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Intertidal Zone: Definition, Characteristics & Facts

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  • 0:02 Definition
  • 0:33 Characteristics
  • 1:08 Life
  • 1:48 Facts
  • 2:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Josh Corbat

Josh has taught Earth Science and Physical Science at the High School level and holds a Master of Education degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Sea stars, anemones, and crabs, oh my! In this lesson, learn about the zone of the ocean where these creatures can be found. Discover some key characteristics and facts of this zone, then test your knowledge with a quiz.

Definition

If you have ever walked along the beach, wind blowing in your hair, maybe the sun setting in the background, and reached down to pick up a shell or sea star, you have interacted with the intertidal zone of the ocean. The intertidal zone is the area of the ocean between the high tide and low tide lines, usually on the beach at the water's edge. If you think of the line created at high tide as the upper limit and the line created at low tide as the lower limit, the intertidal zone is everything between those lines.

Characteristics

The defining characteristic of the intertidal zone is that it is submerged with water during high tide and exposed to the air during low tide. The zone can take many forms, from sandy beaches to rocky cliffs. It is common for the intertidal zone to change frequently, since it is constantly battered by crashing waves.

This changing nature of the zone makes it a somewhat harsh environment for living things. Normally, environments on Earth are either completely dry or completely wet, but the fact that the intertidal zone is always changing leads to organisms that are uniquely adapted to live there.

Life

Common lifeforms found in the intertidal zone are sea stars, crabs, mussels, barnacles, and various corals. Many of these lifeforms are adapted to live part of their lives submerged in water and part of their lives exposed to open air.

A great example of how some organisms are adapted for this type of environment is in barnacles. Barnacles are submerged in water during high tide and are open, exposing parts that take in vital food and nutrients. Then, during low tide, the barnacles are exposed to the air and are closed, maintaining an interior environment in which they can survive. Otherwise, they would dry out when exposed to the open air.

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