As the moon pulls at the sea, the tide retreats on Gylly beach. The splashing waves withdraw, revealing the hidden rockpool world. Soon the pools are still and calm, smooth and clear. Sunlight seeps into the shallow water. Seaweeds, gently suspended, paint the rocks a myriad of colours. Luscious greens, soft pinks and deep, warming reds. Iridescence catches the eye. Painted topshells, delicately brushed with silver and purple, glint and shimmer. Rainbow wrack glistens as it catches the light. A strawberry anemone, speckled with green, slowly reveals it’s swaying tentacles.
Beneath every barnacle brazen rock there is life to be discovered. Flipping each rock is like unwrapping a birthday present. You brim with anticipation, eager to discover what’s underneath. Sometimes, as the sediment settles, you’re underwhelmed. At first glance, there’s no movement – just more limpets and periwinkles. But you’re hopeful, and carefully examine the rock surface. Nestled next to a limpet’s turret is a neat grouping of small star ascidian. These tiny colonial sea-squirts lie so flat against the rock they almost appear embedded. A spiny starfish edges gradually along. A slow-motion hunter, looking for its next meal. Its spiny surface looks brash and unfriendly, but up close a wonderful landscape of texture and colour revealed. Slight movement catches your eye. A grey topshell wobbles. When you pick it up, the shell seems unoccupied. A relic of a lost owner, perhaps? Gradually a pair of striped claws emerge. Beady eyes and antennae follow, nervously. Disguised and protected, a common hermit crab has claimed this shell as his home.
Quite often, the bigger the rock, the better. A surge of thrill runs through you when there is a thrash of movement in the water. A velvet swimmer thrusts its claws forward in anticipation of an attack, its piercing red eyes glaring forward. It’s back legs, well adapted for rapid movement, paddle it to safety. The sound of splashing grabs your attention. A dark fish wriggles in the shallow water. As you reach down it briskly slips between your fingers and into the open. It’s a 5-bearded rockling, identified by its slender inky black body and five delicate facial barbels. The fish is nimble and knows where to hide. It darts into a crevice, offering you a fleeting glimpse.
Occasionally, some rocks will uncover exceptional treats and unexpected surprises. This may be something undeniably beautiful, or something entirely new to you. It’s usually both. A feeling of privilege and wonder fills your heart when you find something you’ve never seen before. Yesterday, I had this experience. Firstly, Ted pointed out a dahlia anemone – well hidden between the fronds of red algae. Then, a two-spotted goby emerged into full view. This is a subtle beauty of a fish, mottled with browns and creams and flecked with azure-blue spots down its flank. Finally, I glimpsed a bright, lime-green juvenile Ballan wrasse, perfectly at home amongst the sea-lettuce.
Eventually, the waves return. Water sprays, splashes and trickles into the pools. Soon Falmouth’s seashore kingdom is hidden once again.
Rockpooling is a fantastic way to spend a few hours. If you live in Falmouth, or anywhere else near the coast, I urge you to go and explore. Who knows what rockpool wonders you might discover?