Posted by: Karen Fowler
Feeling the breeze as you walk across a sandy beach is relaxing and freeing. Thousands of people find themselves at the beach lost in the beauty of it all, enjoying gentle waves, sunshine, soft sand and that outdoor feeling. Most people come and enjoy the ocean experience without thinking about the beach they are sharing with animals and plants. The sand you sit on is a part of a beach habitat. Just like the home you sleep and live in, a habitat is a home filled with environmental elements necessary for a species' survival. The beach is much more complex than sand and ocean water. The salty water, ocean breeze, sand, rocks, direct sun and temperate weather are all a part of a habitat for plants and animals to survive.
Beach Plants
With the constant change in the tide levels, parts of the beach are continually exposed to and then covered by water. The smash and pull of water across the beach makes it difficult for plants to grow on the shoreline. Up on the highest beach zone, where high tide rarely reaches, plant species can grow and survive. Beach conditions are harsh with high levels of saline, intense sun exposure, and nutrient-lacking sand. These elements come together to create a habitat for the toughest plants. Most plants are halophytic, which means they are salt tolerant and grow despite having salt in the soil or getting sprayed or splashed by salty water. It might seem impossible that any species could survive in such intense conditions, yet plants do more than survive, they grow, bloom and thrive. Take Latifolia, this plant grows best in dry sand, direct sun and temperatures over 70 degrees. What better place to grow than right on that perfect sandy beach? While passing purple Latifolia on your way down to the smooth sand, you will probably walk through familiar beach grass. This beach grass is found around the world and its spider-web roots grow deep in the sand forming a net-like structure that holds the sand in place. This species helps create a more stable environment for other beach plants.
Beach Animals
While walking across that sand, it might seem like there is little wildlife along the shore. There are fish swimming in the water and further away in the trees a squirrel or two, but are there any animals that live right along the beach shore? If you look a little closer at the sand, you will notice tiny holes the size of a pencil tip every few feet or inches. This is a sign of life. Those are breathing holes for something below the sand, like clams. Under a rock you might see a crab scurry for cover. The salty ocean water is a major element for all beach animal habitats. They need this water to drink, keep them cool, or provide a wet home. The ocean water is filled with nutrients, food and plankton for beach species. Sand is another element that works as a home for beach animals. Most species you can't even see because they are so tiny such as meiofauna and worms; they hide themselves between sand grains. Sand also easily shifts, making it the ideal habitat for the sand crab whose color matches sand and buries itself beneath its surface. The beach is also the first habitat for sea turtles. When nesting season arrives, a female turtle will leave the comfort of the ocean to dig a large hole in the sand for her eggs. The hole is large enough to fit 80 to 120 eggs. After laying her eggs, she buries them with sand completely to protect them from predators. After burying them she leaves them to nature and returns to her ocean habitat. The sand is used to incubate the eggs and when the turtles are developed they dig themselves out of the sand and head towards the ocean water. Beach animals also soar high above your head along the ocean. The shore is the perfect habitat for many birds to eat, drink and live. Sand and salty water make a great habitat for beach animals no matter how big or small the animal might be.