Une aventure aux limites du monde aquatique

Karen Townsend est interprète au Parc national Fundy depuis déjà 17 ans. Elle raconte avec une aisance toute naturelle les agréments de son boulot. Les excursions le long des côtes qu’elle a menées avec des milliers de visiteurs aux limites du monde aquatique, dans la zone comprise entre marée basse et marée haute, lui ont sans aucun doute permis de se spécialiser. Pourtant, assure-t-elle, les côtes qu’elle explore d’année en année lui réservent toujours des surprises.

« Mais les journées où un groupe me dévoile une nouvelle découverte compte parmi les plus beaux moments de mon travail. Et mes groupes savent très bien me surprendre ainsi. »

La violence des marées et du temps froid rend la vie difficile aux espèces qui s’aventurent le long des côtes ou qui y échouent. Le témoignage de Karen souligne de façon percutante la richesse de ce milieu naturel.

A Walk on the
Bottom of the Sea

Karen Townsend,
October 1998

i.gif (173 bytes)'ll never forget the day I answered a question from my group: "Oh no. We don't find starfish on this beach. Occasionally, they are found on a beach nearby, but only tiny ones." Minutes later, I see a woman approaching with the mother of all starfish--bigger than a car’s steering wheel! The sixty people I was leading that day experienced the ability of the seashore to provide constant surprises.

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(photo: NBEN/RENB)

Karen Towsend

My adventures as an interpretive naturalist in Fundy National Park have often taken place on the shore. The Bay of Fundy conveniently withdraws its waters twice daily to reveal the ocean floor. Equipped with just old sneakers, curiosity and a keen eye, a person can enter another world--a world of living things that call the ocean home. My admiration for the inhabitants of the world between the tides is great. None of us could survive even one day here where the water rises many metres and ebbs away so regularly. It's a rough neighbourhood. Land creatures can only visit. A few marine species can survive here. Ocean water to air. Saltwater to, if it's raining, freshwater (dreadful stuff!). Cold water to hot sun. Cold winter water to icy winds. Just in case life is not challenging enough, a final assault of ice cakes which grind over the beach at winter's end.

Finding anything living in the intertidal zone is a tiny miracle. Small dark periwinkles plow over the surfaces leaving squiggly trails in the sand. Predatory dogwhelks hunt down prey in slow motion, armed to drill through protective shells or anaesthetize the muscularly resistant. Rubbery rockweeds sprout from rocks creating an undulating small forest at high tide, but lying listless and inactive when we visit at low tide. Rock crabs and green crabs peer out from hiding places under the rocks. Hermit crabs proudly sport snail shells of various colours and styles, borrowed until the crabs' bodies outgrow them. Barnacles and mussels adorn any rock surface available.

Butterfish, looking much like eels and about the length of a pencil, amaze us all. These fish survive out of the water when the tide is out by being liberally coated with mucus. Just imagine the antics as I try to catch one of these squiggling creatures when its hiding place under a rock is discovered! Released into a pan of water, it swims and splashes, causing much excitement as it tries to get over the sides and I try to head it off. Everyone enjoys having a look at this unusual fish before I put it back where it can hide.

Come with us on a
guided beach walk

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The inhabitants I know well are peculiar enough to be of continuous interest to me. But the days my group discovers something new to me are real highlights. The groups are good at setting me up. One day someone asked, "Any jellyfish in the bay?" I responded, "No. We don't get them up here. I know we do have the sea gooseberry, a relative, but it's rarely seen." Right away a woman comes over asking about a see-through sphere in the sand over there. Wouldn't you know--a sea gooseberry! I'd never seen one on our beaches in all those years.

I won't forget the day we found a shark, swimming round and round in a large tide pool! Forty of us stood in a circle surrounding it and watched in awe as its dorsal fin cut circles and figure eights so smoothly in the water's surface. I could almost hear the menacing music that accompanies this motion in my mind. However, I must tell you that this was a dogfish shark and grows to arm-length only, quite harmless to humans.

One time a man in my group almost stepped on a young seal! It was so well camouflaged, with its creamy fur splotched with gold markings, it just blended in with the rocks we were stepping over. I'd never seen a seal on the beach before. We don't even see them that commonly in the water offshore. I guess this one had forgotten the tide schedule and didn't notice when the water drained away. The water's edge was now more than a kilometre away.

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Once, my group was half way out to meet the tide on its return from low when the water advanced much faster than usual, almost reaching us. We watched it rush up the drainage channels, forming little tidal bores. Then it stopped and retreated well back again. It traveled in several minutes what would normally take several hours! Ten minutes later, the water surged up the beach and drained away again. We moved higher up the beach as no one knew what to expect next. I had heard about a hurricane off of South Carolina three days before and wondered if that was the cause of what we were witnessing. This is the only time I've heard of anyone experiencing storm surges on our beaches but others agree with this explanation.

Every time I explore the strange world that is uncovered by the Bay's amazing tides, I make discoveries that delight and surprise me. I encourage you to venture out there too, either on your own or come with us on a guided beach walk next summer in Fundy National Park.


Karen has been an interpretive naturalist in Fundy National Park, N.B., for the past 17 years. Thousands of visitors from all over the world have followed her on intertidal explorations of the Bay of Fundy. Guided beach walks are wonderful ways to gain intimacy with the marine world and are offered almost daily in English or French. There is no extra charge for these events beyond the park entry fee.