Organised rock pooling events are perfect for learning about marine wildlife with the experts. Due to current restrictions, booking is essential for most activities and plans may change. At the time of writing, the following groups and organisations are planning events in the half term:
If you’re not able to attend an event, don’t worry. It’s easy to rock pool safely and to look after the wildlife with a little preparation.
ROCK POOLING TIPS
All you need for successful rock pooling is a pair of wellies or sturdy shoes and a little patience. There are many fascinating species to see, so go slowly, look carefully, leave everything as you found it and have fun!
Always check the tide times, stay clear of cliffs and waves and dress for the weather.
Nets can harm delicate sea creatures so are best left at home. A bucket or tub is ideal if you want to scoop up an animal to look at, but be sure to put it back.
Why not finish up with a beach clean to help look after the wildlife?
The choice is endless! Cornwall has over 300 beaches and they are all fantastic. Any beach with rock pools will have crabs, snails, anemones, fish and more.
Find out about some of my favourite rock pooling beaches here.
WHAT TO SEE
May and June are fabulous rock pooling months. The pools are bursting with new life from baby fish to brightly coloured seaweeds and stunning starfish.
Sit quietly and look closely at the pools to watch prawns, crabs and sea snails going about their business. Gently lift seaweed and look under stones to reveal the secret hiding places underneath (be sure to put them back as you found them).
Here are some of my favourite treasures to find in the pools …
After weeks of storms, the Looe Marine Conservation Group was hoping for a break in the weather for their half-term family rock pool ramble. Unfortunately the Cornish weather had other plans. With gusty winds delivering pulses of the sort of ‘light’ rain that soaks you in seconds, LMCG did the sensible thing and cancelled.
Meanwhile back at Cornish Rock Pools HQ, Junior already had several jumpers, three sets of socks and full waterproofs on and was ready to set off. Some of his friends were also set to join us on Hannafore beach. So, we ignored the cancellation, put our hoods up and set off.
Scooping up another hardy family on our way down the shore, we picked our way down to some gullies sheltered from the wind by large rocks.
“A fish,” Junior shouted. “I don’t know what it is. It looks like a tadpole.”
I made my way over to where the children were gathered.
“I think it might be a clingfish,” Junior explained.
The small dark blob was certainly suckering onto a stone. It was lying very still with its tapering tail curled around its wide head, hoping that it was well enough camouflaged that we couldn’t see it.
Bizarrely, this little fish is known as a Montagu’s sea snail. It has tiny eyes compared to the size of its head and with its fins tucked tight to its body, it does look rather like a tadpole. Under its belly, the fins have evolved to create a sucker that it can use to hold onto rocks, making it ideally suited to life around the shore.
Montagu’s sea snails vary enormously in their patterning but have an unmistakeable shape.
In a nearby rock pool I found a group of young Xantho pilipes crabs sheltering under a boulder. These crabs have dense hairs around their back legs and thick-set claws, but their colour varies a lot. This one caught my eye as it was especially beautiful.
Most of the dead-looking crabs we find on the beach are empty moults, left behind by a crab that has grown out of its shell. I could tell straight away that this one had not been so lucky.
Netted dog whelks are the vultures of the rocky shore. Equipped with long siphons that look like vacuum cleaner attachments, they spend their lives sifting through the sand and hoovering up any dead creatures. When something large like a crab dies, they can scent the food and quickly home in.
Unpleasant though it looks, scavengers play a vital role in any ecosystem, quickly and efficiently breaking down decaying matter. The children had a fascinating time watching the netted dog whelks at work. They wre moving surprisingly quickly, spinning their shells from side to side as they edged into spaces and were clearly competing to get at the best bits of food.
Before long the children had made lots of other finds. Among the tubs were several hermit crabs that had been given names. Junior adopted a lugworm that he found under a large stone and spent a long time watching and trying to photograph it. These worms make burrows in the sand and have a wide circular mouth that gapes open to swallow sediment, from which they filter out their food.
The rain had died down over the course of the morning and no-one was rushing to leave. So, after we had carefully said goodbye to all of the animals that the children had been caring for in their tubs, we took a last look around between the rocks.
As always there were plenty of treasures to be found and before long, the tide was turning and lunch was calling.
