(This is part two of Containment Issues. Go read part 1 if you want some background on this adventure, or keep reading if you just want to see some sea critters.)
You know that scene in the Little Mermaid where Arial shows us her collection of Whosits and Whatsits galore, and her twenty Thingamabobs? It's generally understood, even by the particularly young audience of that movie, that Arial is fascinated with the things she collects because they represent a whole facet of her world that she knows nothing about: land. Maybe I know some things about the way oceans work a little better than Arial understood the function of a fork, but there's still a huge difference between seeing an ocean in a textbook, and digging your toes into the sand. In this metaphor, I am Arial's opposite- thrilled and giddy about the everyday occurrences of the tide pools, the critters that live inside them, and the way their little ecosystems survive and thrive; little havens safe from the violently crashing waves.
We're back at Piha for the second installment of Containment Issues, and if you think I had trouble containing my excitement for part one, you have a whole other think coming.
Keeping in mind that my experience with oceans prior to this trip was extremely limited- meet the first sea critter:
Barnacles! Barnacles are everywhere, and they are so weird. They'll grow on anything that stays still long enough, and they look all spongy and squishy but they're just not. They're hard- so hard that, combined with the next critter I met, they'll cut right through the soles of your shoes if you're not careful. What's the next critter, then?
Mussels! I've seen mussels before- I'm a pretty huge fan of boiling and steaming them, and grilling them is pretty excellent too, but this day was the first time in my 22 wise years (sarcasm) that I had ever seen mussels as they are in nature. They kind of stick themselves to the rocks so that their razor-sharp lips point directly up into the unsuspecting bottoms of your feet. These particular ones are small, but the Green-Lipped mussels in New Zealand (the kind commonly eaten) are the length of my hand! The little critter inside a Green-Lipped mussel is as big as the critter and shell combined of the mussels I'm used to eating here.
Its an anem- aneon- ame- an anemone! I totally sympathize with Nemo, nobody could be expected to spell that without a 'proofread' button. Apparently this is the Disney movie reference blog post... I was a little fearful of the anemone situation based on my knowledge of how they eat... by trapping and killing their prey with stinging nematocysts that emit bursts of venom to anything touching their little tentacles, and then digesting it. I didn't feel like any of my fingers needed digesting, so I wasn't about to go sticking them were they didn't belong. There were several minutes of reassurance (and laughter) before I decided that maybe, maybe, it would be okay if it was just a quick poke, so I did- and watched the anemone curl in on itself until it looked like a squishy little stress ball! It may have even been worth the stress of potential finger digestion.
You'll recall the previous post about the growing of Mermaid Hair- here we have a different variety which is cultivated primarily for use by younger Mermaids, as fashion trends dictate large, flat strands of hair rather than smaller cylindrical ones typically seen with the older set. These are still very young Mermaid Hair Plants, and will continue to grow until they are long enough for the Mermaids to harvest. The exact length depends on the particular preference of the Mermaid, although longer lengths are typically associated with a higher level of patience, as this type of Mermaid Hair Plant is a very slow grower. It is particularly sought after for its very vibrant spring greens.
If you see a Mermaid Hair Plant on the beach, be sure not to disturb it- the Mermaid is probably waiting for you to leave so they can come up to retrieve it at high tide.
Here, with my bright pink flippy floppies and toes as reference, you can see the danger that barnacles and mussels present for those who wish to climb around on the rocks. It's the only way to get to more awesome sea life though!
If I had planned this trip better, (who am I kidding, I couldn't have planned for this- neither of us had any idea it was going to be so epic...) I would have worn my water shoes. They have very dense soles. I did, in fact, wear them the next time we went, but that's another blog post.
Here's what the mussels and barnacles look like when they're all grown up:
That's about the size of the ones you can buy in the grocery store. Also, you'll note in the upper central third of this photograph- my first real life encounter with Starfish! Stay tuned, cause this adventure is about to get more Starfishy than anyone could have anticipated...
