Elizabeth Mills graduated last summer with a first in marine biology from Swansea University. She is now undertaking an interdisciplinary Msc by Research combining marine biology and engineering. She runs an illustrative website (marinemumbles.com) on which every Sunday evening she posts a painting of a species, along with a short description. In this post, as part of thinkingcountry’s marine series, she encourages us all to get out there and explore Britain’s rock pools and shoreline.
I have been eagerly exploring rockpools since I was a child. I was never afraid to dunk my arm in the freezing cold water, have a rummage around and see what interesting species lurked in crevices and under rocks. Even then it blew my mind that I could walk down to my local beach and find so many different types of marine creatures. At 21, after graduating with a degree in marine biology, I am still just as amazed and excited, if not more so. Some may argue that my enthusiasm for rocky shore species might just stem from the fact I am naturally a very excitable person. Although that might be true for my other loves, like baby goats or anything related to Darth Vader, when it comes to the rocky shore I will argue that this isn’t the case. I love this habitat because the species you find are so diverse, bizarre and amazingly well adapted that you can’t help but learn new things every time you visit, and I have visited a lot!
On these shores you can find brave fish that decide to risk staying on the shore when the tide goes out in order to have first dibs on potential prey when the tide comes back in. Despite the fact that there are only a few species that decide to do this the ones that do are still amazingly diverse in appearance. For example, if you find a rockling or a shanny (Lipophrys pholis) on the shore, they look very fish-like and you won’t mistake them for anything else but a fish. But take a worm pipefish (Nerophis lumbriciformis) for example, they are related to the seahorse family, and look like a wriggly piece or seaweed or a stick if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
There are several species of crabs you can find just by looking under a few rocks next to each other on the shore, from the timid and hairy broad clawed porcelain crab (Porcellana platycheles), to the ferocious devil crab (Necora puber)! Bumpy barnacles cover rocks spanning the whole shore, but even on one rock you can find a few different species. Not forgetting seaweeds, these can be millimeters in size to meters and some species even have calcium carbonate skeletons. Some of these seaweeds are also edible, depending on your taste bud preferences of course. Pepper dulse (Osmundea pinnatifida) will taste of pepper/garlic and for the committed fans who have the acquired taste for it can make it a welcome addition to their salad. But this seaweed doesn’t taste like this to make someone’s salad a tad fancier, it is actually a deterrent chemical it releases into its tissues to stop grazing by limpets.
Above: A collection of illustrations Elizabeth has drawn of rocky shore species. See her website for more – marinemumbles.com.
I could write pages on the weird and wonderful querks of the species of UK rocky coastlines, but the main message I want to share with you is to get out and explore yourself. For the price of a pair of wellies and a raincoat you can see, investigate and research these wonderfully diverse species that many people don’t even know are there. Hopefully more people can begin to appreciate the amazing marine creatures in our oceans … starting with the ones right on our doorstep!