The small town of Mumbles, which could be described as the gateway to the Gower Peninsula in South Wales, is a delightful old-fashioned seaside resort and former fishing village. It is the proud possessor of a pier and associated buildings, all undergoing extensive renovation right now. On the bouldery beach below the coffee shop and amusements, and under the pier itself, a strange seashore world exists, greatly influenced by the structure of the old pier.
Once you have walked down the steps to the shore, the first thing you notice is the noise of all the kittiwakes roosting on the old Life Boat Station next to the pier. The sound seems to bounce around the rusty superstructure of the pier. The sound they make, which is a rhythmic cacophony at times, is supposed to be like “kitti-way-ake” but to me they seem to be crying “get me out, get me out”:
It is a special kind of place where the ancient ironwork provides living space for many seashore creatures; with all the flotsam ensnared by the network of girders and struts – mainly a tangle of nylon fishing lines, nets, floats and ropes – supplying further opportunities for the settlement or shelter of marine invertebrates. We had gone there looking for feather stars but those eluded us this time (probably the wrong season). However, mussels and barnacles found it the ideal environment to thrive.
The cobble-sized beach stones and larger boulders, strewn liberally over the shore itself, were characterised by a few dominant species. Small Fucoid seaweeds were the most abundant form of algae with Toothed or Serrated Wrack (Fucus serratus) being the most common. This seaweed frequently provided the correct substrate for small colonial animals called Hydroids, in particular Dynamena pumila, which looked like a covering of stiff pale coloured hairs of varying densities.
Bright orange sponges, mostly Breadcrumb Sponge (Halichondria panicea), encrusted lots of the stones, sometimes obscured by a trapped layer of muddy sediment. Multiple generations of sessile barnacles occurred on most surfaces, being the main food source for Dog Whelks (Nucella lapillus) – of which there were many colour and pattern shell forms.
Curiously, a single small specimen of European Flat or Native Oyster (Ostrea edulis) was discovered on the underside of a large barnacle-encrusted beach stone. Oyster fishing was a lucrative industry in Mumbles at one time, so it is not surprising to find this species. It is however, unusual to find this first year individual underneath a stone rather than on top and in association with barnacles. Maybe the stone just rolled over.
Common Periwinkles (Littorina littorea) appeared in their hundreds and thousands where the ground was not over-shadowed by the pier – clustering on and around smooth rounded pebbles between the mainland and the two islands.
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