Beach Wrack: Connecting the Land and the Sea

If you find yourself taking a stroll along Crystal Cove State Park’s beautiful coast this summer, take note of all the stunning sights that this area has to offer. Along with the charming historic cottages, the sandy beach, and the rocky tidepools, there are also some sights that may be taken for granted. One of these is beach wrack! Beach wrack is the scientific term for the seaweed, driftwood, and seagrasses that wash onto the beach.  At first glance, beach wrack may not look appealing, but by taking a closer look, one may become immersed in a world of organisms living within the beach wrack.

Beach wrack creates a unique coastal ecosystem. It is created when waves or storm events tear up seaweed that is anchored on the hard seafloor, which is then brought onto shore by waves.

As the tides go in and out and waves pound the beach throughout the day, the beach wrack on Crystal Cove’s beaches is constantly moved around. This means that the beach wrack’s inhabitants are living a fast-paced, everchanging environment. Many organisms call these piles home and use the beach wrack as a food source.  These include kelp flies, beach hoppers, rove beetles, and rollie pollies.

Beach wrack is also an amazing connector of land and sea. Birds such as snowy plovers, whimbrels, black phoebes, and black-bellied plovers feast on the organisms that live in the beach wrack. As the beach wrack decomposes, it also provides nutrients into the sand that can be used by kelp and other plants that grow offshore.

On top of being a habitat and food source for many organisms, beach wrack also plays an important role by acting as a natural barrier to storm surges and large waves. It protects beaches by holding sand that would otherwise be taken away with the wind and creates dunes that can act as a structural support for other plants being established on the beach. For these reasons, beach wrack can be considered an important player in protecting coastal communities.

On the second Saturday of each month, Crystal Cove Conservancy hosts Field Science Saturday, where the public is welcome to come learn about the park and engage with The Conservancy Staff while conducting real research. If you want to learn more about beach wrack or the ecosystem surrounding it, join us for one of our Field Science Saturday events.



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