If you aren’t a scuba diver or a snorkeler, there are a lot of things that live under the water along Maine’s coast that we don’t usually get to see. Tide pooling is an exception to that — when the tide goes out, there’s an array of marine life revealed for seaside explorers to find. The other exception is the variety of seafood that gets harvested from the water and that you can see at your local fish market. Maine’s tidepool life is impressively diverse, as is its offering of seafood types (and it is National Seafood Month, so make sure to get some good Maine seafood), but there are still plenty of species that most of us never get to see. This time of year offers an unusual opportunity to see those species without getting wet when marine gear gets pulled out for the season.

Ahead of winter, much of the gear that is in the water during the warmer months gets taken out. Even though much of this gear has only been in the water since spring, those handful of months have provided plenty of time for marine life to discover it as a new place to make a home. It makes sense if you think about the vast area of water that exists versus the surfaces in and around that water. So, any time you add another surface, it isn’t surprising that it gets quickly filled up with a veritable garden of plant and animal life seeking something to attach to. This is the case for every dock, mooring and boat that floats in the water.

It might not be immediately apparent how many different types of marine life there are that need something to stick to. That’s because not all of them need this during all parts of their lives. Many of these “sticky” animals are the babies of the sea — they’ve just stopped floating around as plankton and now need a place to stick to grow bigger into their more recognizable adult forms. Many of these are filter feeders, and so, being on a floating object positions them perfectly to feed from the surrounding water. They’re also safe from many of the bottom-dwelling predators that would like to eat them.

There are some familiar species like mussels and barnacles that add some significant weight to every float out there. Then there are others that are harder to notice until you look closely on a piece of suspended rope and see that there are tiny creatures dancing around like the skeletons they are aptly named after. Maybe they have also been on my mind with the approach of Halloween. Skeleton shrimp are virtually translucent and are more of a tiny marine bug than a shrimp. Get one on the edge of your sweatshirt or glove and you can see it bend and twist around as it looks for another surface to cling to. They are pretty tiny but can cover surfaces in thousands per square foot.

There’s a whole suite of other species that look and feel mostly like a layer of slime. If you can see them up close, this slime is composed of plants and animals that live together in a kind of tiny marine garden of different colored and shaped organisms. Hydroids, bryozoans and tunicates all accompany an assortment of algae. Some of these are native and some are invasive, adding to the goopy feel of mooring lines and boat bottoms.

There are ways to prevent what people call “fouling” of all of this gear, like painting boats with bottom paint that prevents organisms from settling there. But marine life is tenacious and will find its way to most available habitat. This life is remarkably better adapted to living on and under the water than we are and taking a moment to look closely at it as it emerges for the season is truly eye-opening.

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