Story: Coastal shoreline

Along New Zealand’s coast, with its exposed cliffs, windswept dunes and tidal rock pools, a highly specialised group of plants and animals have made their home. Some – such as the brilliant red pōhutukawa tree, or wheeling gulls – are easy to spot. Others, from tiny periwinkles to scuttling crabs and the native black beetle, can be discovered as you explore the environment at the water’s edge.

Full story by Maggy Wassilieff
Main image: Sand and gravel shore, Puketā

The Short Story

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New Zealand’s coasts are mainly rocky cliffs, or beaches. Exposed to wind, salt spray, and the changing tides, it’s a tough environment.

Life of the rocky coast

As you move from the top of the cliffs down to the shore you find different plant and animal zones:

  • flax, grasses and ferns – in high nooks and ledges
  • the red-flowered pōhutukawa tree – clinging to rocks
  • orange and black lichen – just above high-tide level
  • tough red seaweeds – in pools at mid-tide level.
  • periwinkles – just above high tide. They graze on seaweed and lichen.
  • shellfish such as cat’s eyes and limpets – at mid-tide level. They feed on seaweeds.
  • mussels – on rocks at mid- to low-tide level. They filter food from sea water.

Animals that live on the rocks are able to cope when the tide goes out. They include:

Rock pools

At low tide, sea water stays in some pools among the boulders and cliffs. This is where you will see cockabullies and sea anemones – and crabs under the rocks.

Sandy beaches

Clumps of marram and pīngao survive in the sand dunes. Watch out for the poisonous black katipō spider (it has a red stripe) among the grasses and driftwood. At low tide tasty pipi, tuatua and other shellfish can be found. Crabs, sandhoppers and shrimps live under the sand on the beaches, and come out to feed.

Shore birds

Gulls live up in the cliffs and visit the shore. Birds that come down to feed at low tide include oystercatchers and herons, hunting for crabs, snails and fish. Many holidaymakers don’t realise that in summer, birds are nesting on beaches. The nests are just a hollow in the sand, or among the rocks.

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How to cite this page:

Maggy Wassilieff. 'Coastal shoreline', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 9-Nov-12
URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/coastal-shoreline