The Coast Walk Project

Coast Walk 7: Anemone Cave


photo courtesy of the Illinois Digital Archives

Notes: April 22, 2015, 7:15-9:30am, low tide at 8:15. 49ºF, sunny.


Walker: Nicole Ouellette of Breaking Even Communications and Anchorspace, Bar Harbor


Before I say anything else about today’s adventure, I have to give you a couple of warnings.

One: Anemone Cave is not easy to reach, and not easy to leave. You have to scramble down slick, algae-covered rocks and over very sharp barnacles. I got the first injury of the Coast Walk here – sliced the tips of my fingers and the palm of my hand on the barnacles, and I’ll tell you, they don’t look bad but they hurt like hell. You also have to know the tides, as you can’t get in until the tide is way down, and you don’t want to stay once the tide starts coming back up.

Two: Anemone Cave is incredibly fragile. The anemones are in the tidepools, yes, but they are also everywhere else in little pockets in the rock and when their tentacles are not extended they are very hard to see even if you know what you are looking for. Photos below will demonstrate. It is at least as slippery in the cave as it is outside, so finding a place to stand without stepping on any creatures is tricky. I was paranoid the whole time we were there about inadvertently killing one! The Park Service took the cave off all the maps years ago because visitors were causing so much damage, but the cave has been what you might call ‘at risk’ since the 1880s. [“Anemone Cave is a picturesque grotto, forty feet deep, across the cove south of Schooner Head, full of interesting sea-mosses, sea-lettuce, pale-green sponge, … starfishes, and other wonders of the shore…The exquisite sea anemones, once so abundant in its rocky pools, have well-nigh vanished at the hands of visitors; and the owners of the Head now strenuously forbid the removal of the treasures of this loveliest of aquaria.” from ‘Sightseeing at Schooner Head,’ M.F.Sweetser, 1888 (as reprinted in Discovering Old Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, Ruth Ann Hill, 1993.)] I was last there about twenty years ago, and I remember starfish and sea urchins everywhere – none now.

So, if you can’t balance on one foot for 30 seconds, don’t go. You need to be able to place your feet very carefully. If you can’t comfortably lift your foot to waist level, don’t go. You’ll have a heck of a time getting in and out, and could get badly hurt. Think of how humiliating it would be to have Search and Rescue come and haul you out on a stretcher if you break an ankle! I debated about whether to include it at all, but everybody knows where it is, and it’s all over the internet, so be smart about it. Know your limits, and if you go, tread very very lightly.

OK, enough doom and gloom. On with the show.


Nicole and I headed down to Anemone Cave at 7am on a relatively warm, sunny morning (warm enough to shed our winter coats and hike in fleece tops). There had been a big storm the day before, the surf was still pounding, and we had to wait for the tide to recede a little farther before we could get into the cave safely.  So we hung out on the rocks, watching the waves, enjoying the sun, and chatting. Now, I know Nicole as a specialist in online technology – websites, blogs, social media – but when I told her about this project, I discovered her undergrad degree is in geology. I’ll tell you, when I started walking I was hoping to learn a lot, but I had no idea how much I would learn about my own friends!

J: So how did you end up going from geology major to computer goddess?

N: Oh my god. Well, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. That’s what I really wanted to be. But I got my geology degree because I thought it would be practical, and I wanted to do some sciency stuff, but then I learned that I would have to move to a big city and be an environmental consultant. That’s essentially what I could do with my degree. Or I’d have to go get a masters degree. And I was so burnt out after my bachelor’s degree I was like, well OK, if I’m going to incur some more debt here I’d better be certain, so I took a bunch of jobs, and what I realized was that I could be a writer and it would be a really competitive market, and make no money, or I could just learn a little bit of code, and I could charge $75 an hour, and I could get to write, like, half the time. So that’s kind of what I do now. I do a lot of writing, but I had to be sort of practical about it, nobody was going to be like, oh, Nicole, here’s this trust fund, go live in this house for a year while you write your first novel. I had to figure how to make some money. And then I ended up really liking it. I like that it involves learning new things, working with people. I think I’d get lonely if I was just writing all the time.

J: What kind of writing?

N: I don’t know, you know when you’re a kid and people ask what you want to be? That was my thing. I wanted to write things that people would read. I wanted to travel, and I didn’t have anything super definite. I did buy this book on travel writing, and I thought, I could get paid to travel, that would be awesome. But like I said, once blogging and all that started, writers are pretty cheap, so. But like I said, you add a little bit of code skill to it, and suddenly it pays a little more. I’ve always been pragmatic.

