Saturday 16 October 2010

The Pacific Littoral explored by Ed Ricketts

Remarkably, without any University research funds or endowments, Ed Ricketts was able to succesfully use his observational powers and collecting ability to not only pursue his own ambitious research programme in marine biology, but also to run a small marine specimen supply company in Monterey called Pacific Biological Labs. The research programme that Ricketts set out for himself had an incredibly ambitious agenda. He had in mind an encyclopaedic study of the Pacific littoral; the zone which stretches from the high water mark, that is only occasionally submerged, to the portions of the shoreline that are permanently submerged even at low tide. This was a vast undertaking. The Pacific coast stretches thousands of kilometres; from the far south of Chile, through Latin and Central America, the length of the continental USA and Canada up to the far north-west - Alaska and the Aleutians. 

The figure  shows the Pacific coast of the mainland of North America over which Ed Ricketts ranged during his life. He wrote, or co-wrote, three books that described his explorations and observations across this vast space. Of these books, two had been published at the time of his premature death in 1948 and the third was in typescript form. At the time of his death he had been planning how to use the books as the basic material for a definitive treatise on Pacific coast marine biology. The three books are a fascinating blend of his fundamentally ecological view of nature, holistic philosophical views, his observations on the littoral ecology of the Pacific coast and a huge volume of very detailed and dedicated collecting notes derived from hours spent in the tidepools and shorelines that he loved so much.

The Pacific coast of North America explored by Ed Ricketts. In the far North-West is Juneau in Alaska and in the South-East La Paz in Mexico. This coastal interface between the continental mass of North america and the Pacific is  over 8,000 kilometres.  A line from San Francisco to Seattle is roughly North. The political borders between the USA, Canada and Mexico have been removed to emphasise the geographical and ecological continuity of this coast.

Map re-drawn by M.G. Reed from public domain mapping included on the US National Atlas website. [This illustration copyright M.G. Reed 2010].