• The Point Reyes Beach as viewed from the Point Reyes Headlands

    Point Reyes

    National Seashore California

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  • 2014 Harbor Seal Pupping Season Closures

    From March 1 through June 30, the park implements closures of certain Tomales Bay beaches and Drakes Estero to water-based recreation to protect harbor seals during the pupping season. Please avoid disturbing seals to ensure a successful pupping season. More »

  • 2014 Winter Shuttle Bus Operations Have Ended

    March 30, 2014, was the last day for the 2014 Winter Shuttle Bus System. Sir Francis Drake Blvd. is open daily from now through late December 2014. More »

  • Operational Changes Took Effect on May 1, 2013

    The Lighthouse Visitor Center is now only open Fridays through Mondays; closed Tuesdays through Thursdays, including Thanksgiving. The Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center is open on weekends and holidays when shuttles are operating. More »

Echinoderms

Ochre sea stars (Pisaster ochraceus) and California mussels (Mytilus californianus).

Ochre sea stars (Pisaster ochraceus) and California mussels (Mytilus californianus)

Echinoderms are recognizable by their (usually five-point) radial symmetry, and include such well-known animals as sea stars (commonly called starfish), sea urchins, sand dollars, and sea cucumbers. The phylum Echinodermata contains about 7000 living species, twenty-one of which may be found in the intertidal zone at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Sea Stars
Sea stars, a sturdy yet flexible predator, are the tigers of the intertidal zone. When a sea star finds a mussel that seems like it will make a sufficient lunch, it will use its thousands of tube feet to cling to the bivalves shell. Then it pulls. The sea star doesn't need to pull the shell very far apart, a crack will do. Once an opening has been created, the sea star does something extraordinary: it extrudes its stomach from its body. The sea star will actually push its own stomach into the opening it has made. Digestive processes then go to work, turning the mussel's flesh into a delicious slurry that the sea star's stomach can then absorb.

Sea star wasting disease garnered media attention in late 2013 and early 2014. Sea star wasting disease is a general description of a set of symptoms that are found in sea stars. Typically, lesions appear in the ectoderm followed by decay of tissue surrounding the lesions, which leads to eventual fragmentation of the body and death. Scientists at UC Santa Cruz and partners are continuing to investigate a coast-wide die off of sea stars along the west coast of the US. There has been some evidence of wasting disease at Point Reyes this year and anecdotal declines in numbers of sea stars in some locations. However, it is unknown if these types of die-offs are relatively natural (there were similar events in 1983 and 1997) or how quickly populations can recover post-disease. For additional details, visit UC Santa Cruz's Sea Star Wasting Syndrome page.

Sea Urchins
Sea urchins are found in the lower intertidal zone in tide pools and are abundant in the subtidal zone. In some areas, large groups of urchins eat their way through kelp beds to create "urchin barrens" where seaweeds are scarce; then, the urchin population decreases because of lack of food, allowing the kelp beds to recover. In areas where sea otters are present, this cycle isn't as extreme. Sea urchins are a favored food of sea otters, and sea otters keep sea urchin populatioins in check.

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Did You Know?

Fog-filled valley with yellow twilight glow over a ridge in the background. © John B. Weller.

The rich, lush environment of Point Reyes heavily depends on the fog. During rainless summers, fog can account for 1/3 of the ecosystem's water input. But recent studies have indicated that there has been about a 30 percent reduction in fog during the last 100 years here in coastal California. More...