Sea Urchin! This particular variety of sea urchin is called a Kina, which is its Māori name. It's a delicacy, apparently- but I think I'd have a hard time getting past it's prickly exterior. Kind of makes you wonder what that first person was thinking when he said, "Hey, wonder what it would be like to put one of those spiky things in my mouth! Gosh, I hope we don't die!" ...what pretty colors, though!
Here's another face only a mother could love:
Crabs! Crabs come in all shapes and sizes, and this particular fellow was pretty large. They're also very quick and very skittish, and so difficult to photograph. this was actually not the first crab I saw, it was just the first time one didn't run away for long enough to document its existence. Maybe he was feeling photogenic. Maybe he was having a good....exoskeleton...day...?
And now for something completely different!
Starfish! Of all the critters on this adventure, the starfish were the biggest deal. I knew they existed, because I kept seeing them in far away, difficult to get to places, and I really wanted to get close enough to photograph some. Enter, our little cerulean friend! She (he?) was in a tiny tide pool- fitting, for a tiny starfish. I didn't even know starfish came in blue, and yet there we were! I took so many pictures. Just to be sure, you know? And this- this most glorious of starfish-finding moments- was only the beginning.
Oh. My. Goodness. Everyone. Google has just informed me that a group of starfish is, in all actual and very serious fact, called a Constellation. As far as trivial facts you'll probably never use goes, that's pretty excellent. I, however, really could have used that knowledge when I ran into this situation, just at the cusp of low tide on Piha:
At first glance, it's nothing more than a pretty picture... but what happens if we maybe get a little closer?
YES. Yes they are, friend. Just as I though that I was done, that Piha was done teaching me about tide pools and ocean life like a grade school child learns about sentence structure, here we were. Faced with a person-height rock covered from tip to toe in starfish! I am so done. I was having such a hard time thinking of anything that could possibly even begin to top this experience. It's like the mermaids were whispering around (because of my interest in their hair-plants) and they told the starfish what a nice surprise it would be for a poor, land-locked American if they all gathered themselves up on one single solitary rock at low tide so that said American could freak out and take lots of pictures on her first whole day on a beach. Then, they had the little blue starfish keep watch, and they waited.
Naturally, I had to document my presence at this moment:
While I was taking photos, the tide started to roll back in- and it rolled very quickly indeed. After a few last-minute shots, we scurried back up onto the beach via some more tide-pool laden rocks, and decided- as the sun was starting to head for the western horizon, to head home. Not before I took a few last minute photos though.
Piha was beautiful. If she were human, she'd be flipping her hair in the wind right now. She behaved perfectly, and I have not a single, solitary complaint about my visit- (my subsequently peeling nose might have some other thoughts, but I care not. It only happened once.)- and I still basically want to live here.
And finally- one last shot of the Mermaid Hair Plant forest:
It's still really difficult for me to comprehend that everything in this photo was covered by water just a few hours later at high tide. I can't deny it- I nearly got stranded a few times (and by stranded I mean I almost had to get my shoes wet in order to get back to dryer land...).
So there- we've reached the end of part 2. There's still a whole 'nother post's worth of adventure to cram into this day! That's for next week, though, and if you are a little bit tired of ocean-based photos- ( one, gasp! and two, you might consider reading about someone else's non-island based adventures....)- don't worry! Next week's installment of the Containment Issues saga takes us up into the hills surrounding Piha to see my very first southern hemisphere waterfall! And no, the water doesn't flow in the opposite direction.
In the more recent news of someone who is retroactively blogging about her visit to New Zealand, My working holiday visa for this coming year was approved this week! I'll be traveling back to this wonderful place at the end of September, and this time not only am I allowed to work and make money- I can stay for a whole year! Piha, darling, I'm coming back for you! Let's just hope I can get caught up with the old adventures before new ones begin!