Exploring the littoral since 1966

More of Sarah’s kayaking adventures, where she realises that her kayak is in fact a way for her to really explore her favourite bit of the world – the littoral. 

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I’ve been looking forward to this weekend in July, it’s ‘Exploring Marine Diversity by kayak’ with Sea Kayaking Wales. Two days of, well, exploring marine diversity – the ecology of the marine/terrestrial boundary, or as I call it, the littoral. The littoral is the place I have always been at my happiest, spending hours exploring the seashore and rock pools.

Me exploring the littoral in 1966, West Kirby.

So, over 50 years later, I am now discovering that my kayak is an excellent way for me to get in to the littoral.

We begin our first day with a fascinating presentation from Geth Roberts, who is leading the trip, about diversity. And the first fascinating fact (of many facts that I learn) is that of all the known species on the earth, 85% of them are on land, and 15% of them in marine environment. (Source: Science Direct)

However, when we come to phylum diversity (a higher level of classification), diversity is much greater in the oceans, probably due to life originating and having more time to evolve here.

Kingdom > Phylum > Class > Order > Family > Genus > Species

Geth introduces us to the main groups of marine animals… I realise that in my Philip’s Guide to Seashores I have only properly explored the seaweed pages, but in fact there is lots more to discover. So, one of our objectives for the weekend is ‘phylum hunting’…. let’s go!

We begin our trip from Dulas Bay, on the east coast of Anglesey. It’s a high spring tide so this ‘sandy’ estuary is full of water.

Sea lavender (Limonium vulgare)

We discuss this seawater and freshwater environment and the plants growing here, and soon are ready to leave to get out into the sea – Geth and Richard Janes are leading, and the delegates are me and Christiane. Geth is also taking photographs, so any photos which have me on them have been taken by him.

We paddle out to Ynys Dulas, but keep away from the far side as there is a seal colony there, and we don’t want to disturb them.

We stop at a shingle beach for our lunch. I find this, which I had always assumed was dried seaweed, it is in fact a bryozoan – a colony of individual zooids (single animals that are part of a colony), a bit like coral reefs, or a bee colony.  This is Hornwrack (Flustra foliacea), you can just see the individual ‘segments’ where individual zooids have lived.

We than have a fairly long paddle back to Bull Bay, the wind has picked up. We arrive as planned and slip in on the low tide, with brown seaweed in abundance.

The next day is still windy so we head down to the Menai Straits. Although we often use the straits as a place to paddle when it’s windy, as you can usually find some shelter here, it is actually an interesting paddling venue in its own right. I also learn from Geth that in terms of biodiversity, the straits are actually a ‘top ten’ spot in Britain.

Today it is just me, Christiane and Geth. Christiane has come up from Hampshire for this weekend, and we start a conversation as we are paddling about what we enjoy about being out on the water, and what we want from our kayaking days.

We spend some time in moving water, Geth expertly coaxing me and Christiane through some waters which we are pretty reluctant about.

And the ‘what do you want from kayaking’ conversation continues between us all today.

 

And plenty of seaweed here, which is abundant due to the sheltered nature of the environment. So a great two days which has really opened my eyes to exploring the littoral.

I’m in Anglesey for another day, this time with Steve Miles, and thanks to relatively light winds we’re able to do ‘the stacks’ again. A great trip and today it’s right on high tide, so we’re able to explore all the ‘nooks and crannies’ and get into some small spaces and caves.

Aug 18 - 18

Aug 18 - 19

We make our way round Penrhyn Mawr with the start of the ebb, it is my second time here in a few weeks and even on an ebb tide the power of the sea is very obvious. We end our day landing at Porth Dafarch, it is a calm evening. I am reluctant to leave, and stay for a while looking at seaweed and rock pools, before it’s time to head home and go back to Liverpool.

A few weeks later in August and I’m back on the water with Geth. I’ve had my appetite for phylum hunting well and truly whetted, and I’m keen to do some more exploring. We start our first day from Malltraeth, another estuary, this time on the west coast of Anglesey, and one which you usually pass by and don’t explore.