The sun breaks through the cloud as the first children arrive. It’s a perfect day for a Wildlife Watch expedition and although I don’t know the beach at Coverack well, a quick paddle in the rippling shallows has already yielded sand eels, an attractive pink thin tellin shell and plenty of shore crabs so it’s shaping up well.
I always look forward to meeting my Wildlife Watch groups and this one doesn’t disappoint. My assistant, Vicky, does a fabulous job of welcoming everyone and helping set up and the children are enthusiastic and curious, raring to get stuck in. It’s especially good to see how well the kids care for the animals, making sure they have enough water in their tubs, replacing any stones and seaweed they move and not detaching animals that might get damaged like anemones and limpets.
One lad is particularly adventurous and knowledgeable, so we have fun investigating a gully between two huge rocks. We find the inner face of one rock is covered in a massive sheet of breadcrumb sponge and there are especially large strawberry anemones in the pool beneath. My new friend stays there trying to catch an elusive fish while I help others identify creatures.
Soon, the finds are coming in to our makeshift shore laboratory. Glittering sand eels, a feisty velvet swimming crab with devilish red eyes, a whole troop of hermit crabs and colourful brittle stars which we watch walking on their long arms.
My new friend comes over with a shore crab. He’s learned that they keep their eggs under their tails and is excited to find one he thinks is in berry. He seems disappointed when I reveal that, although she has something under there, it’s not eggs. But this is something far more exciting. It’s a parasitic barnacle, Sacculina carcini, which I’ve been searching for and never seen. The yellow mass under the crab’s tail is the barnacle’s fruiting body, the barnacle’s eggs – not the crab’s.
Unfortunately for the crab, once it is infected it can no longer moult and grow or lay eggs. The barnacle will take a lot of energy from the crab as it spreads through its body. It can even trick male crabs into behaving like females to ensure that they will successfully release the barnacle’s young when the eggs are ready to hatch. It’s amazing to see, even if it’s not good news for the crab.
As always, I get more than a little distracted doing my own rock pooling. I can’t help myself. I briefly feel guilty that I’m not available enough to the children while I’m crawling about among the slippery boulders, but then I spot a miniscule thing moving on the rock and it has my entire attention.
The thing looks like a tiny lobster. I scramble to grab a suitable pot and when I look back at the rock I can’t see it any more. I stare at the area where I saw it but it’s just not there. I look all around the surface of the rock in vain, gently tip a little sea water down it to see if anything moves but I’m scared I might wash it off accidentally.
When I finally relocate my mini crustacean, it is nearly at the edge. With a lot of care and determination, I succeed in catching it in my pot. It’s only about 5mm long, but seems to be a tiny squat lobster, the smallest I’ve ever seen.
Back at the trays, we all gather round to take a close look at all the animals and learn about their lives and strange habits. We have a fabulous diversity of creatures to watch before they’re returned to the shore.
I slip my baby squat lobster into a petri dish to take some photos. It looks a bit strange, as though something has got caught on its back legs. When I look a couple of minutes later, the thing that’s stuck to it has grown. It’s hard to see as the whole animal is only a few millimetres long, but when the ‘thing’ comes away I’m in no doubt. The squat lobster is growing and has just shed its old skin.
The old carapace is an exact replica of the animal, only colourless and transparent. As the new, soft shell of the squat lobster begins to harden it seems to grow before our eyes.
It’s something I’ve never seen before. It’s what’s so special about events like this. Even though I’m here to help others learn and see new things, I’ve seen something new myself.
February is an amazing time in the Cornish rock pools. Spring is coming and all sorts of fish, sea slugs and other creatures are moving onto the shore. Rock pooling is free, fun and exciting for all ages, so why not wrap up warm this half-term and head for the beach?
There are some great low tides on Saturday 11th, Sunday 12th and Monday 13th February around lunch time. Check the tide times for your local area before you go.
Aim to start one to two hours before low tide as it’s safest to rock pool on an outgoing tide. Keep an eye out for the tide and always stay away from surging waves.
Joining a guided event is the very best way to discover marine wildlife. Experts (including me!) will be on hand to help you find and identify the crabs, fish, shells, starfish and more. At the end of the session you’ll be able to meet everyone’s best finds in the ‘Shore Laboratory’ and find out how the animals live and how to conserve them.