J: No, it makes sense. I finance photography by renting my house in the summers.

N: There you go. You just get creative.

J: It’s funny, I met a whole bunch of artists over the last couple of weeks, and we’re all asking each other, so, what kind of work do you do, what’s your focus, what’s your theory? And then: what do you do to pay the mortgage? Because very few people actually make a living at this, everybody’s got some kind of other income, or a spouse.

N: Hey, do you carry a map?

J: I do, actually. But the nice thing about this whole walk thing is that I can’t get lost as long as I keep the ocean on my left and keep going straight; eventually I will get somewhere.

After 15 minutes or so, the tide had fallen enough that we could get down into the cave. This is the waves foaming into the entrance:



And this is looking out from inside:


These two are Nicole’s photos; I was so bedazzled by the tidepools I completely forgot to take photos of the cave itself! The shot below gives you a good idea of the size of the cave and the tidepools. That’s me balancing on the edge of a rock there:


At first the tide pools seemed to be, not exactly empty – they were fabulous – but empty of anemones. I mean, you can’t call this empty:


The bright pink is a kind of seaweed that grows as a crust on the rock using calcium carbonate in its structure (we’ve talked about it in earlier posts.) I haven’t figured out what the feathery red seaweed is yet, but you can see barnacles, jingle shells, sponges, and horse mussels (close-ups coming right up). The horse mussels were a surprise. I had no idea what they were at first, and I realized I’d never seen one alive before. By the time I find them on the shore the thready-things have been worn off:


This is Coralline (Corallina officinalis), probably my favorite seaweed because it just seems so improbable. We’ve talked about it before, so sorry if I’m repeating myself. There’s a Tortoiseshell Limpet (Testudinalia testudinalis) at the left of the clump. I’m giving you all the Latin names in case you want to look them up. You’ll get better search results with the official name than with the common name.


See those tiny, translucent, clam-shaped shells in the background? They seemed to be stuck to the rock the way that a limpet would be, and I could not figure out what they were. Here’s a better view:


They looked a lot like the jingle shells I’ve seen washed up on the beach down south (Anomia simplex) so I did some research and found that jingle shells do live here in the Gulf of Maine. But why have I never found one here in nearly twenty years of beachcombing? Anybody? And just between you and me, “jingle shells” is a term I learned at the shell museum on Sannibel Island (which is an amazing place) – I first knew these as “Grandfather’s Toenails” which is a terribly descriptive name and never ever used by people who want to sell shells. Here’s what the bottom looks like – it’s flatter than the top shell:


And this is a breadcrumb sponge (Halichondria panicea). Between the hot pink coralline and the lime green sponges, the tidepools look like a Lilly Pulitzer fabric.


Finally we found a tidepool that was full of anemones! Here’s the two-minute summary of sea anemone basics: “Sea anemones … [are] invertebrates related to corals and jellyfish. Their bodies consist of a soft, cylindrical stalk topped by an oral disc surrounded with venomous tentacles. At their base, they sport a single adhesive foot, called a basal disc, which they use to attach to underwater surfaces like rocks or shells. Anemones can have anywhere from a dozen to a few hundred tentacles. …  Anemones, like all cnidarians, such as jellies and coral, have only one opening, so food enters and waste exits from the same place. … Anemones are carnivorous, feeding on tiny plankton or fish. Their stinging tentacles are triggered by the slightest touch, firing a harpoon-like filament called a nematocyst into their prey. Once injected with the paralyzing neurotoxin, the prey is guided into the mouth by the tentacles. … Many species of fish, sea stars, snails and even sea turtles have been known to opportunistically feed on anemones.”


These are Dahlia Anemone (Urticina felina), also known as the northern red anemone. They are pretty small – the biggest ones might be three inches across. Fun fact: U. felina reproduces asexually by longitudinal fission (splitting in two). I’d like to see that! It also does the more traditional thing where males and females release sperm and egg into the water.


And this is what they look like closed (those lumps are about the size of a quarter):



They aren’t much bigger than the periwinkles, are they?



This one is a Silver-spotted Anemone (Aulactinia stella). Fun fact: A. stella can brood offspring from other individuals of the same species.


