Discover rockpools in Bude

How

The more you explore and search rockpools, the more you will discover. Start at the bottom of the shore at low tide and work your way up the shore, keeping an eye on the tide at all times. The best way to see swimming creatures in the pool is patience, perhaps in combination with some bait to lure the animals out. You can use a clear plastic bucket to get a closer look at what you’ve found, but animals can get ensnared in nets so you must ensure you’re extremely careful and the animals must be released quickly back where you found them.

After you’ve had a look for what’s swimming around, the best way to explore what’s going on in the rockpools is to get your hands in. Carefully pull back seaweeds to see what’s lurking beneath them, or pick up rocks to check if anything is hiding underneath. There are many tiny species that live exclusively on large seaweeds. Look for white tube worms that look like quinoa, or colonies of star ascidians that look like small flat flowers.

On the rocks around the pools you will find a range of gastropods, or sea snails. There are also mussels, barnacles and perhaps some reef-building honeycomb worms at the low tide.

Where

There are many beaches ideal for rockpooling around Bude. Bude Bay faces West, and so is quite exposed strong wind and waves being blown from the SW. To the South of Bude, at Millook, Wanson and Black Rock there is some shelter and the oppurutiny to see large kelp species at low tide. At Crooklets, Summerleaze, Widemouth, Nortcott, Sandymouth and Duckpool there are plenty of rockpools at low tide between patches of sand.

When

Low tide is essential for the best rockpooling opportunities. This is when all the large pools are exposed. These are the pools with the highest variety of species in.

Tide times can be accessed online (click here), but there are also RNLI signs with the tide times at the entrances to all life guarded beaches. If you are unsure then always check with the lifeguards. They will be happy to give advice on the tide and sea conditions that day.

Good weather is also preferable, but not absolutely necessary for exploring rockpools. Strong winds disturb the surface of the pools, making it hard to see into their depths. Poor weather however doesn’t have to put you off. A full set of waterproofs and washing up gloves to keep your hands dry will allow you to go rockpooling whatever the weather. Sturdy boots or shoes with a good grip are essential. Seaweed is incredibly slippery when wet.

Exploring rockpools is like discovering a hidden world that children (and adults) might otherwise overlook. There’s are a wide variety of species, with complex relationships all living in this secret habitat. They can be a fantastic way to learn about marine organisms that would otherwise be very difficult to see and learn about.

Rockpools offer shelter for marine organisms from waves and exposure, meaning that they become little oases on the beach for species that would otherwise live below the low tide mark.

Limpet, Patella vulgata

Limpet, Patella vulgata

The common limpet Patella vulgata is a familiar sight on almost all beaches here in Cornwall. They are found predominantly on rocky shores, especially with wave exposure, like the beaches on the North Coast of Cornwall. They are gastropods and feed by grazing on algae that grows on the rocks around them. They move over the rocks and scrape the algae off with a special tongue-like structure called a radula.

Flat Periwinkle, Littorina obtusata

Flat Periwinkle, Littorina obtusata

The Flat Periwinkle, Littorina obtusa is a small, colourful gastropod found on rocky shores where you have lots of brown fucoid algaes growing. Their colour varies depending on habitat, with lighter shades being found on more sheltered shores.

Dog Whelk, Nucella lapillus

Dog Whelk, Nucella lapillus

The Dog Whelk, Nucella lapillus is a predatory gastropod found on most rocky shores. If you gently pick one up and turn it upside down you can see a channel, called a siphonal canal, leading from the opening at the bottom of the shell. This siphonal canal houses the dog whelk’s radula that is used much like a drill, for gaining entry into other mollusc’s (e.g. mussels and limpets) shells. The dog whelks use a combination of this radula and chemical secretions to eat their prey and you may well see evidence of their behavior if you find empty shells with small holes drilled into them.

Cuttlebone

Cuttlebone

These odd sponge-like objects on the beach are actually internal shells of cuttlefish. The porous structure provides buoyancy for these peculiar creatures. Cuttlefish are not actually fish, but are related to squid and visually resemble squid quite closely when alive.

Cockle, Cerastoderma edule

Cockle, Cerastoderma edule

The edible cockle, Cerastoderma edule is found in large numbers around tidal flats and estuaries. They live at around the low tide mark, a few centimetres below the surface of the sand. The only signs that may indicate a population of cockles are small holes in the sand, or small piles of dislodged sediment.

Blenny, Lipophrys pholis

Blenny, Lipophrys pholis

Did you see that dark fish shape quickly dart across the rockpool as you got close to it? Chances are it was either a blenny such as Liphophrys pholis or a rock goby Gobius paganellus. They hide under seaweed and rocks, but if you are patient and wait you may often get to see them venture out again. The distinguishable difference between a goby and a blenny is the dorsal fin. A blenny’s dorsal fin runs the whole way along the top of its body, whereas a goby’s is separated.

Anemone, Actinia aquina

Anemone, Actinia aquina

The beadlet anemone, Actinia aquina can often look like a small red blob of jelly when out of water. If you hunt around for one living in a rockpool however you will see its fantastic array of tentacles spread in the water. They ball up and cover themselves in mucus to avoid desiccation (drying out) when the tide is out. Anemones are closely related to jellyfish and although harmless to humans, they can fight other anemones with stinging cells if they get too close.

