Summer of Surprises!

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St Piran's Crab. Credit: Steph House

The summer season is now coming to an end here at Wembury Marine Centre, but what a year it’s been! This season we have opened our doors to almost 25,000 visitors, worked with 2500 school and college students and engaged with 2000 members of the public through our marine outreach programme.

Our regular Rockpool Safaris are a firm favourite for families and this season we have found some amazingly weird and wonderful species. Here is my top five for 2016:

St Piran’s hermit crab, Clibanarius erythropus

Back in August, one of our long term volunteers John Hepburn found what he thought to be a ‘normal’ Common hermit crab on one of our public rockpool safaris. Upon closer inspection he realised it looked a bit different, but being colour blind he couldn’t really tell. He took a few close up pictures and when we had a look on the computer back in the Centre, we realised this was no normal hermit crab! It turned out to be the St Piran’s Hermit Crab, Clibanarius erythropus, which hadn’t been recorded in Devon for more than 30 years! St Piran’s hermit crabs are different to the Common hermit crab, Pagurus bernhardus, in that they have distinctly red legs and claws and red eye stalks with black and white eyes. It is thought that the hermit crabs (along with the dog whelk shells they often live in) were heavily affected by the Torrey Canyon oil spill back in the late 60s, which wiped out much of their population. Our find made the national news and we have since found quite a few more individuals. Let’s hope they have made a comeback and are here to stay!

Giant goby, Gobius cobitis

In the UK, the giant goby is usually only found along the coast of south-west England between Wembury and the Isles of Scilly, and in the Channel Islands. This large goby, reaching a maximum length of 27cm, is quite a rare find in Britain because here they are on the northern edge of their natural range, although climate change may see them move further north in the future. These large intertidal fish are usually found in sheltered rockpools higher up on the shore. Given their rarity and the fact that they are vulnerable to human disturbance and trampling, giant gobies are now a protected species and you must have a licence to handle them! They can be easily confused with other goby species, so as soon as we’d taken a picture of this one in our tub and realised it might be a Giant goby, we put it straight back where we found it, as we do with all our creatures on our rockpool safaris!

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Giant goby. Credit: Devon Wildlife Trust

Common lobster, Homarus gammarus

Again it was volunteer John who found the first Common lobster ever to be spotted on a Wembury rockpool safari! Trying out his new weighted camera, he left it in our favourite large rockpool for the duration of our safari and when he got home and looked over the footage, he found the young lobster excavating a burrow! Common lobsters are very rare to find in rockpools, usually preferring the relative safety of deeper waters. They can grow to a maximum size of 75cm but the one we found was probably about 25cm max. Common lobsters have been over exploited commercially in British waters and their numbers greatly reduced. Our Mr lobster (we don’t actually know if he’s male or female!) has been seen poking his claws out numerous times throughout the season and was still there today on our penultimate rockpool safari of the year, so let’s hope he’s found himself a safe haven! PS: interesting fact about lobsters – they don’t ever slow down, weaken or lose fertility with age as they have a special enzyme which repairs DNA sequences. So theoretically, they could live forever if it wasn’t for fishing, disease or being preyed upon!

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Common Lobster. Credit: John Hepburn

Stalked jellyfish, Lucernariopsis campanulata

These tiny upside-down jellyfish are extremely hard to spot and so often completely missed when rockpooling. Stalked jellyfish usually attach themselves to the ends of fronds of seaweed or seagrass and float around in the water catching bits of plankton. The one we found had attached itself to a beautiful piece of sea lettuce. This species in particular can grow up to 5cm tall but is usually found much smaller and its colour varies from a uniform red to green to brown.  It has eight arms with about 45 tentacles on each arm and is an absolute delight to find when you’re least expecting it!

Bloody henry starfish, Henricia oculata

It wouldn’t be right to talk about rockpooling at Wembury without including at least one species of starfish! The small Cushion stars are very common here; almost every rock you turn over on the mid shore will have one stuck to its underneath, but they never fail to evoke the wow factor, from little ones right up to grandparents. The much larger Spiny starfish are fairly common here too and one of my absolute favourite finds on a rockpool safari. But one species we weren’t expecting to find was the Bloody henry starfish! Arguably one of the most striking and beautiful of all of the UK’s starfish, it gets its name from its deep red, pink or purple colouring. Usually preferring deeper water, this species would be much more likely to be spotted by a diver rather than a young rock pooler, but our ‘extreme rockpool safari’ on a brilliant low spring tide back in April saw us rambling further out on to the rocky reef than we’d usually go, and our efforts were repaid with a young girl and her family discovering this treasure!

All in all it was a wonderful summer of surprises for us here at Wembury Marine Centre.  If you’d like to see more of the weird and wonderful marine life we’ve found this year then head to our Facebook page: www.faceboom.com/wemburymarine.

Coral Smith

Coral Smith

Coral Smith lives in South Devon in the UK and works as Marine Education Officer for Devon Wildlife Trust. Based at Wembury Marine Centre near Plymouth, Coral’s work involves promoting marine conservation through schools education, public outreach and community involvement.

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