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Wrack line fun

Kelp found washed up on beach

It’s that time of year again: the summer months are waning, the days are shortening and there’s almost a faint whisper of fall in the air. It’s also the end of one of my favorite times of year--tidepooling season. To celebrate, I planned a beach day this past weekend with my family. Despite my best rallying efforts, we got there too late for one of the years last daylight minus tides. An exploration of the wrack line ensued, which is always hopping with life and never disappoints. Everyone got up close and personal with drift kelp, seaweed, crab shells and hoppers and had a blast watching the gulls frolic.

In addition to being a really fun place to play (which we did plenty of), Oregon’s beaches provide important habitat for a variety of plant and wildlife species. Many of these species rely on a relatively unassuming band of habitat provided by the ocean’s castaways, known as the wrack line. Made up of seaweed, small bits of driftwood and other natural (and sometimes un-natural) debris, Oregon’s beach wrack line is a thriving ecological community. Look closely next time you are at the beach. The wrack line tells an amazing story about what used to live in the ocean and its new role on the beach.

From small crabs (my personal favorite is the mole, or sand crab), to beach hoppers, beetles and other bugs (including the beach’s version of the perennial kid favorite, the roly-poly) the wrack is home to a veritable bounty of invertebrates.  A variety of shorebirds, including the listed western snowy plover, and other birds such as sanderlings feed on the small critters that live in the wrack line. In fact, due to the dynamic nature of the beach, the wrack is one of the primary food sources available to animals on the beach. Additionally, wrack can serve to store sand and help build up sand in protective dunes along the shore.

Please take care while exploring and do not remove this vital component of Oregon’s beach ecosystem. You can help out by keeping your trash off the beach and removing human-made debris that washes up.  Please note that there are rules to protect the ocean shore’s natural, scenic, cultural, historical and recreational resources. For more information, check out the following resources and enjoy these last days of summer.

Kelp found on the beach, home to mussels,
barnacles and more

Plovers foraging in wrack

Western snowy plovers foraging in the wrack (how many can you find?)

Other resources:

Interpretive panel on beach wrack produced by California State Parks.

Oregon Sea Grant publication about "Flotsam, Jetsam and Wrack" produced by Oregon State University.

Information about Oregon’s shorebirds and other watchable wildlife developed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  

Information about beach debris developed by Oregon State Parks, including frequently asked questions.

An overview of plants and animals of sandy shores, including photos of kelp flies, pillbugs and beach hoppers.

General information about the Ocean Shore State Recreation Area, inlcuding answers to frequently asked questions and a link to ocean shore rules.

Event calendar for Oregon State Parks. There are still lots of beach-related programs offered this month in some of our coastal state parks!