

Tiptoe through the Tidepools at Titlow Beach 

The Tacoma Nature Center will offer its Tiptoe through the Tidepools series beginning June 16 from noon to 3 p.m. Other dates are July 13 and Aug. 12 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Titlow Beach is a very different habitat. It has lots of seaweed and algae, large rocks and a fresh water inlet. Old wood pilings line the shore, and a dock juts out into the water. It can be slippery and a little mucky but is well worth exploring. 

Look for the tent where naturalists have touch tanks with critters they collected prior to the walk. You can learn about the animals and touch them in the controlled environment of the tanks or walk on the beach with a naturalist. Field guides are available if you want to search on your own. 

"Participants are likely to see barnacles, hermit crabs, snails, gunnel fish (often mistaken for eel), sea anemones, chiton and sea stars," said Brianna Charbonnel, education program coordinator at The Tacoma Nature Center. "Our goal is to provide a great beach experience. We want to help people understand the challenges of living in the intertidal zone and learn how to be kind and respectful visitors."

Charbonnel emphasizes the importance of beach etiquette. A few basics include lifting rocks and seaweed carefully and putting them back where you found them, touching animals gently with wet hands, and returning animals to their homes. She also recommends wearing sunscreen, a hat and sturdy, closed-toe shoes. Most of all, get out there and enjoy the beauty and diversity of this unique ecosystem. 

Owen Beach, 5605 Owen Beach Rd., Tacoma,

Titlow Beach, 8425 6th Ave., Tacoma,

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