Rocky Shore Revelation

My interest in rocky shore ecology began two years ago when I started running family rockpool sessions in my role as Project Officer at Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre (CBMWC). Although I’d completed a module in Marine Biology as part of my Zoology degree, the field sessions just hadn’t fired-up my imagination – it took the enthusiasm of a group of 6 year olds to spark an interest and to help me discover the simple delight of finding new and exciting creatures.

Although very familiar with a range of terrestrial wildlife, rocky shore species identification was a new challenge. I began by familiarising myself with a few of the commonly found species at New Quay and tapping into the knowledge the Living Seas volunteers. When working with 6-12 year olds it’s more important to introduce them to the wonderful variety of life in and around the rock pools.  Having a few funny, gross or just plain weird facts on-hand helps to maintain their interest. So, I quickly learned to point out flat periwinkles, shore crabs and prawns. When we did find something new, I’d try to spend time after the session to discover more about that species and to add to my fun facts list.

Flat periwinkle

 

 

Once my contract finished at CBMWC I decided I would like to spend more time familiarising myself with the rocky shore species where I live, on the stretch of coast north of Aberaeron. Lockdown has provided an unexpected opportunity to do this on my daily walk, as I’m fortunate to live 10 minutes from the beach.

My lower shore forays also coincided with an on-line Living Seas Wales project volunteer training session, run by Project Officer Laura Evans. This session on rocky shore species, helped to consolidate the knowledge I’d gained from my own rock-pooling, but also provided some handy hints and tips for finding and identifying the trickier species like the topshells and periwinkles (marine snails).

Small periwinkle in a barnacle test

I’ve since successfully identified a number of seaweeds including spiral wrack, Irish moss (which really does have an iridescent blue colour in the water), sea lettuce and coral weed. Other finds have included a velvet swimming crab, acorn barnacles with their kite-shaped opening, common limpet and both purple and toothed topshells. I discovered the delights of edible periwinkles and small periwinkles which are often found in the empty shells of barnacles. So far, I have found three species of anemone: beadlet, strawberry and snakelocks (the latter only in a single rock-pool so far!), but I’m still holding out hope for a jewel (gem) anemone. Once lockdown is over, I’m looking forward to visiting other local beaches with the Living Seas Wales project to discover new species and compare identification notes with other volunteers.

Snakelocks anemone

I submit all my species records to my Local Records Centre - West Wales Biodiversity Information Centre-  using the LERC Wales App. This sends the record directly to iRecord where each is verified by a UK expert in each species group. It’s good to know that my records are contributing to the bigger conservation picture - perhaps helping to track climate change as the distribution of a species changes, or for future conservation of a particular marine habitat or species.

Aline Denton