Tag Archives: Rock pools

A Year in the Cornish Rockpools – 2017 Highlights

Happy New Year everyone! Having started 2018 in bed with flu, I’m hoping this year’s going to improve as it goes along. The sun’s shining and there are some good tides later in the week, so I’m feeling hopeful.

In the meantime, I’m cheering myself up looking back at some of the incredible creatures I met in the Cornish rock pools last year.

I hope you enjoy last year’s highlights and I’m looking forward to seeing what 2018 brings.

January

'Sea potato' - these little urchins are covered in spines when alive. They bury themselves in muddy sand but sometimes get washed to the surface in storms.
‘Sea potato’ – these little urchins are covered in spines when alive. They bury themselves in muddy sand but sometimes get washed to the surface in storms.

Feburary

My unexpected encounter with 'Bob' the lobster in February was one of those wildlife moments that takes your breath away. You really never know what might be lurking in the Cornish rock pools.
My unexpected encounter with ‘Bob’ the lobster in February was one of those wildlife moments that takes your breath away. You really never know what might be lurking in the Cornish rock pools.

March

This mutant double-headed stalked jellyfish (Calvadosia cruxmelitensis) caught my eye in March. Stalked jellyfish have special protection and I spend a lot of time recording these species. There are several different species in Cornwall and some of our Marine Conservation Zones and other areas of coast are importants sites for them.
This mutant double-headed stalked jellyfish (Calvadosia cruxmelitensis) caught my eye in March. Stalked jellyfish have special protection and I spend a lot of time recording these species. There are several different species in Cornwall and some of our Marine Conservation Zones and other areas of coast are importants sites for them.

April

I'm always getting distracted... while surveying for stalked jellyfish at a site which may be threatened by development, this absolutely tiny sea slug caught my eye. It's a Doto coronata - such a great name. There were several 'crowned Dotty' slugs among the hydroids at this site.
I’m always getting distracted… while surveying for stalked jellyfish at a site which may be threatened by development, this absolutely tiny sea slug caught my eye. It’s a Doto coronata – such a great name. There were several ‘crowned Dotty’ slugs among the hydroids.

June

2017 was my first year of leading events for the Cornwall Wildlife Trust's junior branch. I used to love the events as a kid and introducing a new generation and their families to jellyfish, starfish and other rockpool creatures is so much fun! I can't wait for my 2018 Wildlife Watch events and the Looe Marine Conservation Group rockpool rambles where I also volunteer.
2017 was my first year of leading events for the Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s junior branch. I used to love the events as a kid and introducing a new generation and their families to jellyfish, starfish and other rockpool creatures is so much fun! I can’t wait for my 2018 Wildlife Watch events and the Looe Marine Conservation Group rockpool rambles where I also volunteer.

July

Fish always seem to get away, so we were all very excited when I managed to coax this beautiful Corkwing wrasse into my bucket on a family rockpooling day. It's such a tropical looking fish.
Fish always seem to get away, so we were all very excited when I managed to coax this beautiful Corkwing wrasse into my bucket on a family rockpooling day. It’s such a tropical looking fish.

August

My absolute favourite finds of the year were the two species of sea slug that feed on fish eggs. Calma glaucoides (pictured here with its own eggs) feeds on clingfish eggs. I also found Calma gobioophaga, which feeds on goby eggs. Sea slugs really do have the best names.
My absolute favourite finds of the year were the two species of sea slug that feed on fish eggs. Calma glaucoides (pictured here with its own eggs) feeds on clingfish eggs. I also found Calma gobioophaga, which feeds on goby eggs. Sea slugs really do have the best names.

September

I was away in Brittany in September visiting our twin town, Quiberon. I couldn't resist having a rummage to see what was in the pools and was amazed to find this crab, Pachygrapsus marmoratus. It's native to the Mediterranean but is gradually moving north. Next stop Cornwall?
I was away in Brittany in September visiting our twin town, Quiberon. I couldn’t resist having a rummage to see what was in the pools and was amazed to find this crab, Pachygrapsus marmoratus. It’s native to the Mediterranean but is gradually moving north. Next stop Cornwall?

