Anyone who goes rock pooling regularly will know that it’s addictive. Even when the tide’s creeping up to the top of your wellies and the rain’s flying at you, you see another stone and you have to know what’s under it. It could be something new.
As addictions go, it’s a fulfilling one. I’ve been exploring Cornish rock pools for more years than I’ll admit, yet every time I go out on the shore I discover something new. I don’t mean new to science – though anything’s possible – just some creature or behaviour that’s new to me.
Here’s my latest find, the evocatively named Dragonet.
It’s a common fish in shallow waters. When diving, I’ve often seen them zipping along the sea bed. Despite this, I’ve never seen one in a rock pool before. In this environment it’s quite a rarity. This one’s a female. The males have an iridescent blue tinge and a tall, sail-like fin on their back that they raise as part of their courting ritual.
This female’s attractive collage of brown, grey and black provides her with perfect camouflage among the gravel on the sea bed.
I’m pretty sure of the species as soon as I look at it. I still take photos and spend hours afterwards double-checking books, keys and websites. I e-mail a friend at Cornwall Wildlife Trust to triple-check. He confirms it’s a dragonet and I’m bursting with excitement all over again.
It’s a buzz; the kind of buzz only nature can give. It doesn’t give you a guilt trip or a headache (although I did slip on seaweed and crack a rib on some rocks once), just a sense of admiration, of fulfilment. If you’re reading this you probably already know what I mean. It’s no wonder that contact with nature has been shown to reduce stress and depression.
I haven’t quite got to the stage of addiction where I can’t miss a low tide yet. Maybe when my son’s grown up I will. As it is, he’s nearly old enough to strap on a head-torch and come night-time rock pooling. Now that’s got me thinking…
While I wait for the tide to go out, here are a few of my other ‘discoveries’ from the last year or so. I’d love to hear about yours.