Oregon’s rocky shoreline is a huge draw for tourists, many of whom travel from miles away to see the dramatic rocks, cliffs and islands sprinkled along the Coast. Of the more than 1,400 rocks and islands off the Coast, none is more famous than Haystack Rock. Jutting out of the Cannon Beach shoreline, the 235-foot rock is one of the most popular and most photographed destinations in Oregon. Located within 1.5 hours of Portland, it’s an ideal place to learn about marine invertebrates and bird life that are accessible at low tide.
Haystack Rock is part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Marine Garden, a chain of 1,853 rocks, reefs and islands home to seals and sea lions, birds, sea stars, barnacles and other sea organisms and wildlife. Interpretive signs educate people about the creatures living there while also letting them know that state and federal laws prohibit people from climbing on the rock or collecting materials.
“Many people come to the beach not expecting to have an educational experience,” says Melissa Keyser, coordinator of the Haystack Rock Awareness Program, a stewardship and environmental education program aimed at preventing ecosystem degradation at Haystack Rock. She says they’re often surprised to learn that Haystack Rock is full of living, breathing creatures. “It peaks their curiosity.” While starfish and other organisms living in tide pools are well-adapted to their harsh living conditions, they are incredibly sensitive to humans. Keyser and other biologists are looking to a citizen volunteer force to help visitors understand why it’s important to “look, not touch” these magical ecosystems.
That’s where the Haystack Rock Awareness Program and programs like it fill a valuable role. While the Coast is full of for-profit outfitters that introduce people to whale watching, crabbing, sea kayaking, bird watching and other outdoor activities, when it comes to tide pooling — one of the most popular activities on the Coast — the industry relies heavily on volunteers as well as Oregon State Park rangers to share the secrets of this underwater world with visitors who come seeking a unique coastal experience. Between February and October 2017, about 90 volunteers with the Haystack Rock Awareness Program handed out information, led school field trips and guided interpretive walks to Haystack Rock, reaching more 80,000 visitors.
For Oregon State Parks, teaching tide pool etiquette is one of the top priorities. To provide a one-stop-shop for Oregon Coast tide pool information, the agency launched OregonTidePools.org, which offers a species guides, safety tips, photography tips and photos and videos. Park rangers also lead guided tide pool tours throughout the busy season as a way to increase public awareness about the fragility of these ecosystems.
Oregon State Parks is one of many resource management agencies along the Coast participating in an advisory committee formed by the Oregon Coast Visitors Association (OCVA) to determine ways the tourism industry might be able to help create a culture of stewardship. “From protecting tide pools to stopping the spread of invasive species, there are numerous opportunities for the tourism sector to help educate visitors and open their eyes to new education-based tourism opportunities,” says Marcus Hinz, OCVA executive director.
“Leisure and hospitality business along the Coast are ambassadors for our communities, parks and natural, protected areas,” Hinz says. He encourages businesses to consider sharing the following resources with customers who are interested in tide pooling.
Oregon State Parks Oregon Tide Pools website
Outdoor Project Oregon Coast Tide Pool Guide
Haystack Rock Awareness Program
Photo by Don Frank / Visit Seaside