October

Portuguese Man O'War jellies began washing onto Cornish beaches in the summer, but didn't turn up in Looe until October. Amazing creatures - like pink and purple stinging pasties. Happy days!
Portuguese Men O’War began washing onto Cornish beaches in the summer, but didn’t turn up in Looe until October. Amazing creatures – like pink and purple stinging pasties. Happy days!

November

Most people think there's not much to see in the rock pools in November. They're wrong, of course! This sponge, possibly Myxilla rosacea, was one of the prettiest things I saw all year.
Most people think there’s not much to see in the rock pools in November. They’re wrong of course! This sponge, possibly Myxilla rosacea, was one of the prettiest things I saw all year.

December

The Cornish rock pools are full of tiny creatures that are often overlooked. I could have spent all day watching this 3-spot cowrie (Trivia monacha). The colours are amazing and there's something incredibly fetching about its big orange syphon. A perfect way to end the year.
The Cornish rock pools are full of tiny creatures that are often overlooked. I could have spent all day watching this 3-spot cowrie (Trivia monacha). The colours are amazing and there’s something incredibly fetching about its big orange syphon. A perfect way to end the year.

 

 

Chilly autumn rockpooling

I’m not a fan of winter. Even though I go rock pooling all year round and love the way the wildlife varies with the seasons, the November to February period is a challenge for me. The thought of sticking my hands in icy-cold water makes me want to hibernate. Right on cue, a fierce northerly wind blows in for the spring tides. I layer up and wear my fluffiest, most comforting jumper to bring you this week’s blog post.

Obelia geniculata - a hydroid known as 'sea fir'.
Obelia geniculata – a hydroid known as ‘Kelp fir’. Recognisable by its zig-zag ‘stems’.

I’m trying to photograph hydroids at the moment. These relatives of the jellyfish and anemones are generally translucent and no more than a few centimetres long, making them hard to spot. At this time of year when the seaweeds die back and the waves roll in, it’s especially tricky. My camera doesn’t like focussing on them and they won’t stay still in the current, but their nodding tentacles and curious structures are mesmerising.

Another hydroid - Coryne pusilla. This one can't retract its tentacles into little cups. It has a ringed stem (visible in the bottom-left of the photo).
Another hydroid – Coryne pusilla. This one can’t retract its tentacles into little cups. It has a ringed stem (visible in the bottom-left of the photo).

As always there are strange creatures galore. This Sea gherkin is unusually large and gnarled.

A Sea gherkin (Pawsonia saxicola) - this is a type of sea cucumber and clings onto the rock with its tentacle feet.
A Sea gherkin (Pawsonia saxicola) – this is a type of sea cucumber and clings onto the rock with its tentacle feet.

Among the sponges and brittle stars I come across this invasive species from the South Pacific, the Orange-tipped sea squirt, Corella eumyota.

The invasive Orange-tipped sea squirt
The invasive Orange-tipped sea squirt

The twisted gut is very prominent in this species and you can see the orange colouration at the top. It’s thought this species may compete with native squirts and other invertebrates, but we will only find out by monitoring its spread. This is the first one I’ve recorded here.

Nearby I find the native sea squirt Ascidia mentula with lovely red flecks in its almost transparent test.

Ascidia mentula - a tunicate sea squirt. The red streaks reminded me of fireworks.
Ascidia mentula – a tunicate sea squirt. The red streaks reminded me of fireworks.

This sponge also catches my eye. It’s hard to identify many sponges with any certainty without examining their spicules under a microscope, but this one has the appearance of Myxilla rosacea.

A striking sponge with its fine structures and deep pores. Possibly Myxilla rosacea.
A striking pink sponge with fine structures and deep pores. Possibly Myxilla rosacea.

On the next tide we make a successful return visit to the beach where Cornish Rock Pools Junior achieved finding a world record haul of stalked jellyfish last year. We come close to matching the numbers we found last time. I lose count at 25 because Junior makes it clear he doesn’t want his record broken.

