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Winter tidepooling at San Mateo coast reserve.

The solstice months, December and June, produce tidal extremes, including some low tides that are wonderful times for tidepooling. One good spot to study intertidal life is the James W. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, about 20 miles south of San Francisco on the San Mateo coast.

Here, a long shelf of soft shale has crumbled and eroded, creating a variety of specialized habitats--tidal channels, lagoons, reefs. During an extra-low tide, you can easily see all the major intertidal life zones in a compact area. (Note that it's against the law to disturb or remove any animal or shell in this preserve; and be very careful when you handle any marine creatures.)

Invertebrates found here include some 400 species. At the highest and most exposed level, called the splash zone, you'll see lots of green algae and periwinkles. Next, in the upper intertidal zone, come the algae eaters, such as acorn barnacles and limpets. Out farther, in the middle intertidal zone, are the filter feeders--mussels and gooseneck barnacles clinging tenaciously to the wave-pounded rocks. In the farthest, least frequently exposed area, the low intertidal zone, you see the predators--starfish, sea urchins, and big sea anenomes.

There's a naturalist on duty from 8:30 to 5 Saturdays and Sundays to answer questions and lead tours (starting from the information hut in the parking lot). Tours begin at 12:45 on December 7, at 1:30 on December 8, at 1 on December 21, and at 1:45 on December 22. Groups can arrange for guided tours through Coyote Point Museum (fee is $10); call (415) 342-7755.

The reserve is at the end of California Street in the town of Moss Beach, off State Highway 1. Wear rubber boots or shoes with nonskid soles for scrambling over the rocks.
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Title Annotation:James W. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, San Mateo, California
Publication:Sunset
Date:Dec 1, 1985
Words:295
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