Whenever we plan a trip to the seaside, it’s almost always a sunny day that we see in our mind’s eye. If it’s the British coast, however, as we all know only too well, it doesn’t necessarily work out that way – but grey skies or blue, rock pooling is one activity where the weather simply doesn’t have to matter.
Rock pools – also known as tide pools, for obvious reasons – provide temporary homes for many different kinds of small sea creatures left behind by the tide, and make a great aquarium for interested humans to view them. For any budding marine biologists and undersea explorers in the family, they’re a great place to start.
There really isn’t anything much simpler to do at the seaside – not least because you can get started just as soon as you find a likely-looking spot. Although a shrimping net and a seaside bucket can be useful, they’re not essential, because unlike inland ponds, rock pools don’t tend to be so overgrown with weeds and the sea water is much clearer, making it easier to spot anything that’s lurking beneath the surface.
From a safety point of view, there are a few things to watch out for, particularly with small children in mind, but most of them are pretty obvious. The rocks themselves can be sharp, weed growth can make them slippy, in larger pools the water can be deceptively deep and some of the beasts you may encounter are well-armed with teeth, spines and stings. Watch out for these and your rock pooling expedition should go without a hitch.
What To Look For
There’s a whole range of possible creatures to find, but many of them are a bit shy – mostly to avoid ending up on a bigger animals supper menu – so a bit of patience can be called for to spot some of the more nervous kinds. Even if keeping still and quiet isn’t high on your youngster’s list of favourite activities, there’s still a lot of to see – especially the likes of anemones, limpets and barnacles, which spend most of their lives firmly attached to the rocks.
Crabs, of course, are a long-established rock pool favourite and can often be spotted partly hidden under rock ledges or large stones, keeping out of trouble until the sea returns, while almost transparent shrimps flash through the water, if disturbed, at surprising speed. Small fish, especially blennies, which look like short eels, and gobies can often be found – and sometimes bigger ones too. Other things to keep an eye out for include things such as fan-worms, with their elaborate feathery “head-dresses”, sea urchins, starfish and the furry, shimmering sea mouse – in reality a relative of the earthworm and one of the oddest creatures around our shores!
A Harsh Environment
Although we view coastal rock pools as attractive and fascinating places, from the perspective of the creatures that are left behind in them as the tide goes out, they can be a surprisingly harsh environment. On sunny days, they can heat up very quickly, and evaporation makes them get saltier and saltier, while on rainy days, the influx of fresh water makes them increasingly less salty – both extremes making life a bit of a challenge as creatures wait for the sea to come back. Large animals, particularly fish, caught in pools between high and low tides may find the water soon begins to run out of oxygen, and many beasts can find themselves effectively stuck in a goldfish-bowl with a whole host of their natural predators just waiting to eat them.
Even for more sedate things, the return of the sea – welcome though it is – comes with a fair bit of bashing and battering, which is not the best news for soft bodied animals such as anemones and marine worms. While the world of the rock pool is not necessarily an easy one to live in, if wildlife’s your thing, it certainly is a fascinating one to investigate.