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  • February Rock Pool Rambling

     

    7th March 2013

    It is finally Spring! :) The first daisies are appearing and it is fantastic to be starting a new season of exploration and discovery.  The colours of the sky reflecting in the sea have been amazing with lots of peaceful pastels and stunning turquoises.

     

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    February has been a colourful month in the rock pools, there are anemones of all shapes and sizes.  Beadlet anemones, Strawberry anemones, Gem anemones, Snakelocks anemones, Daisy anemones and Dahlia anemones.

     

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    Above is a Dahlia anemone; it is a large species, this particular one was around 10cm in diameter but they can grow up to 15cm with a tentacle reach of up to 20cm in diameter.  Dahlia Anemones are not common in Cornwall but they seem to be plentiful in our VMCA.  You can see that it is covered in small pieces of shell as camouflage, making it very pretty.  Usually when it’s tentacles are withdrawn the entire animal is hidden.  I’m not sure what colour tentacles this one has, as it was already closed but there are lots of colour variations including white, yellow, orange, red, blue, grey, brown, purple and pink!

     

    Here are some of the other beautiful anemones that we have seen this month.

     

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    The Sand-mason worm is another species that utilises pieces of sand in an interesting way.  It builds a tube from the sand, glued together with mucus.  At the top are tufty-looking tentacles that the worm uses to catch its food suspended in the current or from the sea bed.  The worm itself is rarely ever seen and large numbers often live together.  These Sand-mason worms are located further around in the estuary.

     

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    Also found in the Camel Estuary is the Sea-mat.  A Sea-mat is a Bryozoan, which is a stationary colony of tiny animals called Zooids.  Each individual Zooid lives in its own box less than 1mm across. The walls of the box are reinforced with calcium compounds.  They make up large networks that have a delicate lace like appearance.  The Sea-mat is a common encrusting species, forming flat sheets on broad kelp fronds, typically near the base where it is less likely to suffer wave damage.

     

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    The Dog-whelks are in abundance at the moment, with huge patches of rock and cracks in the rocks covered in their small pale yellow but sometimes rainbow coloured vase-shaped egg capsules.  Each egg capsule can contain up to 1000 eggs but most of these will be used as food for the fortunate few that develop.  Dog-whelks are a sensitive indicator of pollution.  Minute concentrations of TBT (anti-fouling paint) in seawater causes the female Dog-whelks to grow male sexual organs and become sterile, causing dramatic decline in some populations. Fortunately this is not the case in Polzeath.

     

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    Once again, there was quite an abundance of Common hermit crabs.

     

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    There are also large numbers of Shannies in the rock pools.  They swim quickly into cracks and seaweed when you move the stones they were hiding under.  They have a variety of colourings; mottled pale browns and greens and they can also change colour to match their surroundings.  Shannies can live as long as 16 years and it is the male that guards the eggs in the hole or crevice they are laid until they hatch around a month later.  During the breeding and nesting period the males change colour to almost black with white lips.

     

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    Until next time, here is my first daisy of Spring.  I love this time of year :)

     

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    Mermaids Purses and Marine Plastic

     

    My daughter found this:

     

     

    She was so excited that she wrote about it and took it to school for her show and tell.  It is the egg case from a Small-spotted Cat shark, it was on the rocks at low tide attached to some orange plastic fishing netting.  As you can see from the second photograph, the shark had attached it to the netting itself, it was very intricately intertwined.   So at the time, the netting would have been tangled and attached to the seabed.  Then at a later date, once the embryo shark had developed and hatched, the whole thing, case and plastic would have been washed in together and got caught on the muscles on the rocks.

     

     

    This is one example of how marine life is interacting with marine litter.  I have seen other photographs where people have seen hermit crabs using small plastic containers as their homes instead of shells or Albatross lining their nests with plastic or feeding it to their chicks.  I’ve seen many disturbing images of various different marine creatures caught in drift nets, or the disturbing images of the plastic contents from marine creatures stomachs that has ultimately starved them to death.  I have witnessed the masses of plastic debris that gets washed up on the beach where I live, including the nurdles which quite frankly scare me beyond belief.  There is so much micro plastic in the ocean that it is reported to out-number plankton.  This is an interesting article looking into “What are long term threats of plastic in our seas?”:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21236477.  This article also featured on BBC’s Newsnight.