Many of the stalked jellyfish are juveniles, only a few millimetres long and it tests my eyes to pick them out among the swirling seaweed. Then I spot this 1mm pinprick of a jelly blob and take a photo in case it turns out to be a stalked jelly.

My eyes must still be good - a 1mm baby stalked jellyfish. It's not possible to say for sure what species.
My eyes must still be good – a 1mm baby stalked jellyfish. It’s not possible to say for sure what species.

On my screen at home its column is clearly visible although the tentacles are either retracted or haven’t yet grown. Little is known about the very early stages of development of these creatures and how to separate the species by sight, but David Fenwick who runs the amazing Stauromedusae UK website confirms that it is definitely a stalked jelly.

It’s great to be able to show a friend from Natural England how abundant these species are in the Looe and Whitsand Bay Marine Conservation Zone, which aims to give them protection from developments and disturbance.

Haliclystus octoradiatus - the blobs between the arms are primary tentacles, which easily identify this species from most others we see.
Haliclystus octoradiatus – the blobs between the arms are primary tentacles, which easily identify this species from most others we see.

One of her sons does an impressive job of finding stalked jellies and even finds one that is in the middle of eating an amphipod. The current is too strong to get a great photo, but you can clearly see the unfortunate creature’s head sticking out of the stalked jellyfish’s mouth here.

A stalked jellyfish (Haliclystus octoradiatus) eating an amphipod.
A stalked jellyfish (Haliclystus octoradiatus) eating an amphipod.

I’ll be submitting all my stalked jellyfish records to help reinforce the evidence that will hopefully keep these protected species from harm.

A juvenile Calvadosia cruxmelitensis stalked jellyfish. We found 3 species of stalked jellyfish on the site.
A juvenile Calvadosia cruxmelitensis stalked jellyfish. We found 3 species of stalked jellyfish on the site.

I can’t help taking a look at some other things while I’m here. But before long the cold is hurting my fingers and chilling my insides in the sort of way that can only be fixed by a steaming mug of hot chocolate.

That’s the bit of winter I look forward to!

Rayed trough shell
Rayed trough shell
Aslia lefevrei - the brown sea cucumber. This sea cucumber lives in crevices in the rock with just its tip poking out.
Aslia lefevrei – the brown sea cucumber. This sea cucumber lives in crevices in the rock with just its dark tip poking out.
Dysidea fragilis - or the hedgehog sponge as I call it.
Dysidea fragilis – or the hedgehog sponge as I call it.
3-spot cowrie hanging on an overhang
3-spot cowrie hanging on an overhang

 

Happy rockpooling!

Wrasse and wrack

The Cornish summers are anything but predictable. One day I’m sweltering in shorts and beach shoes and the next I’m shivering in waders and a thick jumper. Although the showers are back with a vengeance, there’s always something to be found if I can make it across the rocks without breaking an ankle.

Painted top shell, East Looe
Painted top shell, East Looe

My first outing is to the rocks beyond East Looe beach and I’m pleased to come across a new colony of St Piran’s hermit crabs on the mid-shore.

A St Piran's hermit crab starting to emerge from its shell.
A St Piran’s hermit crab starting to emerge from its shell.

They’re becoming a familiar sight around Cornwall and I’m starting to recognise them from the tips of their red legs, before their chequerboard eyes and equal-sized claws emerge from their shells. Continue reading Wrasse and wrack

My First Fox Club Expedition To Porth Mear

It’s the middle of the night and I’m convinced there’s something wrong with my eyes. I’ve unplugged my phone, tried blinking several times but I’m still seeing flickering lights and flashes. Finally I twig what’s going on and open the curtains to reveal incessant sheet lightning.

My first thought is that it had better stop by the morning, else no-one will turn up to my first rock pooling event at Porth Mear with Fox Club, the junior branch of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. As a child, I was a keen member myself so I’ve been looking forward to this for months.

