Monday, 19 August 2013

Rock pooling magic

Jessica Riederer, Seasonal Education Officer
What better way to celebrate marine week than to spend an afternoon rock pooling with incredibly keen children and their families.  

Pulling into the car park at West Runton beach on 7 August with colleague Seasonal Education Officer Bethan Painter, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself – it was going to be a very good day!  Despite over hanging cloud, the sea was calm, the tide was out and the rock pools with their stunning array of browns, oranges and greens were calling.  

 After handing out equipment and guides, more than 40 kids, parents and grandparents were eagerly gathered, buckets and nets in hand, ready to go. A few families had never been rock pooling before, but most knew what they were about to embark on and the energy emerging from the crowd prior to stepping down onto West Runton’s rocky shore was brilliant.  

I can never get enough of rock pools – their multi coloured wracks and algae, transparent common prawns and camouflaged (and incredibly quick) sand shrimp, paramoudras hosting powerful Cromer crabs, and bright read beadlet anemones peeking out from below barnacle-covered rocks – it all makes me incredibly happy. Despite the abundance of life, occasionally a family will say, ‘We are not finding anything,’ but when they are encouraged to crouch down low, or even sit next to a pool and just look - I love to see a smile creep across a face as one realizes that there is indeed so much to be discovered.  
Shore crab, photo by Georgina Dean
For many kids, it’s all about crabs. No matter how many times a child finds a crab it seems to fill them with immense satisfaction. From tiny dewdrop-sized transparent crabs to adult hand-sized Cromer crabs covered in barnacles – all are equally appreciated. Crabs are cool, I definitely agree – but it is the smaller majority that really fascinates me.  

Limpets for example, often get overlooked.  Limpets can live to be over 20 years of age to begin with, and that’s a long life for a snail that spends his days clinging to a rock. Did you know they remain on the same piece of rock for their entire lives?  When young limpets have found a suitable place to live, they will grind their shells into the rock to create a depression known as a Home scar.  When the tide is in, Limpets will leave their Home scar to graze on algae – but they will return back to the same place day after day, year after year.  Were it not for limpets, exploring our rock pools would be far more challenging as the rocks would be coated in thick algae.  

Tiny multi-coloured blennies with their bodies covered in their protective layer of slime are also a favourite of mine. These curious fish are fantastic to watch darting about in the pools. Why are they covered in slime? They can actually cram their bodies into rock crevices and can remain out of water for hours waiting for the tide to return.  The slime prevents their bodies from drying out.   
Of course, everyone has their favourite rock pooling bits to talk about, so half way through any two hour session we all gather to share and celebrate each other’s finds. Kids and parents clamber across the rocks with their buckets of wonder – every one eager to show us their discoveries.   Unfortunately we always have to mention that we are unable to discuss and celebrate all of our young scientists finds – otherwise we would literally be gathered all day – but we always choose a few species to discuss. One thing I learned really quickly is that it is very important to acknowledge the discoverer of any animal we choose to talk about. The pride a child feels when we discuss ‘his’ hermit crab or ‘her’ shrimp – and the opportunity for the child to tell us where he/ she found the animal is clearly an important part of their rock pooling experience.  

Scientists believe that more than half of the UK’s wildlife lives in our seas. Joining us for a rock pooling session gives children and adults the opportunity to discover and learn about just some of it.  We could all come up with a multitude of reasons why we need to take care of our seas.  Slowing down, looking closely, gently handling an animal, replacing it in its home carefully – and developing a sense of awe and wonder – these are all skills worth fostering in children. It never ceases to amaze me that despite being visited by families day after day, West Runton’s rockpools continue to host a spectacular variety of wildlife.  We can help ensure they continue to do so by moving carefully amongst them and always returning wildlife to the zone in which they were found.   

Our next Rock pooling sessions take place on Tuesday 20 August from 11:30 – 1:30 pm, Friday 23 August 2 – 4 pm.  We hope to see you there!

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