Bridging a Generational Gap Between Pacific Tides

By Amanda Smith and Yesenia Ortiz (edited by DocOnMontereyBay)

The Great Tide Pool at Point Pinos in Pacific Grove at sunset. Photo: A. Smith

WE are standing at the edge of the Great Tide Pool at sunset on a cool and crisp autumn day. Gusts of wind rush between us leaving hair in our eyes and the breathtaking view momentarily obscured. We watch with amusement as others struggle with hair in their faces while photographing this incredible place. But the Great Tide Pool is worth it, even in the wind. The amount of diverse biological beauty hidden among the rocks between Pacific tides is almost unfathomable. A local resident from another time once noticed this too. Ed Ricketts stood near here decades ago witnessing many of the same things we see today – although thanks to sea level rise, he may have stood a little further offshore than we can.

Ed Ricketts first came to Pacific Grove in 1927.  He made a living collecting marine specimens along the coast then selling them to universities around the country. In so doing, he gained a deep understanding of the plants and animals that lived in tide pools and other intertidal habitats. The Great Tide Pool was one of his favorites. Ed Ricketts was not a college professor. Yet in 1939 he wrote one of the best-known scientific texts on intertidal ecology titled, Between Pacific Tides. Although Ricketts notes in the Preface that his book was intended for “the person who has had little or no biological training,” it is still used today as a valuable snapshot in time of species abundance and diversity in marine organisms inhabiting the coast at a time when no one knew much at all about climate change.

Bat Star2

Bat Star. Photo: A. Smith

Over the last century, sea level has risen by nearly a foot. As water slowly, unperceptively crept inland, visitors to the Great Tide Pool may not have noticed their own retreat over the years by a small step or two. However, in the next century the ocean is expected to rise by as much as four feet. Many of us living today will bear witness to dramatic changes in our lifetime that most people living in the time of Ed Ricketts might have called “unbelievable” or “impossible.”

Already, global atmospheric temperature has risen by 1.4° Fahrenheit (NASA, 2017). However, by 2100 temperatures are expected to rise between 2.5° to 10° F (Click Here for facts about climate change from NASA).  Sea surface temperature will rise too, but more slowly. Nonetheless, we already know that even small increases in water temperature can impact marine species. Some will be unable to cope.


FIGURE 1. Daily shoreline temperature at Hopkins Marine Station, 1924 – 2016. Data from HMS Marine Life Observatory.

Not far from the Great Tide Pool is Hopkins Marine Station where ocean research has been underway since 1898. In 1919, the Station began monitoring shoreline water temperature. Using their data, we plotted daily sea surface temperature (data HERE)  on a graph in Figure 1. The graph reveals a clear upward trend.

In 1931, Hopkins scientists laid out a permeant transect extending 108 yards from the beach through tide pools to the low tide mark offshore. Along that line they recorded the distribution and abundance of forty-five unique species. Sixty years later, researchers returned to repeat that study and the two data sets were compared (Barry et al. 1995).  The results revealed a sobering truth. After six decades, scientists realized that species originating in warmer waters from the south had increased in abundance around the marine station while cooler-adapted species from the north had declined. The authors concluded that this shift of southern species moving northward “falls in line with predictions of change associated with global warming.”

Evidence for climate change has been around since the early part of the last century. For instance, renowned marine biologist and environmental pioneer Rachel Carson’s noted in her book, The Sea Around Us, (1951) that, “The frigid top of the world is very clearly warming up.”  Climate change is not a myth or surprise. However, not everyone agrees about its cause.


Striped Shore Crab. Photo: A. Smith

In 2015, a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults reported that 72%  believed there is “solid evidence” for climate change. Of those, only 42% believed humans were responsible. However, when sorted by age more Millennials (ages 18-34) and Generation X (ages 35-50) believed human activities played a major role (47%) than Baby Boomers (41%). Interestingly, only 28% of people over the age of 65 believed humans played any role at all (PEW Research Center 2012; data available HERE).

Why are young and old generations divided over the cause of climate change? One answer may lie in our early education. We, as “Millennials,” remember being educated about environmental issues at a relative early age. Even today, we see school children (Generation Z) getting involved with local organizations that actively teach about greenhouse gas pollution and the actions one can take to reduce it.

