Risk and reward – the Roa Island shore walk 2019

September 2nd, 2019
Sand mason worms against the sunset at Roa, August 31 2019. By Barry

The drive up to Roa on Saturday was not very promising, with periods of torrential rain it was no surprise that only a few made the effort… In the event, however, other than a strong wind, the evening was very pleasant. We spent the first little while, however, spelling one of the lifeboat crew watching some kayakers to make sure they reached Piel Island safely!

Due to the wind we spent a little more time than usual to the West of the lifeboat jetty. The mud flats here are the home of a large number of sand mason worms (pictured above), and scattered with common starfish, which have been stranded by the tide as they hunt for cockles in the mud. Starfish have a hydrostatic skeleton, so are completely incapacitated in the absence of water. It is clear from the sad, deflated bodies, that a few do not survive exposure, but for many the chance of a meal must be worth the risk…

The visit also allowed me to take a plankton sample, which looks very different to the one I took on the dive in July, when there were no phytoplankton, and few zooplankton. The rougher weather recently may have helped spur some activity, as the sample from Saturday had high concentrations of phytoplankton, and lots of zooplankton and larvae, to recolonise the Bay. A few weeks can make a massive difference!

Barry Kaye

Posted in Marine science update, Shore walks

Roa dive July 2019

July 29th, 2019
Scorpion fish hiding on the bottom at Roa, 26 July 2019, by Lewis Bambury.
The scorpion fish Taurulus bubais (photo by Lewis) waiting for something tasty to swim by (thankfully we are a little too big for it).

After a string of possible dates this year that we were unable to get in at Roa Island we finally managed a dive on Friday (we had to bring it forward a day to miss the worst of the weather). It was well worth the effort. Visibility was only 2 to 3 metres at best but that is plenty to search the reef for interesting macro life. Our species list – which for invertebrate species goes back to 1968 – grew by at least 2 new species. First to be found were several Goldsinny (Ctenolabrus rupestris), unusual not just as a first for that species, but the first species of wrasse to appear on the list.

Goldsinny, photo at Roa by Barry Kaye, July 2019
Goldsinny, photo at Roa by Barry, July 2019

The next was a nudibranch (that’s a fancy name for a sea slug) called Jorunna tomentosa (pictured below) – it doesn’t have an English name. Both are common species around the coasts of the UK, so of course may have been here all the time, but this is the first time we have them on record here.

The nudibranch 'Jorunna tomentosa' photod by Lewis Bambury at Roa, July 2019
Jorunna tomentosa feeding on one of the sponges (possibly Haliclona sp.) common at Roa. Photo by Lewis Bambury, July 2019

There are many predators in the marine ecosystem and animals have a variety of strategies to help them find food, and avoid being eaten. The Long-spined Scorpionfish is a master of disguise – hiding in plain site by blending its skin colour in with its background; if a crab or small fish comes too close they will be grabbed at lightening speed, predators large enough to tackle it will need sharp eyes to see it, and if they do this fish has a back-up plan – the eponymous long spine on its gill cover, just visible in this picture.

Perhaps the most suprising thing about the dive was the water temperature – depending in depth it ranged from 18ºC to 20ºC. I don’t think that I’ve dived in water that warm either at Roa Island or anywhere else around the Irish Sea. Unfortunately I can’t check my dive logs after a computer glitch trashed them a couple of years ago.

Thanks to Philip and Rebecca for providing shore cover!

Lewis Bambury, July 2019.

Posted in dive trips, Shore walks

The scar at Sandylands

June 6th, 2017

Walking out to the Sandylands fishtrap with reef or scar in the background.

I think we approached the evening of Saturday 27th May with some concern, the hot weather earlier in the week had turned to heavy thunder storms, and our walk accross to the scar at Sandylands looked rather questionable! In the event the weather abated, and the rain only appeared on our walk back, allowing us to enjoy a rather interesting and historic marine landscape.

Scars (or skears) are a common geological formation in the Bay, periodically adding a bit of texture in the form of glacial boulder-clay deposites to flat mud and sands. Off Sandylands this feature has clearly been of historic importance, given the number of posts indicating fish traps. Apparently these had been in use until the early 1960’s, and while they looked like conventional fish traps, (a ‘V’ shape narrowing to trap the fish in its point as the tide goes out), anecdotally they may have been associated more with mussel farming. Indeed the reef is in part covered by a large mound of mussel shells. Interspersed in the mussel shells were oyster shells – our local species of oyster was wiped out by disease a hundred years ago, and these worn shells my have been relicts of the time when they were still plentiful.

