The coast of East Grampian is a varied one – harbours and settlements, long sandy beaches, cliffs and coves and of course brilliant rock pools. This guide is to help you understand the unique conditions that affect plants and animals on rocky beaches and how they survive. It will give you some tips on how to go rock pooling, what you might find and a code to help you ensure our coastal heritage survives for us all to enjoy in the future.
But the most important thing you can read in this guide is: Rock pooling can be enjoyed by everyone – from age one to 100, and beyond.
- At the top of the beach is the splash zone – splashed occasionally by the waves but never submerged. Very little lives here – it is a sort of limbo zone where terrestrial plants do not survive because they can’t tolerate the salt spray, but marine life can’t survive because it’s too dry. Lichens live here.
- On the upper shore it is more dry than it is wet but it does get submerged during the peak of the high tide. Things that can survive long periods out of the water live here, such as periwinkles and dog whelks.
- The middle shore is wet for longer period but is still completely exposed to the air at times. Here you will find barnacles, limpets and wracks - a type of seaweed.
- The lower shore is below the mean low water mark so is only occasionally exposed during low spring tides. Here you will find the kelps.
Everything on the beach is affected by the tides. On average there are two tides a day - twice a day the beach will be covered in seawater and twice a day it will be uncovered. These changes result in a hard life for the plants and animals living on the shore. The habitat alternates between wet and dry, hot and cold, salty and not salty due to the effects of the tides, sun, rain and evaporation.
These plants and animals should be treated with respect – they have a hard enough time of it as it is!
- Hide-Many animals would rather just hide than expose themselves to the hazards of waves – look under rocks and in crevices and you will find the more vulnerable, less protected animals- anemones, worms, shrimps, etc.
- Holdfasts-Terrestrial plants get water from the soil through their roots but seaweeds live in water so don’t need root for this purpose. They do, however, need to hold on by using ‘holdfasts’ which they attach to rocks; these can sometimes look like roots
Plants and animals on the shore are pounded by waves and pulled by currents so have various methods of holding on.
- Glue/cement-Barnacles permanently fix themselves to the rocks using a cement-like substance and never move once they are settled.
- Suck hard! Some animals suck onto the rocks with a big muscular ‘foot’ – periwinkles, dogwhelks, the snail type things.
- Tying up- Mussels exude sticky threads, which they hope will become entangled on seaweed or other life, and hold them on.
GOING ROCK POOLING
There are many good places to go rock pooling south of Aberdeen including Catterline, Stonehaven, and Muchalls. North of Aberdeen the coast changes and there are miles and miles of sandy beach. There are some sites for rock pooling though – Rockend on Forvie NNR, Collieston and Peterhead Lido.
Before you go check the tides. Tide times can usually be found in local newspapers and times for the next seven days can easily be found on the Internet. There are about six hours between high tide and low tide, so try to time your visit so that you are there at low tide to catch sight of the things at the bottom of the beach before the sea covers them again.
What to take?
You can enjoy rock pools by taking absolutely nothing at all and just be amazed by looking at things where they live. For a more detailed investigation the following items may be of use:
- Appropriate footwear – In the winter, wellies keep your feet dry but can be slippery. In the summer, beach shoes or sandals that can get wet are fine but watch those exposed toes. The best things if you have them are wetsuit boots.
- A tub or bucket – clean, empty margarine tubs are great for seeing life that you collect and want a closer look at.
- A net – tea strainers are brilliant for catching smaller beasties, or a small aquarium net. Large nets on long sticks can be a bit unwieldy and a hazard to others around you.
- Wipes or gel – if it is not possible to get to a tap and soap, take something to wash your hands before you have anything to eat or drink after you go rock pooling.
- Guide book.
THE ROCK POOL CODE
- Walk round rock pools rather than through them. If you have to go through one do so very carefully without trampling life in it.
- Carefully lift and replace any rocks or seaweed you move – animals need them for shelter.
- Take care when touching animals – some animals are very delicate and are easily damaged. Some may give you a nip or sting such as anemones (pronounced an-em-on-ees), so it is best to look
- Don’t touch jellyfish – some can give a nasty sting, even when dead, so it is best not to touch them at all.
- Don’t touch dead birds – they can carry nasty diseases, which humans can catch.
- If you take an animal from in or around a rock pool for a closer look, please replace it where you found it.
- Only collect empty shells from the beach and only take a few.
- Better still take photos as a lasting reminder.
- Take care – rocks that are wet or covered in seaweed can be very slippery, and be aware of the incoming tide.