We have had our fair share of stormy weather and high winds this winter, which means that when a bright day dawns it is perfect for exploring the flotsam and jetsam cast up on the shore by all that wild weather.
It’s great fun, and you can even contribute to real science and nature conservation simply by recording your finds with organisations such as the Shark Trust.
We got down to the beach at Eastbourne this week because I wanted to explore the idea of weathering and erosion by showing the boys
the difference between the pebbles at Eastbourne and those further along the coast at Hastings. Under the chalk cliffs of Beachy Head are plentiful largish chalk pebbles. As you walk along the beach towards Hastings these get progressively smaller.
If you then drive into Hastings to look at the beach there, you will find virtually no chalk. this is excellent for getting the kids thinking about the life of a pebble, carried along the coast by the action of the waves as part of ‘longshore drift’ and eroded by being smashed into each other and by the action of the water itself.
The stormy weather added an extra dimension to our day, however, as we found our greatest haul of mermaids purses yet.
By exploring the section between just two groynes, we quickly discovered twenty mermaid’s purses, as well as a selection of other intriguing finds such as a large clumps of whelk egg cases and crab shells (plus a fair amount of washed up litter, fishing twine, bits of rope and lumps of palm oil which we bagged and binned).
Mermaid’s purses are the egg cases of certain types of sharks, rays and skates and are always fun to fin, but on this day we came across
two which were larger than anything we have found before. A quick internet search gave us an ID sheet from the Shark Trust, plus details of how to submit our findings to their citizen science project.
I still couldn’t work out what the largest case was, it looked to me like the picture of the egg case of the rare Blue Skate (one of two species formerly called ‘common skates’) but I knew from reading up on it that this was highly unlikely, so I dropped the Shark Trust an email with images of our finds.
Conservation Officer Cat Gordon quickly messaged me back with the following “This one (above) is a Blonde Ray eggcase rather than a Blue Skate – it has much longer upper and lower horns, but is still quite a large eggcase. Your other finds are two Thornback Rays (next to the Blonde Ray in the middle and the far right of the line up), with the rest Undulate Rays and Smallspotted Catsharks”. We were over the moon to have found such a diversity of egg cases in such a small section of the beach and will follow up by looking up each of the species and finding out more about them.
If you would like to get involved in some fun citizen science, have a look here for details of the Great Eggcase Hunt Project, along with ID guides and tips for finding, identifying and recording what you come across. Don’t forget to let me know what you find if you do head down to the beach!
We then spend the afternoon looking at our finds through the microscope, which revealed a whole new world of detail in the leg and shell of a crab, and the fine branching sections of the plant-like bryozoa.
Fascinating view of crab leg.
Crab eye, magnified by binocular viewing microscope.
Shell of a young edible crab.
Bryozoa under the microscope and life sized.
Notes: Usual safety precautions apply to visiting the beach, such as being aware of tides and wearing appropriate clothing for the weather. Never get close to cliffs as rock falls are common and can be lethal. I have no affiliation with the Shark trust, but found their website and staff very helpful.