Robin Tierney

Special to The Washington Examiner

The OC gained fame for rich housewives and teenagers, but the Gold Coasts wild natural wealth can now be uncovered on tidal pool ecotours.

From a Laguna Beach bluff, Cheri Ikerd, founder of OC Wildlife & Beach Tours, spots sea lions sunning in a secluded cove as cormorants soar overhead.

Americas equivalent of the South of France has drawn plein air painters for a century. Seascapes include pods of jumping dolphins and whales. During 10,000-mile annual migrations, Eight thousand gray whales come through here, traveling from Alaska to Baja California to mate and give birth, says Ikerd. More elusive are blue whales, the length of two buses with hearts as large as VW Beetles.

Colorful fish and invertebrates reside below the sea but those who know where to look can spot these fascinating creatures in tidal pools, natural aquariums formed as tides ebb over rocks along the shore.

Sun glints on tidal pool surfaces at first obscure the marvels just inches below. Ikerd points out turban snails, lime green and magenta anemones, muscular sea stars much larger than mid-Atlantic starfish, sea urchins with undulating spikes, and dainty sculpin and opal-eye fish. While wandering to feed, many reside in the same spot for decades.

Another tour highlight: the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, established in 1971 after a lifeguard, having rescued a harbor seal, discovered the need for a rescue/rehabilitation facility. The converted barn houses 10 to 100 seals and sea lions (the latters distinguishing features include ear flaps and highly dexterous rear flippers). When ready, animals are released back into the sea.

Animal care supervisor Dean Gomersall explains that young sea mammals sometimes get stranded on sand. Other patients are treated for life-threatening injuries from fishing lines and hooks.

During the ecotour, Ikerd says that like bejeweled OC housewives, native peoples wore shells around their necks as status symbols. But the natives passed down a lesson of greater value, she says: Be good to the land and the land will be good to you. To protect fragile species, beach regulations prohibit removal of animals, shells and rocks. Pick up trash instead, says the naturalist, who hands out Green Sheets listing practical eco-tips.

People-watchers flock to Irvine Spectrum and the District to spot Orange Countys bling-slinging fashionistas. But natural treasures are why its called the Gold Coast.