Opinion: What happened to La Jolla? Reader shares fond memories of La Jolla’s tidepools — but disappointed with recent visit

Families explore the marine life at low tide along the La Jolla coast, Sunday afternoon, Jan. 29, 2017.
Families explore the marine life at low tide along the La Jolla coast, Sunday afternoon, Jan. 29, 2017.
(Susan DeMaggio)


I just watched a documentary on public television about Rachael Carson and her world-changing work “Silent Spring,” with descriptions of her life and how she fell in love with the ocean when she first saw it as a young woman, having been raised inland. Then I learned about how she spent lots of quality time on the Maine coast, observing, in particular, tidal pools, which, evidently, were great because of the large tides and the diagonal rock structures that interacted with the sea there.

It reminded me of my own experience as a young child as I explored the La Jolla beaches and tidal pools. I’ve seen reference to them in, for instance, “Cannery Row,” the film about a scientist/collector who went to La Jolla for specimens. I remember, so vividly, like I’m still there, what the La Jolla tidal pools were like back in the late 1950s — extraordinary visages of deep, crystal-clear tidal pools, like amazing jewelry, as they were absolutely teeming with the most colorful life and beauty imaginable.

A 7- or 10-year-old could absorb his whole mind and being into those myriad fairyland pools and find an endless source of fascination with how intensely, achingly beautiful it all was. The beaches were strewn with shells of all sorts and seaweed clusters here and there, and that was fun, but the tidal pools contained, for those short amounts of time during low tide, the actual live creatures that provided the bits of shells.

What did I see? Hermit crabs galore were scurrying around in their various shell-homes, little spiral castles that looked pretty expensive and seemed to be what they were made of, but, then one could see the actual shell creatures that provided the crabs their “homes.” They glommed onto the rocks with their suction-cup mouths, along with little abalones all over the place, tentacles of some sort coming out of the shoelace holes and, even young, were hard to pry off the stone tables.

There were little fish so colorful that it hurt the brain to think how they got to be so totally blue or yellow or striped, and then rock fish of various sorts milled around, looking like they had the souls of crags. There were all kinds of starfish — skinny and tiny, or bulbous and strong-footed with myriad bumps. There were urchins of all sizes with their pointy spikes bristling like wild hairdos. There were purple sea cucumbers we liked to carefully poke to see their “clouds” emitted and waft around in technicolor for the gifted child (myself included).

Then there were seaweed and the anemones, the mussels, the other mollusks, some segmented with chain mail, some volcanic, some like elongated clams and scalloped. The sand was pure. The water so clear you could see everything as if encased in crystal.

In the background were endless crabs, emitting little permanent-seeming bubbles for amusement and sound effects, and threatening enough to scare a kid. There were a few seals and sea lions to swim around with, and there were, of course, sea gulls and other sea birds hovering around. The beauty and drama was like a magnet, drawing the child in and frightening him at the same time. Will the anemone suck the finger and never let it go? Will the fish sting? Will a tiger shark, an eel or a sea snake rush out and bite? Will a big wave come and tangle us all up together in a big swirl? Will some new critter, even more colorful show up like that neon one did yesterday, a first? What is edible?

We lived in the great short canopy of tangled shrubs in the center of the park, playing there for hours at a time. And everything had a lovely patina of rust. There was no cold, unfriendly stainless steel to offend the eye. No background odor that continually offends. No abandoned infrastructure that looks like came from a long-lost derelict traveling carnival. No poop of all kinds everywhere — everything scrubbed by nature and clean as a whistle.

When I visited again last year as a 60-something visiting artist spending lots of time with my camera, I was baffled to think about how the tidal pools were almost devoid of life, the rocks were covered with droppings, the smell was overwhelming, the aesthetics of the handrails and other infrastructure was staggeringly thoughtless. (Did you ever think about getting some real artists involved in the trappings of what was once a world-class destination?)

Gee whiz, you guys! What happened to you? And how did you let this happen?

I think about the funds and intelligence you must have to take care of The Jewel of a place and the deep pockets around you, and I conclude, “La Jolla has been taken over by something like the Mob or powers that don’t know any better or just have plain bad taste and poor judgment.”

The child who remembers such beauty feels the humans did what Rachael Carson was warning about in just some other, more bizarre way than she envisioned … children lost in the desert with water all around them. You, as we say around here, “Don’t seem to know the difference between a rat turd and a pinon nut!”

I hope you find some way to restore the natural balance and aesthetics to your lost paradise. Good luck!

Thor Sigstedt is a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The environmentalist writes a blog at