Common menu bar links

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada

Discover The Seashore

Find the Seashore Habitats

Land and sea meet in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada. Here, each type of natural community living along the shoreline depends on the kind of land (the substrate) and its exposure to the force of the sea. From wave-smashed rocky headlands to sheltered mudflats, a wide variety of biological communities are protected in this national park.

Where Can I Find Them?

Wickaninnish Beach
Arial photo of Wickaninnish Beach
©Parks Canada / W. McIntyre, 1975 / N-4

Wickaninnish Beach is an excellent place to start exploring the shoreline. Here you'll find a sandy beach, a rocky shore, and a cobblestone beach side by side.


Who Ate The Beach?

Wickaninnish Centre
For Park Information and a great view visit the Wickaninnish Centre
©Parks Canada / H. Holmes, 1994 / U-2

One of the most important things to keep in mind when exploring the shoreline is the tide. Sometimes the tide at Wickaninnish is so high there is no beach to explore. Low tide is the best time to explore the shoreline, the lower the better. Before you start out, ask the staff inside the Wickaninnish Centre for the high and low tide times for the day. Park interpreters also offer scheduled beach walks in the summer.


The Sandy Beach

Long sandy beaches characterise Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
©Parks Canada / W. McIntyre, 1976 / N-4

Large deposits of sand exposed to the full power of the waves form the typical sandy beach that people expect to see when they come to this national park. What you might not guess is that beaches change all the time. Waves, currents, and wind constantly move sand, recreating the beach over and over.

With the sand in constant motion, finding a place to live is difficult for many species. At first glance it may appear as if nothing is living on the beach, but look again.
Where the forest ends and Wickaninnish Beach begins, a jumble of drift logs stabilizes sand and reduces erosion, which provides enough shelter for some plants and animals to live. Between those logs and the water's edge you will usually see a line of debris made up of kelp, bits of wood, and other curiosities that the last high tide left behind. Inside that debris, creatures feed and hide. Creatures also avoid the constant movement of sand by burrowing beneath the surface of the beach.


The Rocky Shore

Rocks in the surf zone
Rocks in the surf zone are prime real estate for intertidal creatures
©Parks Canada

Wave and current action against some parts of the coast is so strong that anything that can be carried away is carried away. What are left behind are rock outcroppings and the species that hang onto those outcroppings for dear life.

Basalt, granite, and sandstone are the kinds of rock seen here. Ranging from steep cliffs to almost flat platforms, with nooks, crevices, and pools, the rocky shoreline provides a home for some of the most bizarre and brightly coloured organisms of the intertidal zone. The base rock is so important to the inhabitants that every surface is covered by warring, sparring, crowding, clambering, animals and plants, all growing on top of, and eating each other.

On rocky shores, animal and plant species segregate into distinct bands of life, according to their ability to tolerate the elements (exposure to air/sea and the weather) and survive their predators. Those able to survive exposure to air for long periods live near the high-tide line and away from many of the predators, while those less able to tolerate exposure to air cluster at lower tide levels, although the risk of attack by predators is greater. This vertical tapestry of living colour is referred to as intertidal zonation.


The Cobblestone Beach

Cobblestone beaches form in protective inlets and bays.
Cobblestone Beaches provide crevices and crannies for many different species
©Parks Canada / S. Suddes / 1980 / P-4
There is life here too, but like everywhere else on the beach, life is a game of survival. At the cobblestone beach, protected inlets and bays reduce wave action and small rocks mix with gravel, sand, and mud. However, if the cobblestone beaches are exposed to pounding waves at high tide or in a storm, the constant rolling and abrasive action leaves little chance for any but the hardiest species to survive.

Where the cobblestone beach is protected, species live in, on, and under the sand, mud, gravel, and rock. Many of the species here are the same ones that colonize the rocky shore. Turning over a rock may reveal hidden residents, but it is critical for their survival that the rock is carefully replaced exactly as you found it, to eliminate exposure to unwelcome heat, rain or predators.


The Muddy Shore

Mud flat form in the absence of strong wave action
Mud flats provide a valuable food source for migrating birds
©Parks Canada / 1983 / N-9

Mud-flats only form in the absence of strong waves. In sheltered Grice Bay, the wave and tidal action is calm enough to allow mud to collect and form extensive mudflats.

All this mud is sometimes perceived as yucky and useless by human beings, but other species wouldn't agree. Creatures that burrow in the mud call it home, and creatures that eat those creatures call it an all-you-can-eat-buffet. Migrating shorebirds, for example, depend on such habitats to "fuel-up" while on their long migrations.