Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Living Sanctuary section includes Marine Life, Habitats, Ocean Environment, History and Culture
Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Living Sanctuary section includes Marine Life, Habitats, Ocean Environment, History and Culture
Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Living Sanctuary section includes Marine Life, Habitats, Ocean Environment, History and Culture


photo of rockfish swimming
A diversity of habitats support 309 species of fish, including 34 species of rockfish.
Habitats are building blocks in the living ecosystem. A habitat is like an organism's home address - the place where it finds food, water, shelter, and space - everything it needs in order to survive. Marine habitats, like those on land, form the key to healthy communities of marine wildlife. The Olympic Coast contains many different habitats - some we see from land and others hidden beneath the water.

photo of rocky outcrops that form tidepools
Rocky outcrops that form tidepools dominate the northern Olympic Coast.
At the water's edge is the intertidal zone, a habitat that alternates between the dry and wet worlds. Tide pools occur where boulders and rocky outcrops trap seawater when the tide recedes. At high tide, they form surge channels, crevices and cracks that are home to many familiar seashore animals, like seastars, hermit crabs and sea anemones.

photo of anemone in a tidepool
The harsh intertidal habitat encourages adaptation and diversity.
Because they contain so many interesting life forms, tide pools are often damaged by careless trampling and collecting. Enjoying tidepool life calls for special tide pool etiquette in order to experience and enjoy these special habitats without damaging them.

photo of a kelp forest
The kelp forest is habitat for a variety of life including urchins, sea otters, and fish.
The kelp forest is another important habitat visible from the water's edge. Gently swaying blades of bull kelp and giant kelp form the Olympic Coast's most important kelp habitats. Kelp beds form dense stands resembling old growth forests of the land, in which many species of fish and invertebrates thrive. Sea otters are most often seen rafting and resting in and near kelp forests.

photo of a sea star on a rocky reef
Rocky reefs are perfect habitats for seastars like this one.
Other habitats are found underwater. Rocky reefs form important structures that attract many types of fish, invertebrates and seaweeds. On the Olympic Coast, reefs are underwater extensions of rock formations on land. Complex layered sedimentary rocks create rugged underwater landscapes that can be covered with attached organisms and furnish shelter for nearshore fishes.

photo of a jellyfish
Open ocean is habitat for an assortment of life, from the sea jelly to the blue whale.
The open ocean, from the sea surface to the bottom, is a vast reservoir of life. Always in motion from wind and currents, the water teems with living organisms from its surface layer to the seafloor. Where currents converge, drifting plankton concentrates, attracting predators all the way up the food chain. When seen from a submersible, the ocean appears to be filled with "marine snow," particles of once-living debris and minute organisms so dense that they block light from penetrating deep into the ocean. Schools of fish roam the midwaters, harvesting plankton and smaller fish and invertebrates. Jellies and other lifeforms drift, wiggle, rotate and dart as they hang in the currents. And far offshore, the pelagic ocean sustains wandering flocks of pelagic seabirds, and migrating whales.

photo of coral and rockfish on seafloor
Some sea floor habitat is home to brightly colored cold-water coral.
The seafloor in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary is comprised mainly of sand and silt, grading into gravel and cobbles. These habitats support many species of bottom fish and invertebrates, like sea stars. Rocky habitat occurs as patches – scattered outcrops or steep canyon walls – habitat that supports communities of deep sea corals and sponges. Colorful coral "gardens" provide habitat for important fish, including rockfish.

Contact for page content: olympiccoast@noaa.gov
Photo of peach coral
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