The Mysteries of the Shallow Seas

For just a few hours of a few days every year, the tide drops to its lowest levels. These extreme tides allow us to explore areas of the sea bed that are underwater at all other times. This Wednesday and Thursday will be two of those days.

Hannfore beach, Cornwall

Low tide at Hannafore Beach, Cornwall

As any diver knows, our shallow waters are rich in life. Kelp forests, dense seaweeds and eel grass thrive in the light waters and provide food and shelter for a wide array of animals. This rich and ever-changing environment is normally only accessible with expensive scuba equipment and training. This week, however, you can enter this underwater world with just a pair of beach shoes and a bucket.


Dragonet fish are a rare sight in rock pools

There are few places on land in the UK where you can observe such diverse and bustling animal life close up. It’s why rock pooling events for children are often called ‘seashore safaris’. Even after many years of exploring the shore I find something new every time and it’s not just me.

Rock pooling

On safari in a Cornish rock pool

There’s still a lot we don’t know about our marine life. Even common species are poorly recorded and some locations have very few if any records at all, despite being rich in life, as the Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Intertidal Discovery Project is proving. We’re also still learning about how marine animals live and interact because it’s so hard to observe them for long periods in their natural environment.

Stalked jellyfish, Haliclystus octoradiatus

Rare stalked jellyfish like this Haliclystus octoradiatus can be found at the lowest tides.

This week, I’ll be joining the Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Shore Search project to survey beaches and record information which will help us to find out what’s there and track changes over time. If you’re in Cornwall you can join in too, no matter what your level of knowledge. The combined eyes and experience of a team of volunteers all looking at once makes this a fantastic way to discover new things. Who knows – we might even find a sea horse.


Long snouted sea horse

Could there be Long snouted sea horses in our eel grass beds? (Aquarium photo)

If you’re elsewhere in the country, look out for events and surveys run by organisations such as the Wildlife Trusts , The Shore Thing project, or your local marine conservation group.

Our marine environment matters. Healthy seas produce food and oxygen, the ocean currents keep our climate mild and discoveries about marine organisms such as the humble spiny starfish may yet lead to new medicines and knowledge. You get the picture. Researching what’s out there can help us to better protect our wildlife. So, if you’re down on the beach this week, don’t forget to take photos to share on Twitter @Wildlife_UK and please do share your marine wildlife records with the Marine Life Information Network

Spiny starfish

Animals like the Spiny starfish have properties we’re only beginning to understand.

If you’d like to know more about the wildlife in our rock pools and how to get involved in surveys, please visit my Cornish Rock Pools pages.

Have fun and watch out for the incoming tide.


Snakelocks anemones

The Snakelocks anemone is a a climate change indicator species.


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Heather Buttivant


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