To look out across the beach, over the rockpools towards the sea everything looks calm and collected. Look closely however and you will see a whole rocky horror show. The intertidal zone is full of a multitude of crazy creatures which have creepy behaviours – but don’t let that put you off. These creatures are fascinating and visiting them on the shore is a wonderful experience that we here at Devon Wildlife Trust think that everyone should experience! Allow us to paint you a picture of the excitement that can be experienced while visiting the rocky shore on one of Wembury marine Centre’s typical rockpool safaris.
We are itching to race across the rocks but slowly we tread. The seaweed can be slippery and we have to catch ourselves every now and then but it’s all part of the experience (and after much practice makes us as sure footed as a mountain goat)! Looking out for limpets and sea snails as we walk we clamber over rocks and tiptoe gently through pools edging closer to the sea, stalking it as the tide lowers. We reach our start point, a large jutting rock where a common blenny has been making his nest for years. On tiptoes we stretch up to look in the hole and wedged in at the back, guarding his eggs he sits. We can just make out his face in the gloom, watching our every move. He will wait there, a fish out of water until the tide returns and as long as he stays in his dark, damp nest he will be ok. We leave him keeping watch and pick our way over the slippery seaweed to the large rockpool and begin our search.
We lift rocks and peer beneath finding cushion starfish, common prawns and velvet swimming crabs. Filling our buckets with water we gently scoop the creatures up – one at a time – and have a closer look. If we are patient we can see the cushion starfish move slowly but purposefully along the base of the bucket using its sticky tube legs that hide beneath its body. Once we’ve placed the animal carefully back where we found it we can look at another. The velvet swimming crab is much feistier and he raises his blue tinted claws in defence. Bravely and swiftly we reach behind the pincers and pick him up, holding his shell at the corners. Quickly into the bucket it goes at it glowers at us with his bright red eyes. On closer inspection we see why he has earned the nickname ‘Devil crab’. Lowering our catch gently back behind his rock we can now use our bucket to scoop us a common prawn. Gently lowering our buckets into the water we can use our hand to guide him backwards, scooping him quickly up when he darts in. Their see through striped bodies make them a tricky find and they are sometimes too speedy to catch but one we do we can admire their gorgeous yellow striped legs that look – with a bit of imagination – like football socks.
Moving on to shallower water we are taunted by blennies – which are notoriously medicinereform hard to catch – but eventually we do. With our hands gently clasped around the slippery, wriggling fish we pop it in our bright white tub for a look and right before our eyes it lightens from dark brown to a sandy colour and darkens again as we put it back. The next rock appears to just have some long thin seaweed beneath but just as the rock is about to be put back we realise it’s actually a pair of pipefish, the male with rows of eggs stuck to his underside as he protects them.
As we head to our final hunting place we see the remains of a wrasse nest – the coral weed, now bleached by the sun, hanging from the rock. Now down in the gully we see muscular looking Montagues crabs and their smaller relatives the Rissos crab, which are usually a mottled light pink and have hairy legs.Turning a rock over, we see two bright blue ‘eyes’. On closer inspection they aren’t eyes at all but decoys on the back of the shore clingfish. Its pelvic fins have adapted to become a sucker which allows it to cling tightly to rocks so we leave it there – we don’t want it getting stuck in our bucket!
We’ve been keeping an eye on the tide so we start to head back to shore, marvelling at the things we have seen and wondering what we might discover next time. No two rockpool safaris are the same and we can’t wait until tomorrow so we can go again.
Last week was National Marine Week – if you are interested in what the Wildlife Trusts got up to you can catch up with their blog http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/blog
If you are interested in joining us for a rockpool safari (or any other event) then you can check out our events page or our Facebook page.