I am a lucky woman. Not only is my other-half proud to be seen in public with me when I’m wearing my oh-so-flattering waders, but he’s even prepared to spend his birthday on the shore.
He says he understands; tides like this don’t come up every day. In fact, watching him lifting stones and kneeling to take photos, I start to suspect he’s becoming as obsessed as I am.
The tide is already out so far that it takes us many minutes to walk over slippery sea lettuce and kelp to the navigation mast that marks out the rocks to the east of the Hannafore. Cornish Rock Pools junior carries a spade as tall as he is. He’s sure the mast is a wreck and that we’ll find buried treasure.
I don’t often come to this part of the beach, there’s a churning kelp bed the other side of the rock and some deep gullies on the sheltered side that look promising. A patch of exposed sand makes a perfect Treasure Island beach for my son to dig, keeping him busy while I search for creatures. My other-half has disappeared in the distance, intent on his own adventures.
At first I find all the usual species: the various crabs, squat lobsters, cushion stars, rocklings, brittle stars, cowries and topshells that I see on a normal day. I have a nagging feeling that I must find something different, something new. The tide is exceptional so there are no excuses. I check the time and find we have under an hour left before the tide turns.
Then I strike gold. A gulley with a good scattering of deep holes and overhangs, littered with loose boulders providing perfect shelter for who-knows-what.
I lift some seaweed and know I’m on the right track. A pale blob on the rock unfurls in a tray of water, revealing its tentacles and a dappled pattern on its back. The Jorunna tomentosa sea slug isn’t uncommon here, but I don’t see it every day either.
Further on I find a small Tompot blenny under a rock, its bulging eyes and headgear lending it a playful look.
The cartwheel eyes of a small clingfish grab my attention– it’s either a small headed or two-spot, the two species can only be properly separated by examining their teeth. It’s suckered to a small rock, keeping still to avoid detection.
I notice a deeper overhang and kneel on all fours in a pool to poke my head through the seaweed. Thank goodness for waders. At first I can’t see far into the darkness, my eyes take a second to adjust my eyes to the gloom, picking out the pink spire of a painted topshell, patches of orange sponge, then something else.
So brightly coloured they look like emerald fairy lights, the rock is studded with jewel anemones. They’re closed up, their beaded tentacles drawn in to show berry-pink mouths.
Jewel anemones are commonly seen by divers, often decorating whole walls of rock with their pinpricks of colours. This is the first time I’ve seen them here.
There’s a Devonshire cup coral too, another first for me in this location, its creamy-yellow oval skeleton protecting the translucent tentacles. I try every possible contortion but fail to take a decent photo. Perhaps I need a selfie stick as well as a better camera.
It’s time to move. The sea is pushing in and we risk becoming cut off on these rocks. We set off, but move slowly. The sheltered sea floor is full of boulders harbouring sizeable crabs, squat lobsters and fish.
Anything could be lurking here. When I look closely I see dahlia and daisy anemones tucked among the stones.
I’ve been keeping an eye out for stalked jellyfish among the seaweed. Their colouring makes them almost impossible to spot unless you’re searching thoroughly and even then it’s hard. Luck is on my side today. As we’re walking and talking I see one, perhaps a centimetre across, its white markings flashing out from the seaweed. I know straight away that it’s something special, a species I’ve only see here once before.
Lucernariopsis cruxmelitensis has white markings like a dotted line tracing the contours of its eight tentacle arms in a shape that’s supposed to resemble a Maltese cross, although I can never quite see it. I think it’s the most beautiful of the stalked jellies, the colours and spots in the open cup are hypnotising. I stare in for as long as I dare as the tide creeps closer.
Scores of people are filing back from their walk across the exposed sea bed to Looe Island. One man sets off against the tide of people and water, but turns back half-way. Time is running out.
The rest of the shore is deserted apart from a few distant marine biologist types – my people, as my other half points out – carrying cameras, buckets and jars like mine.
We move in spurts, moving ahead of the water then lingering to explore under rocks and among the seaweed.
I catch my finger on a tube worm and accidentally smear blood across my forehead. Even so, my other half doesn’t disown me. In fact, he’s all set for another two days of low tides to come. I really am lucky.