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Purple Henry, Dahlia Anemones and carnivorous Whelks, just a few treasures discovered on our first Rocky Shore Safari

Our first rockpooling event was held at Harkess rocks near Bamburgh and although it was a grey November morning, we ventured outside away from the Rugby final and were treated to a fascinating insight into some of the marine life inhabiting our rocky shores.

Claire Hedley, generously volunteered to guide us as we explored the rockpools and tidal zones. Claire has many years of experience in marine conservation in the North East, and she started the session by sketching diagrams in the sand to illustrate the gravitational influence of the Sun and the Moon on the in creating the tides. We then had a look at several different Kelp species that Claire had gathered, and she showed us the different ways the Kelp was adapted to each tidal zone. Afterwards we stopped and had a look at the signs of burrowing worms in the sand and heard about the part they play in the health of marine ecosystems as well as providing a food for a wide variety of animals and birds.

As we clambered over the rocks Claire pointed out different plant and animal species and how they manage to survive the extremes of temperature, desiccation, salinity and wave action in the inter-tidal environment. We looked at the omnivorous Periwinkles and found out how they feed on Algae growing on the rocks. Claire also showed us how Whelks use a proboscis to bore into the shells of other crustaceans such as mussels so they can feed on the soft animal inside.

Most of us were familiar with the conical shells of Limpets being washed up on our beaches. Claire explained how Limpets return to the same spot on the rock known as a "home scar" just before the tide ebbs, and that it’s thought that they follow chemical trails to do this.

 Image: Elizabeth Charman 

While we explored the rock pools, we also saw some Beadlet Anemones, the shell cast of a juvenile Blue Velvet Swimming Crab, Hermit Crabs, Barnacles, and an aptly named Purple Henry Starfish. All the while Claire was able to answer our numerous questions, giving us all a fascinating insight to how these creatures interact and survive this dynamic habitat.


Beadlet Anemone & Purple Henry Starfish - Images:Claire Hedley                                      

Dahlia Anemone (Urticina felina) 

There was a lot of Kelp washed up on the rocky shore and we were able to see minute Bryozoans and Hydroids growing on the Kelp fronds. With a hand lens it we looked at the exquisite patterns made by colonies of Bryozoans as they encrust the surface of the Kelp Lamina. And on the Kelp stipe (stalk) what looked like lots of tiny transparent Algae of some kind turned out to be, yet another colony of animals called Hydroids.

Our time exploring flew by, and the sun had come out and as the Rugby had finished so too did the people. As we headed back to the beach, we found something that got Claire very excited. It didn’t look like much to us, just a slightly larger Anemone on the rocks. Claire explained that it was a Dahlia Anemone that is found in deeper waters and an unusual sight on the rocky shore, and that must have been washed up in stormy weather. As it was still alive, Claire did some Anemone first aid by covering it with seaweed and water until the next tide.

Everyone said how much they’d enjoyed the event, I was equally so absorbed with what we saw and once back home in the warm I was soon looking up information on Hydroids, Hermit Crabs and of course the Dahlia Anemone. I’ve added some pictures taken underwater that illustrate how this anemone it got its name:


Dahlia anemone (Urticina felina) – left to right - Copyright: Dr Keith Hiscock, & Copyright: Paul Newland

The stretch of coastline from Alnmouth to St Abbs is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) these are sites of European significance for their habitats or species. The reefs on North Northumberland Coast SAC are some of the most diverse in the North Sea, and include areas of inter-tidal rocky shore, horizontal ledges, areas of broken bedrock, and reefs that are found in the sub-tidal zone below the low water mark. In just a couple of hours we learnt so much about the marine diversity on our doorstep, and it reminded me how important the conservation, monitoring and public engagement done by Coast Care volunteers and staff is.

Finally, I’d like to thank Claire for sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm with us and making it such an enjoyable morning. I’d also like to thank our volunteer First Aider, John for supporting me in leading our first Rockpooling event, and for those that have very kindly given permission to use their images.

Keep an eye on our webpage for upcoming events in the New Year and please get in touch with me for any event enquiries or ideas: 

Thanks for reading, Sarah.

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