Southern California Wetlands
in the
1920s to 1930s

Compiled & Edited
Robert 'Roy' J. van de Hoek
from the text of
Between Pacific Tides

The book Between Pacific Tides (1939, Stanford University Press) by Edward Ricketts, who was known affectionately in several of John Steinbeck's books as "Doc", focuses significantly on southern California wetlands. When southern California is mentioned, estuaries are the primary focus, such as Newport Bay, Anaheim Slough, Mission Bay, and San Diego Bay, and El Estero de Punta Bunda. In addition, rocky intertidal wetlands, particularly La Jolla is discussed frequently. "Doc" Ricketts has given us, through his writing, historical, classical, and nostalgic natural history. For example, "Doc" visited Newport Bay and El Estero de Punta Banda every year during the late 1920s to 1930s. "Doc" had a ritual to come to southern California each year, sometimes going to La Jolla and even San Quintin Bay, about 100 miles south of Ensenada. One of these trips is memorialized in CANNERY ROW as a trip to La Jolla to collect octipi.

Ed Ricketts felt that Newport Bay was a beautiful and unique landscape. The proof is in his writings about Newport Bay. As you read, note that he lamented about its small restricted size. More should have been preserved even in the 1930s according to "Doc." He was fascinated with her (Newport Bay) ecology as being a northern outpost for tropical American (Panamanian) marine intertidal fauna. Such animals as the Fiddler Crab, Sea Pansy, and many others are best found here at least in the 1930s when Ed Ricketts explored Newport Bay each Spring.

On page 161 (218), "Doc" wrote:
"Enclosed in Newport Bay is a stretch of fully protected reef that is the counterpart of Puget Sound reefs. In its unfortunately small area at least two Panamanian animals, neither of which is known to occur commonly elsewhere along the California coast, maintain an extremely northerly outpost. The first is rather beautiful gorgonian, Muricea californica, that is related to the "sea fans" and "sea whips" and hangs in graceful, tree-shaped, brown clusters from the vertical cliff face. The minute zooids that extend from the branches when the animal is undisturbed are in pleasantly contrasting white. Clusters may be more than 6" in length and as large around as one's fist."

"The second is the pale urchin, Lytechinus pictus,about 1.5" in diameter, a light gray form that occurs abundantly in the Gulf of California. This Newport Bay region appears to be more plentifully supplied with urchins (as to number of species) than any other similar area on the United States Pacific Coast. Both the purple urchin and the giant red urchin may be taken along with this pale gray form on the same rocky reef, and on the neighboring sand flats the ubiquitous sand dollar occurs, and an occasional heart urchin or sea porcupine (247)."

On page 214, "Doc" wrote:
"(298). Tetilla mutabilis(Fig. 99) is one of the most remarkable of sponges. It attaches loosely, now and then, to the roots of eelgrass, but for the most part it rolls aimlessly about in Newport Bay or lies around on the mudflats-an unheard-of line of conduct for a sponge. The light-weight clusters, sometimes as large as a clenched fist, are sometimes dirty yellow to purple but are usually red with green glints. This sponge has been likened to the egg case of a spider; to another observer it suggests the gizzard of a chicken."

On page 189, "Doc" wrote:
"(264). A large cucumber with a most un-holothurian appearance, Molpadia arencola(Pl.XXXIX), is taken now and then at Newport Bay, in El Estero de Punta Banda, and probably other places. Habitues of the Newport intertidal regions call it the "sweet potato," and the name is rather appropiate. A sweet potato as large and well-polished as one of these animals, however, would be a sure prize winner at a county fair. The first specimens we saw were dug near Balboa and put in an aquarium for the edification of a collecting party. We took them to be giant echiurid worms, and certainly there is little about them to suggest their actual identity. The mottled, yellowish-brown skin is tough, smooth and slippery. There are no tube feet and obvious tentacles. Molpadia feeds by passing continuous masses of sand through its digestive tract for the sake of the contained detritus. As it lives in sand that appears to be fairly clean and free from organic matter, it must be compelled to eat enormous quantities of inert matter to get a little food. We have no notes on the speed with which the sand mass moves through the animal, but the better part of the weight of a living specimen and much of its bulk is in the contained sand. Remove the sand, and rotund "sweet potato" collapses."

"Molpadia has one cucumber trait, however, in that it always has guests in its body cavity, the pea crab, Pinnixia barnharti,occurring so commonly as to be considered almost diagnostic. When specimens are being narcotized with epsom salts for relaxed preservation, the pea crabs are likely to come out just as the pea crabs Opisthopous escape from Stichopus (77) under the same circumstances."

On page 213, "Doc" says even more about Newport Bay as follows:
Of the shelled snails there are many kinds. A tropical brown cowry (Cypraea spadicea,136),that ranges as far north as Newport, and a cone shell (Conus californicus, 136) are fairly common. The latter packs about more than its allotment of the slipper shell, Crepidiula onyx (Fig.98)-a combination that extends into the upper reaches of the estuary at Newport... One of the "muricks," Purpura nuttallii,is especially characteristic of southern mud flats. The ambitious collector at Newport may also run across the flared Murex trialatus,prize of the conchologists in that region."