     

    In fact with a previous Mermaids purse also from a Small-spotted Cat shark, I thought it would be fascinating to look at under a microscope.  The first thing I saw was this blue micro-plastic fibre, I found this very disheartening, it was not what I was hoping or expecting to see at all.  But it goes to show how bad the problem is.

     

     

    I recently went to a marine conservation conference, we had a couple of guest speakers.  One of which was Jo Ruxton from Plastic Oceans, a Foundation established to provide a powerful and effective platform campaigning for, supporting and funding targeted solutions aimed at significantly reducing plastic pollution in the environment.   Despite the talk on such a terrifyingly huge problem I felt reassured that there are a significant number of people concerned about it, and together, hopefully we can start to resolve the problem of marine plastic.  There are still so many people that are not aware of the marine plastic problem and education is the first step.  To keep up to date with Plastic Oceans latest information “like” them on facebook and check their website: http://www.plasticoceans.net/

     

    If you find a Mermaids purse washed up or if you are a diver and see one whilst in the water, the best thing to do is to take a photo of it and report your findings to the Shark Trust.  We have more than 30 species of shark and rays around our coastline, and only have regular sightings of a handful of these species. The Shark Trust are trying to map the distribution around our beautiful coastline to gain a better understanding and protection of these wonderful creatures.  Their website is full of information on how to identify and record your finds to aid their research:  http://www.sharktrust.org/en/great_eggcase_hunt

     

    Here are some egg cases we found on a rock pool ramble last summer.

     

     

    To get involved with the Beachcare project here in Cornwall email Neil Hembrow, Beachcare co-ordinator  neil.hembrow@keepbritaintidy.org or write a message and fill in the contact form on the following page: http://www.keepbritaintidy.org/Programmes/Beaches/BeachCare/GetInvolved/Default.aspx

     

    The Marine Conservation Society organise beach cleans all over the country, check their website for more information: http://www.mcsuk.org/

     

    The Cornwall Wildlife Trust Marine Strandings Network is the official recorder for all marine strandings in Cornwall.  See their website for more information:  http://www.cwtstrandings.org/
    To report a Stranded Marine animal Ring the 24 hour hotline number immediately: 0845 201 2626

     

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    January Rock Pool Rambling

     

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    It has been a long cold winter and while the rest of the country is covered in a thick blanket of white there has been no snow here in Cornwall :(
    But on the positive side, last week we got lucky with a lovely sunny day :) so we set off for the beach to catch the mornings low tide to see what we could see.

     

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    There were lots of beautiful shells to be seen, a Common Oyster shell, a Queen Scallop shell, Variegated Scallop shells, Common and Rough Cockles, and plenty of shells that were occupied as well, Common Mussels, Periwinkles, Top shells, Dog Whelks, Limpets and many more including this lovely disc-shaped Venus clam.

     

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    There were also lots of shells occupied by hermit crabs, watch this movie of one of them crawling through a rock pool clinging to the sea weed.

     

     

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    Below you can see the scars left behind on the slate by Common Limpets.  These fascinating molluscs make a home base on the rock they live upon by grinding their shell against the rock to make a perfect fit.  Once the tide is in they go off to graze on algae on the rocks nearby.  They have to return to their home base, following the mucus trail that they left behind before the tide goes back out again and because they have a perfect fit with their home base it prevents them from drying out.  Once the Limpet has lived it’s life the home base is left behind as a scar on the rock.

     

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    Also living on the rocks are lots of beautiful colourful creatures that often get overlooked as they appear to be part of the rocks that they live upon.  One of these, the Pink Coralline Algae can be seen below.  This is also known as Pink Encrusting Algae or “Pink Paint”.  It is a calcified type of algae that is hard to identify to species-level without a microscope.  It is found all over the world in a huge range of environments, so is a very adaptable algae.

     

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    Another example of an overlooked species is the Orange Breadcrumb Sponge, so called because of its crumb-like texture.  Here it can be seen in the crevasses of the rocks as a thin even layer.  In the right conditions it can grow into huge reefs, its mounds incorporating sand, stones, hold-fasts, etc and provides protection for a range of other marine life.  It comes in various colours, yellow, white and orange; much like Coral, the Green breadcrumb sponge contains a species of symbiotic algae, these live in well-lit conditions.

     

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    There were lots of beautiful seaweeds and kelp exposed at the low tide.