We went home and discussed the generational gap with older members of our family. While everyone was very aware of climate warming, we were told they were not taught about it in school.  One remarked, “We never gave the ocean much thought back then.”  If generational differences during early education is a key to what divides our views, opinions, and disbeliefs later in life on climate change, perhaps there is something we could do now to try and change that.


Green Sunburst Anemone (Anthopleura sola). Photo: A. Smith

Consider this quote from Ed Ricketts’ book, Between Pacific Tides.

“There are good things to see in the tide pools and there are exciting and interesting thoughts to be generated from the seeing.”

Our solution is this: share your knowledge, no matter how big or small, of a favorite outdoor place, habitat, or environment with others. If you live near Pacific Grove, we recommend a trip to the Great Tide Pool. Pick a favorite scene. Photograph what you see. Return to this place in the coming years with new friends and family members. Take more pictures. You could even start a family tradition! In time, we expect that you will be able to look back at your photos and see the effects of climate change for yourself. Give pictures to your children so they, like us, can one day stand at the water’s edge and imagine a time when things were different — the way they used to be back in 2017.

Barry JP, Baxter CH, Sagarin RD, Gilman SE. 1995. Climate-related long-term faunal changes in a California rocky intertidal community. Science 267(5198):672-675.
Carson R. 1951. The Sea Around Us. Oxford University Press. New York, NY. 288 p.
Hopkins Marine Station Marine Life Observatory.  2017. Measurement of Sea Surface temperatures outside of cottage 1919-2016.  Pacific Grove, CA. [accessed Nov 22, 2017:]
NASA. 2017. Global Climate Change: Effects. (accessed November 27, 2017).  Website link HERE.
PEW Research Center, October 15, 2012. More Say There Is Solid Evidence of Global Warming. Pew Research Center, U.S. Politics and Policy.  Online report available HERE.
PEW Research Center, July 1, 2015. Americans, Politics and Science Issues. Online report available HERE.

27 thoughts on “Bridging a Generational Gap Between Pacific Tides

  1. This is an amazing view into the reality of climate change and the opinions of different generations. I definitely will be more mindful of it after reading this post!

  2. Great summary of what has been sadly true and recognized for many years by those who choose to listen. I remember as a child running to the beach (on the east coast) to search the tidal pools for any of the creatures left behind as the tide strolled out. You brought back memories and a few good books for me to pick up and read!!

    • I’m glad we could bring back those memories for you Mike! We appreciate you taking the time out of your day to read the blog

  3. Great read! I found this to be very informative and felt that you conveyed the science behind climate change in a very accessible way, for general audiences. However, I’d argue that early education is not the primary cause of changing attitudes towards climate change, given the huge amount of variation that exists in environmental education programs in the US. I’m a millennial who grew up in Northern Virginia (a politically mixed region). There, the concept of climate change was typically presented as either a contested issue or was glossed over quickly in order to avoid stirring up controversy. A significant proportion of my classmates either rejected or were completely apathetic to climate change science, and I think those sentiments often aligned with the political ideologies of their parents.

    However, I think there has been a significant shift in my peers towards acceptance due to the increased exposure and normalization of the topic in the media and entertainment industries. We now have blockbuster movies like Interstellar which include climate change in their storylines, major news coverage of climate change-related events such as the IPCC conference, and greater coverage of weather events (openly suggested to be linked to warming temperatures) such as the hurricanes in Houston and Puerto Rico. I really believe that, as a whole, our country’s public education programs are much slower to respond to changes in the science than other communication outlets. We’ve seen this happen before- schools have only just begun to adequately cover evolution theory, despite it’s century-old origins. Science curricula of schools are therefore changing in response to the community’s perceptions, and is not the main driver of climate change acceptance. But I completely agree when you write, “share your knowledge, no matter how big or small.” Normalization of this topic among people who relate to us, be they friends or media users, is the most effective and efficient way to create change.

    • Hi Rachel, this is a great point you bring up and one I agree with. Politics could definitely be a contributing factor to acceptance/disagreement with climate change. Although the same politics exist today and yet, research shows older age groups still are disagreeing with climate change as a result of humans more so than younger age groups. Which brings us to the question of why this normalization of climate change still maybe hasn’t reached this older audience. Thanks for your feedback!