" 297. The most noticeable animal of all, but one that is by no means obtrusiveley common, is a magnificently orange-plumed Phoronisthat has ben seen at Newport, its gelatinous body protected by a tube that is buried in the mud. This anomalous "worm," which, according to MacGinitie, will prove to be a new species, extends well down into the substratum, retracts immediately at the least sign of trouble, and is difficult to dig."



Closing thoughts by a Twenty-first Century (21st Century-2000)
Naturalist, Geographer, Biologist, Ecologist, Scientist, Evolving Environmentalist & Writer:
Robert Roy J. van de Hoek

As a naturalist, ecologist, wildlife biologist, botanist, and trained marine biologist, it is daunting to me at the ability of Ed Ricketts to write and communicate the natural history of the littoral region of California, in this case Newport Bay's wetlands. It would seem to me that yet another locale for the Sea Otter recovery would be Newport Bay based on the urchins found there, which could be a good prey source along with the clams in the Newport Bay. Another aficionado of Ed Ricketts, the preeiminant marine biologist-Dr. Joel Hedgpeth, talks quite a bit of the sea otter in some of his writings. Unfortunately, Ed Ricketts lived at a time in the 1930s to 1940s when the Sea Otter had just been re-discovered and was not yet abundant in Monterey/Carmel after its brutal holocaust by American, Russian, and British otter-fishermen captains of sailing boats of the 19th Century. It has been twenty years since I, as a marine biology student at CSUN (Cal. St. Univ. Northridge) did field work at Newport Bay. It was in the late 1970s when I took abundant pictures in the tidal mudflats of Newport Bay. My professors, Earl Segal, Ross Pohlo, Larry Allen, taught us students quite a bit on those trips to saltmarshes; about snails, clams, and fish. In fact, some of my first employment as a biologist, was under Larry Allen, a premier halibut fisheries biologist and all-around excellent marine biologist and ichthyologist. I was a biological technician in collecting young halibut to census their nursery success. I recall vividly, being also interested very much in birds; I rode in a Boston Whaler to a small mudflat exposed with the tide which turns into a small island, where pickleplant and cordgrass occurred. This 1980s memory of this mud-island trip, revealed a nest of the Light-footed Clapper Rail in the salt marsh plants. I photographed the nest and boy was I jubilant at this find. I hope for the Light-footed Clapper Rail being returned (recoverd-restored in scientific jargon) to Ballona Wetlands someday soon. The current world expert on the Light-footed Clapper Rail, is Richard Zembal, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In a conversation, in 1999, I asked him about the Clapper Rail being recovered at Ballona. He was optimistic that it could happen someday. I asked if I could be involved in the translocation of Rails, most likely from the population at Newport Bay. He said: "yes." He went on to say that I would have be trained and spend time working with him at a known population of these Rails at Seal Beach. I was stoked and became even more determined in my spirit to want Rails back at Ballona Wetlands. See another web page in my web site where I discuss Clapper Rails and I liked William Leon Dawson prose about the "Los Angeles" Clapper Rail name. So how does all this relate to Ed Ricketts. Perhaps I should state something about the food of the Clapper Rail. Some of the beautiful little animals studied, such as the Horn Snail, Fiddler Crab, and other invertebrates, are the main food of the Clapper Rail. We can use Ricketts book to know what animals the Clapper Rails fed on, i.e. estuary invertebrates. So, whether directly or indirectly, since Ed Ricketts was an ecologist, par excellence, he would have understood the linkage, the hitched nature of the intertidal invertebrate to bird, namely, Clapper Rail. In fact, the only bird discussed by Ricketts in his great book, is the Oystercatcher. He cites their impact on the little animals of the littoral. Yet, Ricketts understood birds in gestalt, although his love was the little animals, and his fellow human, with needs to be in the great society of the Earth, or in the tidepool. So, off I go, at 3pm on April 2, 2000, since their is -0.2' low tide, to see Spotted Seal (Harbor Seal) hauled out at Seal Rock near Malibu, just north of Point Dume at the offshore rock by Pescador State Beach and Nicholas County Beach. Yesterday, four Seals were hauled out there. Several months ago, on January 1, 2000 it was discovered that 9-13 seals hauled out there. The only known Spotted Seal haul out in Los Angeles County. These seals lie on top of the tidepool animals, such as mussels and barnacles. The seals also crawl over the mussels and barnacle, ouch. Two days ago, I found a Northern Elephant Seal hauled out on a sandy beach near Santa Monica at Sunset Beach in the tidal region of a sandy beach. And earlier today, I saw and listened to California Sea Lions off the headland at Point Dume. So in a week, there were 3 species of pinnipeds in Los Angeles County, within 10 miles of each other. Here in L.A. with over 10 million people, seals and small animals still live, and Gray Whales migrate past. Animal Aggregations, not just human but other animals, as 20,000 Grays go by LA this last month. Also, 2000 Blues (as in Blue Whales) will move from Baja past LA on their way to central California. Ed Ricketts was fascinated with the animal aggregations in tidal pools from an ecological viewpoint. Ricketts, as an ecologist, I know by intuition, would also have appreciated whales, seals, otters, and birds; these four animal groups with warm blood, and backbones require the little animals that Ricketts studied between pacific tides.