By the morning the lightning storm has given way to wind and rain, but conditions are less than inspiring. It’s amazing anyone shows up for rock pooling, but a few hardy well-wrapped-up folk do, as does a lovely volunteer assistant. Continue reading My First Fox Club Expedition To Porth Mear

Discoveries on my Doorstep – Rockpooling with the experts in Looe (Day 1)

There’s a questionable theory that 10 000 hours of practice makes you an expert and I may be close to ‘doing my time’ in the Cornish rock pools by now. However, I often feel I’m only scratching the surface of what’s out there. What better then, than to spend a few days on the shore with the genius that is David Fenwick, creator of Aphotomarine together with a fabulous group of fellow rockpool fanatics from Coastwise North Devon?

With layers and waterproofs aplenty, Junior and I joined them at Hannafore Beach, a site I know intimately, to see what new discoveries might await us.

 I realised within minutes that I should have brought a notebook. David’s knowledge of marine species is immense and he wasted no time in finding signs of nematode worms living inside seaweed, reeling off their names. It was windy, drizzling and cold and to make matters worse Junior sprung a leak in his wellies, but there was no doubt this is going to be a fascinating day. Leaving Junior playing at reconstructing ancient ruined cities from the rocks of a mid-shore ridge, we waded across the lower shore.

Sea hares (Aplysia punctata) were everywhere munching on the seaweed.
Sea hares (Aplysia punctata) were everywhere munching on the seaweed.

Some species were familiar. The sea hares were everywhere and so abundant that it was impossible to avoid them. This swirling cloud of purple ink in the water was a sign we’d accidentally disturbed one of them. Continue reading Discoveries on my Doorstep – Rockpooling with the experts in Looe (Day 1)

All-Weather Rock Pooling

Much as I love the Cornish rock pools, there are times – throughout the year – when the conditions are grim. According to the forecast, today is going to be one of those days. I have reluctantly cancelled a meet-up with Junior’s friends because the charts show the sort of gales and lashing rain that have most little kiddies shivering before they even reach the pools.

I don’t want to make rockpooling a traumatic experience for other people’s children, but I don’t think Junior’s aware that staying in is an option. He’s so well trained to enjoy the misery that at 10am he’s merrily pulling on waterproofs and wellies and grabbing a bucket. We’re off to ‘the gully’ and no amount of buffeting winds or ominous clouds are going to stop him.

Junior's training in rockpooling in all weathers started early - out with Countryfile age 3
Junior’s training in rockpooling in all weathers started early – out with Countryfile age 3

We are climbing across the rocks from Plaidy beach towards our favourite spot when hail starts ricocheting off our buckets. We keep our heads down, turning our attention to the variety of colours in the pebbles. Junior crams his pockets with his favourites, the extra ballast helping to keep him upright against the howling wind. Continue reading All-Weather Rock Pooling

Port Nadler in the Fog

The other side of the Looe valley has disappeared. Beneath the thick Cornish sea fog, a steady, soaking drizzle is blowing in. Junior, contemplating the scene out of our back window, decides it’s a perfect day to go for a picnic at Port Nadler.

Two and a half miles later, with water running off our noses and mud splashed up our waterproof trousers, we arrive in the deserted bay. We listen to the whistles of oystercatchers, sounding closer than they are in the fog. Junior follows trails of bird footprints across the beach.

The sun doesn’t shine on our picnic, but the rain eases and we begin to catch glimpses of the sea through the mist. After a quick sandwich, we start exploring.

The cool, damp conditions aren’t great for humans, but they’re ideal for rockpool creatures that need to avoid drying out. I’ve barely taken a few steps across the rocks when I spot a decorator crab out for a walk among the seaweed. It’s so well covered with pieces of weed that I have to move it to take a distinguishable photo.

A decorator crab - a small species of spider crab - out for a walk
A decorator crab – a small species of spider crab – out for a walk

It’s not a particularly big tide, but it’s low enough to access some wide, shallow pools and an area strewn with loose rocks begging to be turned. Continue reading Port Nadler in the Fog