According to a 2007 National Park Service report, “A census of … 3 species [of anemones], Tealia urticina felina, Bunodactis stella, and Metridium senile in the Anemone Cave was conducted on 23 August 2007 using methods that would be directly comparable to earlier censuses. All three species of anemones have declined from 1999 to 2007: Tealia felina declined by 71, Bunodactis stella declined by 63, and Metridium senile declined by 33. Reasons for this decline could include trampling by tourists, lower salinity levels in the pools during low tides, or runoff from the parking lot above Anemone Cave.” [Note that Tealia urticina felina is now called Urticina felina and that Bunodactis stella is now called Aulactinia stella because science is a moving target.] I didn’t see any Metridium on this visit, but maybe there are some tucked away in a corner. I was really hoping to see some after reading this description: “This makes the anemone look like a turtleneck collar topped off with a wig.”


Eventually we tore ourselves away from the cave and continued southwards a ways. We talked about a lot of things, including geology, but sadly the surf drowned out our voices on most of my recordings. At one point we were looking at a dike like this one:

_DSC7302-web©and she said:

N: Back in the day, this was gaseous [pointing to the white seam], and it would come up and then it cooled out here.

J: So wait, the rock was originally a gas?

N: Yeah, it’s a gas at I don’t know, 600 or 800º celsius, and it came up and filled in these cracks, and we see the lovely gabbro [pointing to the grey stone] and dike [pointing to the white stone].

J: Cool. I didn’t know rocks could be gases.

N: Yeah.

J: OK, mind blown.

N: At a certain temperature everything’s a gas.

(I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the gaseous form of granite.)

According to my geology book (The Geology of Acadia National Park, Carleton A. Chapman, 1970), “You are now in the ancient zone of fragmentation (the shatter-zone.) The ledges along the shore are composed of breccia. Note how the diorite and Bar Harbor Series were thoroughly shattered, impregnated with granitic material, and restored to a consolidated and coherent rock. More recently this mass of breccia was somewhat cracked and jointed by disturbances far less intensive than those which formed the old zone of fragmentation. Note how the ledges tend to be more severely cracked in certain places than in others. This selective fracturing prepared the way for the formation of Anemone Cave. The rock material that originally occupied the space within the cave was more intensely cracked than that now seen forming the cave roof. Frost action and the work of waves were largely responsible for the gradual excavation of this large opening. Notice how extensive, nearly horizontal fractures in the roof have controlled the falling of large slabs and the formation of the broad, flat cave roof.”

We scrambled along the rocks a little farther, and then headed back to the parking lot. I leave you with this last exchange:

J: No anemones up here. I am still so pysched [to have seen them].

N: Yeah, and all that pink cora, corda, …

J: Coralline. Coral, line – it literally means ‘like coral.’ Like ‘serpentine’ means ‘like serpents?’ Coralline, like coral.

[Nicole starts humming ‘Sweet Caroline.’]

J: Exactly. And now I’m going to have that stuck in my head, thanks.

N: Trying to help myself remember.

J: That oughta do it.

N: Now I have to think of other lyrics for it.

J: I don’t know any of the original lyrics except for ‘sweet Caroline.’ Hard to write a parody when you only remember two words.

Has anyone else ever tried to write a song about a marine alga based on a Neil Diamond tune? I think not. Thanks, Nicole!


Next episode: Nicole and I scale cliffs and try to rescue a damsel in distress.
















4 thoughts on “Coast Walk 7: Anemone Cave

  1. Warner Lord

    Two days ago I discovered Coast Walk. I am insanely jealous and envious of you as you clamber along the shoreline of dear old MDI. I have been hanging out with the ” I Love (MDI) Bar Harbor” group for a year now contributing photos and learning more and more about one of my favorite places. I only get to visit 2 or 3 times a year so I value what you are doing. I have read all episodes through Anemone Cave. I visited it first in the 1970’s and then again 2 years ago. In understand why the Park Service discourages visits.

    I thank you for your enthusiasm and vast knowledge of seaweed, birds, etc. Thanks also for pointing out sections the park that are relatively unknown and stories of cannons and Native Americans. Last year I discovered that it was possible to visit the Ovens if one stayed in the right B&B. That visit fulfilled a dream of many years.

    Thanks for adding a new dimension to MDI.

    I expect you will hear from me again as you wander the shoreline.

  2. Junior Libby

    The cave is a great side trip and as you well pointed out, the way down is steep and the inside of the cave is extremely slippery. And people have become trapped in the cave and drowned. In 1993 two College of the Atlantic students rope climbed down to the cave and were exploring inside when the winds suddenly picked up, hurling crashing waves into the cave. One student was able to reach one of the climbing ropes and escape, the other, Douglas Rose, ended up drowning – search and rescue teams could not reach him because of high winds and crashing waves, his body was recovered the following day floating face down in the cave.

  3. Pingback: TWO DAYS WELL SPENT AT ACADIA – Teddy In A Tricycle

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