      • To clarify, I wasn’t arguing that politics are the reason that older vs younger people have differing views on climate change. Like the education system, I think that political opinion on climate change tends to reflect the opinion of their constituents, rather than be the driver of it. But climate change has become normalized in the media and entertainment industries over the past decade, I’d argue, ahead of this change in public opinion. Young people have spent a greater proportion of their lives exposed to this “acceptance” in the media than older age groups. I’d also argue that media outlets which primarily target young people tend to be more “accepting” than their those of their parents/ grandparents (compare Buzzfeed and Vox to the Washington Post and Forbes). Again, I really enjoyed your article, and love the discussion you’ve opened up on climate change education! 🙂

  4. Fantastic read, I really liked how this article emphasized the importance of US. Even if we cannot slow down an overall rising of water, I do believe that we can adapt to these changes if we work together. I hope one day generations after us can enjoy a bountiful sea like Ricketts was able to experience.
    To make that a reality we need to get the United States to systematically adopt the methods foundations like the Hopkins Marine Station uses for its research. I do not understand how parts of our government can refer to articles that are not peer reviewed to create arguments against the causes of accelerated climate change.
    This was a very well written article, I could really feel myself facing the Great tide pool!!!

    • Thank you for reading our blog post Robert! I see what you mean about parts of our government not referring peer reviewed article to create arguments against GCC. Great point of view!

  5. Thank you Amanda and Yesenia, this story truly motivates me to take my 8 year old daughter to the water’s edge more regularly and take a good look… take everything in, and take pictures – for her to show her 8 year old some day, and so on. It helps us to understand the present by understanding the past.

    • Thank you Ximena!
      We appreciate the feedback and yes! Comparing the pictures someday I think will truly show what we are trying to convey.

    • Thank you for reading Ximena! I’m glad we could give you that extra push to take your daughter out to the tide pools. You and your daughter can begin to see the changes for yourselves!

  6. Thank you for writing about this important issue Amanda and Yesenia. We need to heed the call. Global warming is very real but in 2005, unfortunately, it morphed into a political issue when former US President Al Gore started a campaign to educate citizens about global warming. I’m not so sure this controversy is age related, and It certainly should not be political. It is the future of our planet. Something is causing a greatly accelerated warming cycle, and guess what, the only thing that has changed in the past 150 years is human activity and a general disregard for the environment. Keep up the good work!

    • Thank you for your comments, Connie. Certainly, politics is a doubled-edge sword when it comes to climate discussions. Some people agree while others adamantly don’t. As scientists, we hope a better understanding of climate science will inform our political discourse. Meanwhile, thoughts regarding age and the possible link to one beliefs on whether human activities affect climate were inspired by data cited in two Pew Foundation studies published in 2012 and 2015. Given that data, our team tried to reflect on possible reasons why. During discussions, we all realized there was probably more to it than age or even the era that one gains an education can explain. We were curious about what others thought. Definitely things are changing on our planet and we all need to do something about it. Thanks for sharing your insights. 🙂 Carol Reeb (aka, Doc On Monterey Bay).

      • Thank you Carol for your response. I tried to find your Pew Foundation studies regarding age and one’s beliefs on climate change, instead found a more recent Pew Foundation study published October, 2016 that states “political divides are dominant in public views about climate matters.” This article headline: Politics is the central factor shaping people’s beliefs about the effects of climate change, ways to address warming, trust in climate scientists.
        That being said, I do believe age is a factor in that the younger generation was not part of the political folly, and might be more apt to lean towards the real science rather than the “fake” science that purported global warming as a hoax.
        Again, keep up the good work!

    • Hi Connie!
      Thanks for your feed back and I agree that disregard for the environment is still among us. Hopefully we all can strive for the change in attitude for our peers less involved!

    • Thank you for reading Connie! Whatever the cause may be for this divide in opinion, I believe that there is a common ground that can be used to bring people together in order to solve the climate change issues we will be dealing with from here on out.
      Great perspective!

  7. Great article, it’s a little unsettling to know that in just over 80 years this little section of Monterey has been effected so dramatically. Something we can all start with is just being a little bit more informed, and spreading the wealth. More awareness with the younger and older generations will go a long way in preventing further sea level rising

  8. Carol, you are such a blessing to your students, the environment, this country and the whole world. Any method you can use to get the general population learning, thinking and discussing scientific facts about climate change is all GOOD!
    Thank you again for your interesting responses. Good luck!

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