Variegated Scallop, Chlamys varia

Variegated Scallop, Chlamys varia

The Variegated Scallop, Chlamys varia lives on sheltered shores, usually in the sublittoral zone (below the intertidal range) but can sometimes be found under boulders or attached to kelp holdfasts. They have a wide variety of shell colours, from white through to red orange yellow or even purple.

Starfish, Asterias rubens

Starfish, Asterias rubens

Occasionally during a spring low tide you may be lucky enough to spot a starfish such as Asterias rubens in a deep rockpool. They usually live offshore but a spring low tide reveals large portions of shore that would usually remain underwater throughout the movements of the tide.

Prawn, Palaemon elegans

Prawn, Palaemon elegans

The rock prawn, Palaemon elegans is the prawn you will most likely encounter in rockpools on the beaches around Cornwall. They are tolerant of a wide range of salinites, allowing them to be extremely successful in rockpools. They have unfortunately been introduced to North America and the Baltic Sea, where it is an invasive species and can out compete the native prawn populations.

Shrimp, Crangon crangon

Shrimp, Crangon crangon

The brown shrimp, Crangon crangon is an edible shrimp found mainly on sandy shores or estuaries.

Shore Crab, Carcinus maenas

Shore Crab, Carcinus maenas

The common shore crab, as the name suggests are the most commonly found crab on our shores here in the UK. They can be found in a variety of shell colours, from dark green to red or orange depending on habitat. These crabs can be carefully examined by picking them up by holding the very edges of their carapace (shell). The male crabs have a triangular shaped abdomen on their underside and the females have a larger, rounded abdomen which holds the eggs when spawning.

Bladder Wrack, Fucus vesiculosus Toothed Wrack, Fucus serratus Knotten Wrack, Ascophyllum nadosum

Bladder Wrack, Fucus vesiculosus Toothed Wrack, Fucus serratus Knotten Wrack, Ascophyllum nadosum

Fucoid algaes are seaweeds belonging to the family Fucaceae. In the UK our shores tend to be dominated by species belonging to this family. Bladder Wrack, Fucus vesiculosus, Toothed Wrack, Fucus serratus and Knotten Wrack, Ascophyllum nodosum are three large brown algae that most of us will recognise as typical “seaweed” on our beaches. The species can be tricky to tell apart, but there are a couple of clues. One is their location on the shore. Fucus vesiculosis and Ascophyllum nodosum are found on the mid shore and Fucus serratus on the low shore. Another is the exposure of the shore itself. Fucus vesiculoisis is more tolerant of high wave exposure, whereas Ascophyllum nodosum and Fucus serratus prefer sheltered bays. An identifying feature of Fucus serratus is the shape of its fronds. They have a distinctive serrated edge.

Rock Goby, Gobius paganellus

Rock Goby, Gobius paganellus

Did you see that dark fish shape quickly dart across the rockpool as you got close to it? Chances are it was either a blenny such as Liphophrys pholis or a rock goby Gobius paganellus. They hide under seaweed and rocks, but if you are patient and wait you may often get to see them venture out again. The distinguishable difference between a goby and a blenny is the dorsal fin. A blenny’s dorsal fin runs the whole way along the top of its body, whereas a goby’s is separated.

Purple Topshell, Gribbula umbilicalis

Purple Topshell, Gribbula umbilicalis

The purple topshell, Gibbula umbilicalis is a small sea snail and extremely common on rocky shores in the UK. It is greyish in colour, with broad purple stripes. Gibbula umbilicalis is identifiable from other similar topshells due to its large umbilicalis. This is a round deep hole on the underside of the animal’s shell, next to the aperture.

Prawn, Palaemon elegans

Prawn, Palaemon elegans

The rock prawn, Palaemon elegans is the prawn you will most likely encounter in rockpools on the beaches around Cornwall. They are tolerant of a wide range of salinites, allowing them to be extremely successful in rockpools. They have unfortunately been introduced to North America and the Baltic Sea, where it is an invasive species and can out compete the native prawn populations.

Periwinkle, Littorina littorea

Periwinkle, Littorina littorea

The common Periwinkle, Littorina littorea is a large (<5cm) snail with a pointed spire at the top of its shell. They are usually found in groups, towards the low shore. In Northern parts of Britain Littorina littorea has been shown to migrate down the shore in winter to avoid freezing in the air, returing back up the shore in the spring.

Mussell, Mytilus edulis

Mussell, Mytilus edulis

The common Mussel, Mytulis edulis can be found on almost all beaches in the South West. They can be found in extremely sheltered locations, such as on piers in estuaries, or on rocky shores that receive a pounding from the Atlantic surf. Strong threads, called byssus threads allow these mussels to remain attached despite high wave exposure. The mussels are filter feeders and you may observe them feeding in rockpools, opening up their shell like a hinge and filtering the water around them for food particles.

Moon Jellyfish, Aurelia aurita

Moon Jellyfish, Aurelia aurita

You may encounter the moon jellyfish, Aurelia aurita as they can sometimes become stranded in rockpools when the tide goes out. Also they can be washed up during an extended period of onshore winds. They are almost translucent but can be identified by their four C-shaped purple gonads contained within the medusa (dome shaped structure). Their tentacles are not potent enough to sting humans and the jellyfish feed on small zooplankton, crustaceans or polychaetes.

Author: Joe Weghofer, a recent graduate of Marine Biology from Bangor University.

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