A day at Kynance Cove on the Lizard Peninsula has become a fixture in the Cornish Rock Pools calendar. The smooth, serpentine cliffs don’t create many hiding places for marine life, but Junior loves the geology and caves. There are always creatures to see too if you look carefully enough, so I take the opportunity to relax in the sun, staring at fish through the clear water.
The funny thing is that, while I stare in, the fish stare back, creeping closer up the sides, over pink encrusting algae and through fronds of the Corallina seaweed to secure a better view. Bold young shannies, prop themselves up on their two-pronged pectoral fins, swivelling their colourful clown eyes to observe me.
In the far corner of the pool, a Montagu’s blenny pops up to say hello. It’s easily recognisable by its pronged head tentacle, which looks like a tiny Christmas tree.
The surrounding rocks are covered in barnacles, which suits these fish well. The Montagu’s blenny likes nothing better than to nibble the feeding legs off barnacles.
I soon start to doubt that this fish is just curious. Unlike the shannies, which are just juveniles, this Montagu’s blenny is full size and sports a fine pattern of turquoise spots on his body. It is the male blenny’s job to guard the eggs, and this fish is taking no prisoners.
He seems determined to chase me out of his territory, repeatedly headbutting my camera. He may only be 7cm long, but I have a feeling that if I put a finger in the water he won’t hesitate to take me on with his sharp little teeth.
The hard rock becomes uncomfortable to lie on after a while, digging into my legs, but I try not to change position. The fish will scatter if I make any sudden movement or noise. Half a dozen shannies are darting around the bottom of the pool, while others are basking in shallow grooves at the edge. The Montagu’s blenny doesn’t take his eye off my camera.
I watch him until the tide turns and the waves begin to sweep in. This may not be the most diverse rock pooling beach, but the fish are a joy to watch and it’s a wonderful spot to while away a sunny morning before enjoying a pasty in the café. Summer starts here!
If you’ve ever been rockpooling, you’ll know the feeling: you’re in the zone, bottom high, head down, lifting a rock or staring into the water when a movement catches your eye. While you’re registering that it’s some interesting creature you’ve never found before, said creature is darting away under an overhang or boulder never to be seen again.
My camera is full of “things that were there only a millisecond before”.
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.
Rockpooling in stormy winter weather can be a risky business here in Cornwall, so my advice is … don’t. At best you get blown over on the slippery rocks and soaked by rain that seems to come in horizontally and go right up your nose. At worst you could end up in the path of the fierce waves and currents. It’s not worth it.
When there’s a calm moment and a good tide (I’m hoping tomorrow will be such a day), there’s plenty to see in the rockpools. Between times, stick to the strandline, where the sea throws up all sorts of treasures and unexpected visitors.
One of my favourites this year was the swarm of mauve stinger jellyfish (Pelagia noctiluca). They look small and inoffensive, measuring up to 10cm across their bell. The spotted pattern that gives them their name is distinctive and rather pretty. They can also glow in the dark – noctiluca means night light. Continue reading Stormy weather in the Cornish rock pools→
We’ve been planning this trip since our visitors first came to Cornwall a year ago. They’re determined to try rock pooling having missed out last time. This week the tides are perfect. They live near the sea back home in Essex, but they tell me it’s not the same and I can well believe it.
They’ve never seen a starfish in the wild before. My mission is clear.
With picnic and buckets in hand, we set out, treading gingerly over seaweed and searching among the rocks. Within minutes, our friends are putting yesterday’s hasty tutorial on crabs into practice as they try picking them up safely. They score top marks on this and on working out whether the crabs are male or female from the shape of their tails. We find several species of crustacean, including this large squat lobster.
While our visitors search the shallow pools, finding anemones, fish, prawns and hermit crabs, Other Half and I walk out through slippery gullies towards the sea with Junior, taking photos and collecting interesting creatures for our visitors to see. I find a small rock with a beautiful covering of star ascidian.Continue reading Searching for Starfish→
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.