A Friday the 13th near-full moon brings out Vancouver Island’s midnight walkers

A giant Pacific octopus found refuge in a tiny little rock cave on the reef where it could wait out the return of the tide. The entrance to this crevice is no more than six inches high. Alistair Taylor photo
A brittle star was considered a lucky find. Alistair Taylor photo
Moon snails are a voracious predator that prowls the intertidal zone near the Willow Point Reef. Alistair Taylor photo
Puget Sound king crab. Alistair Taylor photo
A red rock crab was disturbed by human feet stumbling along the rocky beach. Alistair Taylor photo
North Island College biology instructor Sandra Milligan led a Friday the 13th midnight full moon exploration of Campbell River’s Willow Point Reef. Here she discusses a live moon snail found on the rocky beach leading to the reef. Alistair Taylor photo
North Island College biology instructor and Greenways Land Trust president Sandra Milligan (centre) led a midnight low tide walk on Willow Point Reef on Friday the 13th. Approximately 15-20 people showed up to take in the walk after it was organized simply from a Facebook post. Alistair Taylor photo
Green sea urchins. Alistair Taylor photo

The moon was nearly full on Friday the 13th and pools of light could be seen making their way across the darkened beach and out onto the reef as midnight approached.

The lights wandered across the beach, stopping occasionally to gather as if to feed or…

Okay, that’s enough of the dark and scary night stuff. It was a fun theme for a gathering of inter-tidal sea life enthusiasts at Willow Point Reef on Dec. 13. Organized by North Island College biology instructor and Greenways Land Trust president Sandra Milligan through a simple Facebook post, Friday’s impromptu midnight exploration of Willow Point Reef brought 15-20 people down to the finger of rock that extends into the entrance to Discovery Passage at low tide. Low tide on this night happened to be at 11:40 p.m., making the midnight walk theme a fun concept.

Being a spring tide, a lower-than-usual tide that occurs twice each lunar month all year (it has nothing to do with the season of spring), the reef was uncovered and whenever it is this uncovered, it brings down inter-tidal zone explorers to experience the sea life that is exposed to the air.

Nighttime is a good time to explore the beach as well, surprisingly, because many of the the inter-tidal creatures are nocturnal, just like many land creatures.

Armed with headlights and flashlights, rubber boots, winter jackets and toques – although the night was relatively mild – explorers donned headlights or carried flashlights to shine into the nooks and crannies and under the rocks scattered around the reef.

Reef explorers congregated around any new discovery (hence the pooling of light), chattering excitedly while Milligan named and described the creature found. On this night, the usually-elusive moon snail was quite abundant. The large snail’s shell is often found broken and discarded on the beach at any time after the animal itself has died. To find the animal alive requires luck and a low tide. They are most often found at the water’s edge at the lowest tides. The animal’s foot extends outside the shell but when picked up it eventually retracts with a gush of expelled water.

Other exciting finds on this night included a giant Pacific octopus sequestered in a low cave in the rock. These octopus are known to frequent the reef but are not always easily seen. This one had squeezed into a crevice with a six-inch opening.

Colourful nudibranchs, sea stars, sea urchins and even a delicate brittle star added to the sightings.

Over it all, a near-full moon cast its light through a thin layer of cloud giving the reef an ethereal setting whenever flashlights were turned off. All-in-all, a fitting way to spend midnight on Friday the 13th.

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