In 2002, photographer Kent Treptow first picked up a $10 two-gallon aquarium, a hand-held light, and his camera and headed to Newport Beach’s rocky tidepools to capture the sea creatures there.
But as photo shoots go, sea cucumbers, sea slugs and octopi were not the most cooperative of subjects. For one thing, try getting a good shot when your subject is the size of your pinky nail, Treptow said. There was the octopus that kept climbing out of the tank. And the many critters that hid under the plastic sheet, skittering away as he adjusted the light.
“It’s just ridiculous watching this grown man on his hands and knees trying to get this slug to turn the right way,” Treptow said.
After seeing his photos, the city of Newport Beach hired Treptow to snap portraits of life in the tidepools and intertidal areas for a traveling exhibit, a sort of moving aquarium called the Interactive Sealife Outreach pod or ISOpod, designed to teach beachgoers how to properly interact with their ecosystem. So this past year, Treptow scaled up the project.
Depending on the tide, the pools furthest from shore may only be a few inches deep, but the beach still hosts a diversity of marine life, also including flatfish, kelp, mussels, hermit crabs, sharks and clams. And documenting these creatures is important, as visitors unintentionally trample many of them, causing a loss of biodiversity along the shore, said Michelle Clemente, marine resource protection specialist for the city of Newport Beach.
ISOpod had been on Clemente’s wish list for three years, but the city only recently acquired the funding.
“I knew someone who knows (Kent), and he sent me a photo, and I said, ‘Who took that? It’s phenomenal.’”
To provide a clean, simple backdrop, Treptow used a white plastic sheet, which he laid inside the tank. He was stunned by the behavior of some of the animals, like the sea cucumber, which seemed mundane and uninspiring, turd-like, he said, until viewed up close.
“It puts its face up against the glass, and it looks like a monster from outer space,” he said. “It looks scary. And it’s a freaking cucumber.”
View more of the photos below.
FURRY HERMIT CRAB