Curiosity flourished Saturday as dozens of beach combers searched the shores of Titlow Beach for signs of marine life.
Amanda Flynn-Stach, a longtime volunteer with the Metro Parks Tacoma event Tiptoe Through the Tidepools, showed a small group of kids the difference between a hairy shore crab and a purple shore crab.
One has hair on its legs, the other polka dots, she said.
“I love talking to kids about sea life,” she said, holding a so-called “critter bucket” filled with small sea creatures. “I love seeing the enthusiasm.”
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Volunteers and staff members gathered crabs, sea anemones and seaweed to fill two touch tanks and teach curious locals facts about the sea life.
Young children turned over rocks and asked lots of questions, while some bigger kids waded into the water to cool off amid the 90-degree weather.
Saturday’s event was one of several this summer, all of which are held during the lowest tides of the year.
Metro Parks has hosted them for about three years. They’re meant to teach locals about how to responsibly enjoy Tacoma’s beaches, Metro Parks staff member Daisy Douglass said.
“It helps locals explore beaches in a friendly way,” Douglass said. “As our water quality is changing, we really want to teach people how to treat our beaches.”
The acidification of oceans has negatively affected local sea life, she added. In recent years, for example, volunteers commonly find starfish limbs scattered all over the beach.
Fortunately, the starfish observed Saturday had most, if not all, of their limbs intact.
Kids gently touched their backs as Flynn-Stach explained how they latch onto the rocks below.
Brent Stoner of Tacoma was carefully exploring with 2-year-old daughter, Violet, when they came across a starfish of their own.
“She enjoys seeing the animals,” Stoner said.
And the toddler saw a lot of them Saturday. She pointed to a large red crab, the second of its kind she had found.
Shortly after that, Violet gently clutched the starfish in her hand, just before her dad carried her toward the water to release it.
By doing so, the father-daughter duo properly followed beach etiquette, outlined in the exploring guides Douglass distributed.
The guides featured pictures, descriptions and facts about creatures commonly found at Titlow Beach to help people identify what they discovered, though it urged people to leave what they found on the beach to avoid disrupting the habitat and health of the marine life.
Meanwhile on the dock above the beach, Zavier Lindsey, 14, showed a group of kids an isopod swimming in a touch tank.
Zavier said she started taking classes at the Tacoma Nature Center two years ago, and loves volunteering at the tide pools event.
“I learn something new every time,” she said.
Kailyn Swetz, 4, princess pale in hand, stood on her tiptoes to get a better look at all the creatures in the touch tank.
Tiny crabs scurried back and forth past small sea anemones suctioned to rocks, while even-tinier hermit crabs scooted their shells from one side of the tank to the other.
Kailyn listened intently as Zavier explained how to tell the difference between male and female crabs: markings on their undersides.
Kailyn’s mom, Donna, heard about the tide pools event from a friend. She said she was looking forward to her daughter learning more about creatures that she doesn’t get to see often.
“It’s just a way to appreciate what God’s made,” she said.