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Intro to Dock Fouling

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

Sad that the day time tide pooling season is over? Looking for alternate activities where you can see the same kinds of organisms regardless of the tide? Me too! Whist interacting with the tide pooling community through Instagram, I kept running across the term "dock fouling". What is it? Dock fouling refers to the communities of organisms that grow on the underside of docks. It also refers to the activity of exploring these organisms, similar to the term "tide pooling".

In the process of learning about dock fouling, I became friends with Shellby from Shellby's Tidepooling. She is the creator of an excellent YouTube channel that features tide pool organisms and locations throughout Puget Sound. When she suggested that we collaborate on a series of videos about dock fouling I was totally on board and excited for the opportunity to share this new hobby with a broader audience.

Step one would be finding a suitable location to find dock fouling. This is no easy task. Unless you have already noted the locations of the floating docks in your area, finding a place to dock foul can be tricky. It's not something you can just Google. From multiple trips on the water taxi, I remembered that there was a floating dock on the Alki side. After a low tide adventure at Constellation Park, I swung by the taxi terminal and poked around the dock. To my great delight there was much to be seen in the small amount of dock that was available! I let Shellby know and our first shooting location was set. A week later we got the footage she needed and she put together this fantastic video to introduce the concept:

I plan on adding some dock fouling locations to my places as a resource for those looking for an adventure. Here is a few tips if you are eager to get going on your own dock fouling experience:

- If you're not sure where to find floating docks, check local marinas, harbors and boat launches. Not all of these places will be accessible to the public, but it is a great starting point. You can also look up observations of dock fouling organisms on iNaturalist and see where others are finding them in your area.

- An underwater camera is a big help. It will be the only way to get good shots of some of the organisms and it can see things in the water that you are not able to. Technically many cell phones are waterproof but with the amount of particles that are in the water I would not recommend trying to use your camera phone.

Thick-horned Nudibranch
Thick-horned Nudibranch in food container

-Bring food storage containers (i.e. Tupperware) to more easily observe organisms. This is also super helpful if you don't have an underwater camera. You can gently place free moving (not attached to the dock!) organisms in the container with some water so you can see them up close. Don't forget to put them back safely!

-If there are big bits of seaweed hanging from the dock, carefully haul them out and take a look at them! This is a great mini habitat for nudibranches, tunicates, bryozoans and other organisms.

Feel free to submit any dock fouling questions in the comments! More to come soon.

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