We enjoy it, navigating it for the first time, as the tide is ebbing. We find a stretch of shallow water, and have to get out of our boats, but it’s good fun, and we are laughing at the challenge. ‘Where’s your sense of adventure?! ‘

Back out to sea. LLanddwyn comes into view.

Llanddwyn Island is one of my favourite places, so landing here is a real thrill for me.

We have lunch here and have some time for exploring some of the rocky coast. Finding various animals – dog whelk, barnacles, and a sponge (the orange stuff), which is in the phylum Porifera, a ‘simple’ animal.

Leaving Llanddwyn, and out into open water again.

Passing the Kimya buoy – this marks the wreck of the Kimya which sank here in 1991.

I don’t know what it is about being out at sea but it is both expansive and ‘big’ and yet strangely intimate, just the two of us, and we enjoy a very in depth conversation about life and death… the time slips by, and it is good to be out here.

And arriving at our destination for the end of a long day, Cable Bay. I am tired, but happy, and extremely glad for finally getting to Llanddwyn by kayak.

The next day I have suggested we do a ‘species hunt’, recording everything living that we can find in one day. We set off from Moelfre, with my notebook on the deck – and together we compile a list of every species. If we knew the name, common or scientific, we recorded it, and if we couldn’t identify it we wrote it down. 

Our aim today is not to cover a great distance, and first we travelled along the shore landing at Traeth Bychan. At lunchtime we did some ID with our field guides, but we were both fascinated by the limestone rock pools on the beach, which are full of periwinkles. 

After lunch we headed back towards Moelfre and then around the rocky headland from the lifeboat station. By now it was nearly low tide, and the kelp, the brown seaweed which is revealed at low tides, was emerging from the water. 

We went round the corner and explored the cracks in the rocks that were now opening as the tide dropped, in fact we were so engrossed in our hunt that I nearly got wedged in at one point.  

The tide is dropping now, as we had planned, and we are excited by our discoveries. Above – this is some sort of animal (finger-like structure in the centre of the red seaweed), possibly a small specimen of Sea Chevil (Alyconidium diaphanum), a Bryozoa. It was at the low tide that we found some of our most interesting species, animals in fact – some soft corals and orange sponges. 

We returned to Moelfre both full of exclamations about the range of what we’d found, looking forward to counting up the species. 

Boats sorted and we ended the day with that most littoral of activities – having an ice cream!

Back at home I sorted the ‘species list’ and to my amazement found we’d spotted 60 species – these include seaweed (Algae), plants (as found or seen on shore), as well as lichen, and animals including birds and a porpoise, as well as smaller animals from many phyla – Porifera (sponges); Cnidaria – soft coral, jellyfish, anemone; Annelida – worms; Mollusca; Crustacea; Bryozoa; and Echinoderma – a heart urchin (sea potato). Amazing. 

So doing this slowing down, for me, was really interesting, and provided an opportunity for really looking, and really observing the natural world around us. It was a great day, and I’m looking forward to doing more of this species hunting and also increasing my knowledge and ID skills. 

And…. adding to my growing collection of notebooks about the littoral….

Seaweed ‘collage’ created in 2010 on ‘Rocky Shore’ course with the Field Studies Council in Devon.

Looking forward to increasing my littoral knowledge and exploring marine biology further in the coming months… autumn is often the time I feel the urge to ‘learn something’ and so I have been looking at Field Studies Council courses again. (After all now that Ronnie is starting his PhD I don’t want to be left behind!)

Thanks to Geth Roberts for a great introduction to Anglesey’s biodiversity, and for photos of our days together. Find Geth here: Sea Kayaking Wales.

One Reply to “Exploring the littoral since 1966”

  1. Fabulous! I LOVE all this. You are so brave and interesting, Sarah! I thought the Straits were treacherous waters?! Ynys Dulas – that’s the island with the tower in ‘my’ bay, isn’t it?
    Thanks for sharing. Really beautiful.

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