ROCKPOOLING FOR MARINE TREASURE IN CORNWALL

PUBLISHED: 11:28 10 December 2014 | UPDATED: 13:10 30 August 2017

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Cornwall Wildlife Trust took advantage of some huge tides and exploring the fascinating world caught between land and sea

Shoresearch Cornwall volunteers shed light on a world between the tides, writes Matt Slater, Marine Awareness Officer at Cornwall Wildlife Trust

While locals and visitors to Cornwall enjoyed a fabulous warm summer, a team of enthusiasts led by leading local wildlife charity Cornwall Wildlife Trust were taking advantage of some huge tides and exploring the fascinating world caught between land and sea.

Our coastline is bordered by over 300 miles of intertidal habitat. This vast area that becomes uncovered with each tide has only been scientifically studied in a few localised areas around Cornwall. Many of the richest sites for wildlife are hard to reach and are only exposed on the very lowest of spring tides.

I have always loved the thrill of scrambling down to the very edge of the shore. My passion for marine life was kindled through a childhood in Cornwall spent rockpooling, and fishing. I went on to study Marine Biology and to work as a fisherman and in public aquariums for many years. I really thought that I knew all there was to know about life on Cornish shores. That is until the start of the Shoresearch programme! I have led a team of dedicated local people and trained them as Citizen Scientists’ to carry out rockpool surveys. Leading the team has been a journey of discovery and I never cease to be surprised at how much more effective it is to take a group of well motivated people with you when carrying out a survey as many pairs of eyes are so much better than just one! We only have a short window of time, between the tides but every time we go out on the shore we seem to find something new and exciting. This ranges from finding plants and creatures new to us, to discovering rare species that have previously not been recorded at the site.

In this, the second summer of our Shoresearch project (funded by the EU Intereg PANACHE project) our team has gone from strength to strength and the discoveries made have been incredible. The findings go a long way to helping us argue that our coastline is worthy of better protection as the diversity here is outstanding.

At the start of the year training sessions were run at Spit beach near Par and at Newquay’s South Fistral. Rockpooling at Newquay in the winter is surprisingly good but you really have to be careful. The tide races in and this combined with big swells and deep gullies between slippery rocks means that the team had to stick together and look out for each other as well as for rare species!

As the year went on we focused our efforts on surveying sites which have been earmarked by the government as proposed Marine Conservation Zones - a much needed network of areas managed for the protection of marine life. In Cornwall these areas are at Mounts Bay, Newquay and the Gannel, Land’s End, and Hartland Point to Tintagel. It has been a really successful year of surveying and we are now armed with lots of evidence that all these areas are rich in diversity and harbour rare species that indicate the value of the areas. All are worthy of better protection from future threats and we call on the public to get involved and help with our campaign by signing up as friends of Marine Conservation Zones on our website

Some of our volunteers have become extremely knowledgeable and are now experts in their own fields. We are also very grateful for the help of local experts such as David Fenwick(), Angie Gall and Dr Paul Gainey who have come along and shared their knowledge with the volunteers.

Shore surveying has always been fascinating but modern advances in digital photography have made it far easier. Previously if you couldn’t identify a seaweed or animal you would always have to take it away with you as a specimen. Modern compact waterproof cameras have changed that. We can now capture extremely detailed close up images while on the shore and even below the water in rockpools. Also if you find something rare no one can now dispute it as the cameras we use record the time and location of the photo using their built in GPS.

Highlights of the 2014 Shoresearch Cornwall survey programme:

At Newquay a colony of extremely rare scarlet and gold cup corals was discovered living in a cave atop a wave exposed reef. The cave faces up the shore so it is slightly more sheltered than many other similar caves that don’t harbour this rare species.

Cup corals are tiny colourful relatives of sea anemones and larger corals. They are long lived and are indicators of good quality water. As proof of their longevity, one colony on Cornwall’s Rame peninsula was first studied by Victorian naturalists. As we discovered whilst on a Shoresearch survey the beautiful colony is still there in exactly the same small cave. Many other firsts were discovered at Newquay by Shoresearch volunteers including rare and protected giant gobies, and stalked jellyfish.

In Mounts Bay, surveys were carried out at Marazion, Long Rock and Stackhouse cove. This area is rich in marine life and this spring we helped to document a bloom in numbers of rare stalked jellyfish. A survey was carried out of the eel grass beds using stand up paddle boards to view the sea bed and a programme of popular Rockpool Ramble events were held on the shore to show local people just how special the marine life is in the bay.

A midnight rockpooling session was carried out that shed new light on the nocturnal goings on, on the shore which was teaming with life from tiny shrimps to predatory cuttlefish all attracted to our lights.

Rare goosenecked barnacles were found clinging to granite boulders within the Lands End recommended Marine Conservation Zone. A survey was also carried out at Porthgwarra on a rare calm day with a low tide that highlighted a great diversity of species despite its inhospitable location. Most exciting find of the survey was a beautiful sea spider.

An annual survey of the shore was carried out on Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Looe Island Nature Reserve, an undisturbed paradise for marine wildlife.

All five of Cornwall’s fantastic Voluntary Marine Conservation Areas, St Agnes, Fowey, Helford, Looe and Polzeath were visited and surveyed during the September spring tides. Other areas surveyed were:

Cawsands bay on the Rame peninsula (Rare cup corals recorded),

Maenporth Beach, Falmouth,(Honeycomb worms recorded here for the first time!) Swanpool beach, (stalked jellies and many other creatures found here)

Northcott mouth Bude, (home to exceptionally large honeycomb worm colonies)

Par beach and Spit beach St Austell bay (honey comb worms found here too for the first time!),

And the shore near Smeatons pier, St Ives (where an alien species of sea squirt Corella eumota was recorded for the first time on Cornwall’s north coast!)

Our shores really are inspiring, colourful and rich in fascinating marine life. Thanks to our fantastic volunteers a total of over 400 species have now been recorded by the Shoresearch Cornwall team. 153 volunteers are now on our mailing list and a total of 2000 people have been engaged through our educational rockpool rambles through the project.

We are always looking to recruit new volunteers so if you fancy the idea of becoming a Shoresearch surveyor please get in touch!

Visit our website for more information www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk/shoresearch

And if you find anything cool when you are out rockpooling please record it, as it is valuable information vital to our conservation work protecting Cornwall’s wildlife and wild places. It’s very simple to do just visit www.orks.org.uk

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