Minimalist Scenes from the Rocky Intertidal

Space is at a premium in the rocky intertidal. Producers, filter feeders, predators, and their prey pack together so closely open ground is scant. Low tide betrays jumbles of barnacles upon mussels, barnacles upon barnacles, algae popping up anywhere they can, worms, crabs, limpets and snails working the surfaces and interstices, and starfish lording over all. Finding focus is daunting, or so I’ve always imagined. I searched for less boisterous scenes and here’s what I found.

The everyday battle with desiccation

With low tide comes the risk of drying. In the crowded intertidal the desiccation drama is difficult to discern, let alone concentrate on. Here it’s riveting.

Surface tension helps maintain a band of moisture around the edge of the shell

Breathing room

In a rare spacious moment every element expresses itself.

Red crusts, red blades and a red star contrast with green anemones

The Black turban

I spent all morning looking for black turbans. This is the only one I found.

Pure black turban

The scramble for space

Below is the rocky intertidal as I imagine it, presented for comparison with the sparse scenes shown above. My “less is more” attempts lent new frames of reference for familiar creatures and processes. The sparse settings forced me (or gave me the opportunity) to focus on individuals rather than communities. I’ll admit it feels strange. Yet, there is a persuasive intimacy in the sparse shots. And who would dispute the virtue of exposing oneself to new perspectives?

Lined shore crab, Pachygrapsus crassipes, just one element in a complex community

Less is More