For most visitors, the most fascinating coastal ecosystems in Oregon  are the rocky tide pools. These Technicolor windows offer an up-close look at one of the richest—and harshest—environments, the intertidal zone, where pummeling surf, unflinching sun, predators, and the cycle of tides demand tenacity and special adaptation of its inhabitants.
The natural zone where surf meets shore is divided into three main habitat layers, based on their position relative to tide levels. The high intertidal zone, inundated only during the highest tides, is home to creatures that can either move, such as crabs, or are well adapted to tolerate daily desiccation, such as acorn barnacles and finger limpets, chitons, green algae, and limpets.
The turbulent mid-intertidal zone is covered and uncovered by the tides, usually twice each day. In the upper portion of this zone, California mussels and goose barnacles may thickly blanket the rocks, while ocher sea stars and green sea anemones are common lower down, along with sea lettuce, sea palms, snails, sponges, and whelks.
Below that, the low intertidal zone is exposed only during the lowest tides. Because it is covered by water most of the time, this zone has the greatest diversity of organisms in the tidal area. Residents include many of the organisms found in the higher zones, as well as sculpins, abalone, and purple sea urchins.
Standout destinations for exploring tide pools include Cape Arago , Cape Perpetua , the Marine Gardens at Devil’s Punchbowl , and beaches south and north of Gold Beach —among many other spots.
Tide pool explorers should be mindful that, despite the fact that the plants and animals in the tide pools are well adapted to withstand the elements, they and their ecosystem are actually quite fragile, and they’re very sensitive to human interference. Avoid stepping on mussels, anemones, and barnacles, and take nothing from the tide pools.
In the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and other specially protected areas, removal or harassment of any living organism may be treated as a misdemeanor punishable by fines.