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discover the santa monica bay's distinct habitats
The Bay consists of four distinct types of habitat, each filled with animals adapted to live, eat and reproduce in that environment. From the unassuming Sandy Bottom to the majestic Kelp Forest, the Santa Monica Bay is home to a diverse ecosystem of marine animals and plants. When you visit our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium you can learn more about each of these special habitats and see examples of the local inhabitants.
Of the four main habitats that comprise Santa Monica Bay, the Rocky Shore is the most dynamic. The Rocky Shore is an intertidal zone, defined as the area between the high and low tide marks. This habitat is regularly exposed to air, massive changes in temperature and salinity; the animals that live here must contend with predators from the land and the ocean. Made up of solid rock, Rocky Shore animals are unable to dig into it for protection (some are able to carve out indentations over long periods of time), leading all organisms to live on the rock surface. This exposes the Rocky Shore organisms to pounding surf that constantly bombards the California coast. As the tide recedes, the Rocky Shore is exposed to the sun and air. This leads to an increase in temperatures, often of 40 degrees or more, desiccation (drying out) through evaporation, and threats to the marine life by terrestrial predators that were kept at bay at high tide.
The Sandy Bottom habitat is the most unassuming marine habitat in the Santa Monica Bay. Its flat, featureless profile leads many people to think that it is devoid of life, yet just below the surface lies a wealth of organisms. The Sandy Bottom is found in the Bay from Santa Monica down to Redondo Beach, and is visited by millions of people every year who go there to swim, surf and enjoy a day at the beach. The same waves that draw in the surfers play a major role in the distribution of life in the Sandy Bottom. Each wave shifts and moves the sand, which makes up the habitat. The organisms burrow into the sand in order to protect themselves from the pounding surf as well as to escape predation.
The Kelp Forest is the second most speciose (contains the highest number of different species) marine habitat known to science, second only to tropical reefs. In California waters, the foundation of this habitat is the giant kelp, or Macrocystis pyrifera, which is one of the largest marine plant-like organisms. Reaching a length of 180 feet, giant kelp, under the right conditions, can grow up to three feet per day! Kelp needs a solid structure on which to anchor itself, so it is found in areas with a rocky substrate such as the waters off Malibu and Palos Verdes. The Kelp Forest functions much like a forest on land, except the birds are replaced by fishes and the squirrels are replaced by crabs and snails.
The Open Ocean is the largest habitat on planet Earth; in fact, it comprises almost three quarters of the Earth’s surface. This habitat is made up entirely of water and poses many problems for the animals that live in it. It is the home for the largest animal to ever inhabit the Earth, the blue whale, and some of the smallest organisms known to science. The Open Ocean is the region of the ocean away from the coastline and above the seafloor, so organisms that live here never come into contact with solid structures like sand and rock.