     

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    This is my favourite seaweed (below), “Magic Seaweed” or Rainbow wrack, here it is submerged in a rock pool. This is a species of brown seaweed, when seen underwater it is an iridescent turquoise colour. However, when it is dry it is a green/brown colour.  I love it, it’s always exciting to find in the rock pools.

     

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    Beautiful Sunny November Ramble

     

    18th November 2012

    Today was a beautifully sunny day for November, perfect time to wrap up warm and go searching for what we can see in the rock pools.  The trees are barely clinging onto the last of their Autumn leaves and the chill in the air reminds us that Winter is just around the corner.

     

     

    The water is very cold, so we see less crabs and hidden species than we usually would due to not being able to lift as many rocks!

     

    Most of todays finds were things we saw just by looking closely. One of the first things we could see was the abundance of Snakelocks Anemones.

     

     

    These anemones are unusual in that they cannot fully retract their tentacles the way other anemones can.  Therefore they are found in rockpools that do not fully dry out.  They also seek out sunny positions because the tissues of their tentacles contain large populations of special symbiotic algae.  The anemone benefits from the organic compounds synthesised by the algae and the algae gain protection, a supply of carbon dioxide and nutrient salts.  The beautiful rich green and purple colours of the tentacles are also due to the algae.

     

    There were plenty of Strawberry Anemones, these tend to be larger than the similarly shaped and coloured Beadlet Anemones.  They get their name from the bright green spots on their vivid red column that are reminiscent of strawberries. Here they are shown in the two photographs with their tentacles outstretched, and withdrawn.

     

     

     

    This little anemone has settled in the empty shell of a Mussel.

     

     

    I glimpsed these two Shannies competing for the flesh of the Mussel that must have been stepped on and cracked open. I watched a while as they wriggled and tore the flesh from its shell.

     

     

    This ancient looking creature is a Chiton.  It has 8 interlocking armoured plates and a leathery girdle around its edge.  It is quite a primitive mullusc with features similar to those of the ancestral molluscs from which all other groups are descended.  It has a very simple nervous system and no eyes, it clings tightly to rocks and moves very slowly across their surface digesting the algae.

     

     

    This yellow Dog-whelk also caught my eye.  Dog-whelks are active carnivores, as you can see it is in the process of boring a hole into the Mussel that it has attached too, it does this by both a chemical process and a mechanical drilling or rasping.  Dog-whelks are abundant on wave battered rocky shorelines, they have developed thick toughened shells to withstand the erosive power of the sea; you will see many that are smooth from the constant wave action that they endure.

     

     

    As we left the rockpools today the sun was lowering in the sky and this is the spectacular view we enjoyed.

     

     

    I love Polzeath :)

     

     

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    An introduction to Rockpool Rambling

     

    18th November 2012

    Over the course of this summer I have been involved in rock pool rambles with the Polzeath Marine Conservation Group.  During a rockpool ramble a group of volunteers will take people out to explore our rocky shoreline, and hopefully everyone learns something new and exciting.

     

    There are some simple rules to rockpooling, these can be split into two main areas:

    • Be careful with the creatures.   Fingers are better than nets which can hurt/damage marine life.  Do not pull things off the rocks if they are attached.  Catch up to 3 things at a time, do not over crowd your buckets, it is also not a good idea to mix small with large creatures.  Always have a good amount of water in your bucket and change it often.  Try to put creatures back where you found them, also when moving rocks place them back the same way up as you found them because any creatures that are growing on them probably do not want their home tipped upside down.
    • Be careful for your own safety.  Make sure that there is a responsible adult to help out.  The most exciting rockpools are often on the low tide line, keep an eye on the tides.  Wear suitable footwear and clothing, suncream, hat etc.  Have plenty of drinking water for your trip and have a mobile phone with you.  There are often beach notice boards that will warn you of any potential hazards in the area, take note of these.  Also be careful of sharp debris that may be washed up, let a responsible person know of any dangerous items you encounter.

     

    These rules are not conclusive, I cannot be held responsible for any harm that comes to anyone reading my blogs, I just wanted to offer my advise.

     

    I will be part of a team running rockpool rambles again this coming year, if you want to get involved, visit the Polzeath Marine Conservation Group website: http://polzeathmarineconservation.com/pvmca/Welcome.html for a detailed list of events and to book a place on one of our rockpool rambles.

     

    I regularly go out rockpool rambling with my children in my spare time and each time there are things that excite us.

    So, rules aside, time to find, learn and enjoy!  I will be blogging here about some of the interesting things that we find. :-)

     

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