Gordon talking about some of the finds

Many of the boulders in the scar were completely covered in barnacles, or the swirling patterns of the honeycombe worm reefs. Other animals of interest included anemones, sandhoppers, a grey nudibranch, and tiny common and hermit crabs, that have recently settled to the bottom from their planktonic larval stages.

All in all, an excellent and educational experience. Many thanks to Gordon for organising this, and making an appearance despite having raced in the thunderstorms earlier in the day!

Atmospheric walk back to Morecambe

Posted in Events, Shore walks

Roa Island survey

April 28th, 2017

Roa shore walk group April 2017

A big thanks to everyone who turned out for the beach walk and survey at Roa on Thursday night. The weather did not look very promising in Lancaster, but it was very sunny (though a cold wind) at Roa.

We split into two groups: The main group took a look at the life in the rock pools below the Lifeboat station, always a good hunting area, and saw a wide range of life, including plumose anemones exposed by the extreme low water. The high spot included a small lobster, I think the first time we have seen one on a beach walk, though they are a fairly common sight when diving at this time of year.

I turned to the rather less glamorous task of running a transect down the beach, which proved to be quite hard to complete before the tide turned!

Photograph of a curled octopus

We were joined by Albert towards the end of the evening; he spotted the star find – a curled octopus swimming in the surface waters within a meter of the shore. – I have added the photo above due to popular demand! The octopus was bright red in the water, but quickly changed color to white on capture. He (or she) returned to the original red colouration on release, and continued surface swimming…

I was asked about the guide we were using – this was ‘Seashore Safaris’ by Judith Oakley, and is published by Graffeg.

Posted in Shore walks

World Ocean Day at Freeport Fleetwood

June 24th, 2016

Thanks to everybody who made the recent World Oceans day at Freeport Fleetwood such a success. Trawls in Fleetwood harbour resulted in us finding and identifying nearly 50 species, many of which were available for visitors to Freeport to see, and touch – before being returned safe and unharmed on the Saturday evening! Stars of the event included a European eel, a lobster, a greater pipefish and several species of flatfish.

More from this event on That’s Lancashire TV (via YouTube):

Posted in Conservation, Events, Marine science update, Shore walks

Heysham Safari

September 28th, 2015

Photograph of children rock-pooling at Heysham safari 2015

The Bay ‘Super-Estuary’: After the last ice age, the ice sheets that scoured out Morecambe Bay retreated, leading to the formation of the Irish Sea, and flooding the Bay itself. While it still reaches depths of 80m at Lune Deeps, most of the Bay has been filled in with sediment brought down by the rivers Wyre, Lune, Keer, Kent and Leven to form the largest network of intertidal mudflats in the UK.

Satellite imagery shows that the bay as a whole has a very high primary productivity. Fixing around 1.5kg of organic carbon per square meter every year, this ecosystem is one of the most productive in the world. Despite this powerhouse of growth, life in the Bay tends to keep itself hidden, so on Saturday 28th September, Gordon Fletcher led a ‘Heysham Safari’, to expose some of its less commonly spotted inhabitants.

The event, organised with Morecambe Bay Partnership, was a great success, with twenty five participants filling the restaurant at the Royal Hotel, Heysham, for Gordon’s talk! The talk was followed by a shore walk around Throbshaw Point, where we found and identified 26 species in a little over an hour.

Thanks to everyone for attending, and helping to make for such an enjoyable occasion!

Posted in MCS talks, Shore walks

Roa Island Beach Walk and Dive

August 10th, 2015

The evening of Saturday 1st August was overcast, with a cold wind, but dry. A small band of us worked down the beach by the new ferry jetty at Roa, following the tide out. The access way used in the construction of the new pier is still comparatively free of marine life, as are the scour pits around the jetty supports, it will be interesting to see how quickly this area gets re-colonised!

Male edible crab (Cancer pagarus) with parasitic barnacle.
Above: One of the interesting finds form the shore walk was this edible crab (Cancer pagurus) carrying a parasitic barnacle.

Peering in rock-pools and under stones we found a range of plants and animals, including the small male edible crab shown above. Despite being male (indicated by the narrow abdomen tucked up under the carapace) he appears to bearing eggs, but the abdomen is actually tucked around the reproductive organs of a parasitic barnacle (Sacculina triangularis). She will have infected the crab by burrowing into his shell shortly after he moulted. Over a period of time she invades the host’s tissues, and re-programs him, castrating him, dictating future moults (despite his small size, this crab may be quite old!) and re-directing much of his energy to the developing barnacle young.

The young barnacles will be released in the nauplius stage of development, when the females will go on to infect future generations of crabs, whilst the males will develop only as far as cyprids, in which stage they will impregnate established females. Parasitic barnacles are common on crabs, and some crab species have infection rates of up to 50% of the adult population. As a consequence parasites are an important factor in limiting crab populations.