(If anyone know of any other rock pooling events on this half-term, please let me know and I’ll list them here).
Any beach with some sheltered rockpools will do. There are lots all around Cornwall – some of my favourites can be found under the beaches tab at the top of this page.
What to do…
The shore can be very exposed, so make sure you’re well wrapped up and waterproofed. Your feet will get wet so wellies are essential.
Otherwise, all you need is a tub and/or bucket (please don’t use nets as these harm delicate animals). A camera and species guide are useful.
Head for the lower shore (keeping a safe distance from the sea’s edge) and go slowly, looking in shaded, wet areas like pools.
Under rocks and seaweed are great places to look, but move them gently and always return them to how you found them.
We all love spending time with likeminded people, don’t we? So, when a keen diver from Newquay contacts me to request a guided rockpooling tour, I can’t resist. Unusually for a bank holiday weekend, the sun pushes the clouds away and leaves behind a perfect, calm shore ready for us to explore.
We’ve barely known each other a minute before we’re enthusing about the joys of going slowly and taking the time to look for underwater life. We discover our shared love of nudibranchs (sea slugs – read on, they’re lovely, really!). I assure my new friend that we’ll find plenty of wildlife, including some species few divers ever see, and all with minimum kit, no buoyancy control and a limitless supply of air.
Friday was the ideal day for a Cornish rockpool ramble with warm weather and calm conditions. Over a hundred people joined the Looe Marine Conservation Group rockpool event and I’m sure other rockpooling sessions around the Cornwall were similarly well attended. (Here’s a list of what’s on this summer).
The summer holidays are a great time to explore the Cornish rock pools. What better way to discover the crabs, fish, starfish, anemones and a host of other animals found around our shores than to join a guided event? You’ll have the experts on hand to tell you all about the animals and how they live and as part of a group, you’ll get to see everyone’s finds.
Here’s a summary of rockpooling and marine events this summer, which are all listed on the Cornwall Wildlife Trust events pages.
If you can’t make it to a group event, my pages on how to rockpool will help you make the most of your trip. Just click on beaches tab above to find a great rockpooling location near you.
Please check the organiser’s site for full details, any booking requirements and changes before attending. In all cases, children must be accompanied by an adult and wear suitable weather protection and footwear.
24 July – Family Rock Pool Explore at Kingsand. 11.00. Booking essential for this fun rockpooling event for 5-11 year olds with Cornwall Wildlife Trust. Cost: £1 donation to Fox Club.
26 July – Seaweeds and Seaweed Pressing with Angie Gall at Trebah Garden, Helford. 10.00 – 12.30. Booking essential. Suitable for all ages, this workshop is a great chance to meet an expert and learn about seaweeds. Organised by Helford Voluntary Marine Conservation Association.
28 July – Helford Snorkel Safari. Details available on booking – booking essential. A chance for experienced snorkelers and confident swimmers age 8+ to enjoy a guided one-hour snorkel with local experts from Cornwall Wildlife Trust. £5.
29 July – Get Crafty at Polzeath. 10.30 – 12.30. Marine themed arts and crafts with the Polzeath Marine Conservation Group at the Marine Centre in Polzeath. £2 per person (free for members).
14 August – Mad About Mud at West Looe. 11.00 – 14.00. Booking essential. Join experts from Looe Marine Conservation Group and the Friends of Kilminorth Wood to discover the marine life of the Looe estuary. Suitable for all ages.
16 August – Public Sea Watch near Tintagel. 11.00 – 14.00. Look out for seals, basking sharks, sunfish, dolphins and other marine life with the Cornwall Wildlife Trust experts.
17 August – Beach Games near Newquay. 12.00 – 14.00. Booking essential. Learn about sea creatures then become them as you complete fun games and activities. For primary age children.
17 August – Newquay evening boat safari. 18.00 – 20.00. Booking essential. Discover the coastal and marine wildlife of Newquay with local expert Dave Thomas – birds, seals and more.
18 August – Fowey Marine Day at Fowey Town Quay. 10.00 – 16.00. A day of fun activities including meeting huge crabs with Friends of Fowey Estuary and Cornwall Wildlife Trust.