Seashore Safari

Saturday, 25th July 2009

Clearly something interesting was about to happen as a group of nearly 30 people, adults and children, gathered on the beach at Helford Passage for a short introductory talk by Ruth Williams, Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Marine Officer. Then, armed with an assortment of nets, buckets and trays, we set off, clambering over limpet- and barnacle-strewn rocks to the shallow pools left by the receding tide. The Seashore Safari had begun. Weather conditions were ideal – sunny and warm with a slight breeze. Intrigued holidaying families joined in; and by now the numbers had swelled to 40, of whom half were children.

Success was ensured as 20 young, sharp-eyed explorers scoured the area, moving the seaweed, probing crevices, carefully turning over stones (and replacing them afterwards) and bringing anything that moved to Ruth for identification. “That’s a pipe fish. See its horsey face, it’s related to seahorses. Feel how bony it is. In some areas puffins collect these to feed their young, because there is a shortage of sand eels, but there is not much nutrition in a pipe fish and the young birds die”. “That fish is a blenny. Its top fin is continuous along the body, whereas the goby has a notch in the top fin”.

There were crabs galore, mostly small green shore crabs, a few small brown edible crabs and several finds of hermit crabs. One could tell the sex of the crab by looking at the underside, the female having a broad tail to cover her eggs. Ruth gave a graphic account of how a crab withdraws its body from its outgrown shell and then expands, so that its newly forming shell will have space for further growth. Her role-play so impressed a young lad that he repeated it an hour later. Common starfish, anemones and various top shells had now been added to the collection.

Moving down to the sands of the lower shore we came across various wracks, kelp and sea lettuce and were assailed by pulses of water expelled by sea squirts. Sediment-crusted tubes of the peacock worm were in evidence. The young explorers were still bringing their finds: a couple of razor shells, the shells of oyster and scallop and a cluster of slipper limpets, an alien species that competes with the oyster. All too soon, it seemed, the afternoon drew to a close and the participants departed, but not without sincere thanks to Ruth who had made it such an enjoyable and worthwhile outing.

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