Spider crab camoflaged in sponges.
Above: Spider crab (Macropodia sp.) wearing sponge camouflage.

On Saturday 8th August we made the most of a narrow weather window to get a dive at Roa, effectively taking the shore walk out into the permanently submerged part of the channel. Diving conditions were very good for the area, with underwater visibility between 0.5 and 1m. I was paying a bit more attention to seaweeds on this occasion, to try and make up for years of neglect in our usual species hunt, and they were a good range of species between sea level (ca. 2m tide) and about 5m depth. The water in the Bay is generally quite murky, largely as a consequence of the amounts of phytoplankton in the water. These phytoplankton blooms make the Bay one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet, but paradoxically they make life difficult for permanently attached seaweeds, which tend to be stunted, and restricted to comparatively shallow water. Otherwise we saw lots of anemones, crabs, sponges and butterfish. The numbers of peacock worms may be down on previous years, but the general impression is one of a thriving ecosystem.

The butterfish, Pholis gunnellus, a common sighting at Roa.
Above: The butterfish Pholis gunnellus is a common sight at Roa. It gets its name from its slippery, slime-covered body. In previous years we have seen young butterfish taking refuge within the tentacles of the larger anemones (Urticina spp.), where their slime may protect them from being stung and eaten by the anemone, whilst the anemone protects them from other predators.

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Posted in dive trips, Science, Shore walks

Beach clean (8th July)

August 9th, 2015

Cuttlebone - provides lift for the Cuttlefish, allowing it to hover in the water without expending energy swimming.
Cuttlebone – provides lift for the Cuttlefish, allowing it to hover in the water without expending energy swimming.

A few interesting natural history finds amidst the litter on the the July Beach Clean at Half Moon Bay, Heysham. These included a dead porpoise, two adult cuttlebones and some wireweed (Sargassum muticum).

Cuttlebones are the internalised shells of cuttlefish, formed of delicate lemellae and filled with gas, the organ holds the live cuttlefish at a fixed height in the water column, without them having to expend energy swimming. They also limit the maximum depth this animal can attain, as below 50m or so the cuttlebone would implode. A mating pair of cuttlefish were seen by group members at Roa Island some years ago.

The porpoise was a rather sad sight, there are not many reports of these animals in Morecambe Bay, with its shallow waters and treacherous tides. The state of decomposition suggested that the corpse may have drifted in from elsewhere…

Wireweed is not native to British waters, having been introduced accidentally with Pacific Oysters, which are bred around the coastline.

Posted in Beach Clean, Science, Shore walks

Morecambe Bay Kite Festival

July 5th, 2015

Kathy manning the stand at the Kite Festival.

The MCS had a stall at the Catch The Wind Kite Festival in Morecambe for the first time this year. The event had good weather, and there were a lot of people passing through, listening to music, or admiring the kites. We had quite a few people drop in on the stall, and I was pleased to see that many of the kites were marine themed, including an octopus and a pair of blue whales!

We are very grateful to the event organisers MoreMusic for providing us with space at this event, and to Kathy for enthusiastically manning our stand!

Red herring pennants flying at Kite Festival 2015

Above: Red (green and blue) herrings flying above the promenade at Morecambe during the kite festival, June 2015.

Posted in Events, Shore walks, Uncategorized

Events in June

May 28th, 2015

With the start of summer, we have a lot of practical events coming up for you! We begin with two events celebrating World Environment Day:

Friday 5th June 14:30-18:00: Gordon is leading the ‘Morecambe Bay Safari’ at the Royal Hotel, Heysham. This is followed by a guided beach walk. Meeting organised by MBP; £5 admission, booking essential: morecambebay.org.uk/events/marine-life-bay

Friday 5th June 18:00 to 18:00 6th June: Members of the MCS will be helping out at the Stanah BioBlitz (Wyre Estuary Country Park, River Road, Stanah, FY5 5LR). We will have a stand at this event on the Saturday, but local members will be available for much of the rest of the event, helping to ID marine life from two boat trawls of the estuary itself.

Following this we have our first meeting of the year at Capernwray Dive Centre:

Wednesday 10th June 19:30-20:30 Morecambe Bay Cycle Way by Louise Smail. This will look at the new cycle way which now runs along the whole length of the Bay. Admission £2, all welcome. Download our poster (PDF, 102kB), or view the location in Google Maps.

Saturday 20th June 11:00 to 11:00 21st June: The Formby BioBlitz will be attended by members of the National MCS

Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th June we hope to have a stand at the Morecambe Bay Kite Festival

hope you can join us!

Barry Kaye
(Chairman, Lancashire MCS)

Posted in MCS talks, Shore walks