There is a beach along the PCH heading towards Malibu that I frequently visit, but do not know the name of. One of my favorite things about it is that it is hidden, with very few people here whenever I come – it is an unofficial “private” beach. Most of the California coast is free to the public, but that does not mean there is always easy access to it. This beach offers no parking, the access point is only a narrow staircase within a private neighborhood, and has a single, subtle sign that says, “Beach Access → ”.
It can be easy to miss, even if you know what to look for.
A narrow staircase leads to a beach
This beach is not groomed and stays relatively clean, because majority of its visitors are residents that consider this area their backyard. The tide pools stretch along the beach for at least a mile, and I have found very interesting creatures in these microhabitats.
Tidal pools are small but rich with life!
I was introduced to this beach years ago when my biology teacher offered an extra credit field trip to assess the biodiversity of the area. She had been coming here for decades and noticed a steep decline in the amount and type of coastal marine fauna. She enlisted the help of her students every year to take biodiversity surveys, and I have been helping her collect data even after graduating.
A Great Egret searches for lunch.
I believe beaches offer an excellent outdoor classroom experience and inspire students to gain an awareness and appreciation for the natural world. I noticed that this field experience really brought out the curiosity in my peers, and it personally fueled my passion for the environment.
I visited this beach again this month, and I noticed that there was a smaller variety of marine life in the tide pools compared to last year. I found many anemones, sea snails, and small crabs, but almost no sea stars, nudibranchs, or even small fish. This could be attributed to changes in the tide, the time of day, or the season of this visit, but it was very disheartening to return to an area I remembered was once rich with life, and witness such a drastic change.
How can we incorporate the beach into non-environmental classes?
I think it is so important, now more than ever, for students to be stepping out of the traditional classroom setting and into the natural world. It is only with knowledge and attentiveness that we can make a change, and it starts from meaningful educational experiences. I remember a few times in a past philosophy class, my professor had us sit outside in the grass under a tree for discussions, just because it was a nice day. This had no negative consequence (except for anyone who came late to an empty classroom) and actually gave us more energy and a relaxed atmosphere to speak our minds. Incorporating natural environments like the beach into most fields of study should be a common practice, as interdisciplinary learning is proven to have intrinsic value.
My personal hope is that having people from different fields study environments like the beach will help protect and conserve these places. Environmental science is very broad and has aspects that include everything from chemistry to political science to writing to computer science. Overall, getting students to just visit a beach and connect to some aspect of nature is a great place to start.