Hill End to Spaniard Rocks & Back: Step-by-Step Part 6

As my walk continued from Hill End northwards on Rhossili beach, the dark drift patterns and fine strandline debris covering the sand eventually faded away to be replaced by dry sand ripple and swash/backwash patterns before arriving at the extreme north-east corner of Rhossili beach. This is the place where much of the flotsam ends up. It is not that Gower visitors are careless with their trash. Most of this stuff comes from far afield – sometimes as far away as South America. It does get periodically cleared away but is difficult to manage because the rubbish arrives and leaves with each tide, and can get buried or revealed from one high water to the next. Bicycle wheels, brightly coloured plastic pieces, fishing net and ropes, toothbrushes, balloon stoppers, and flip flops are common items along with the driftwood. The pile of organic and plastic rubbish lies adjacent to Spaniard Rocks which connect the tidal island of Burry Holms to Llangennith Burrows.

The geology here is interesting but on this occasion I focussed on the seaweeds which attach to the rocks along the water-filled channel between Burry Holm and Spaniard Rocks. There are many types intermingled. They include amongst others the brown Fucoid algae such as Toothed Wrack (Fucus serratus) , Spiral or Flat Wrack (Fucus spiralis), and Egg or Knotted Wrack (Ascophyllum nodosum). Bladder Wrack or Pop Weed (Fucus vesiculosus) was also present but not in its typical form. The numerous small, paired, almost spherical air bladders typical of the species were few and far between on specimens in the area where I was looking – so that there is confusion in my mind as to the identity of some of the weed I have named as Spiral Wrack.

There were also some red algae of the thin bladed type that dry out between tides into blackened streaks on the rocks (of the kind to which the lavabread seaweed belongs). Another red alga was the Sand Binder seaweed (Rhodothamniella floridula) which forms small humps of fine filaments trapping sand grains on rocks low on the shore; it is often found beneath the taller stalked fucoids. Finely branching red Polysiphonia lanosa was epiphytically attached to the Egg Wrack.

Of special interest this visit was the fact that the seaweeds were getting ready to reproduce. The Spiral Wrack had swollen receptacles on the forked frond tips that were not fully ripened yet. However, the Egg Wrack was ready to go. It has separate males and females. The male receptacles are bright golden green studded with orange pustules (conceptacles) that release a colourful fluid containing the sperms. I had seen these and reported on them before. This time I also saw the female receptacles which were dull green and covered with minute darker almost black blisters (conceptacles) containing the eggs. It almost seems as if you can see the eggs when you zoom in on the picture – actually just the light bouncing off the ripe eggs within the pustule.

Dissolving Limestone at Spaniard Rocks

Shallow pools in Carboniferous Limestone with acid etching on the margins

Naturally-occurring acids in rain and sea water help in the process of weathering by which rocks are eroded. For the first time I recently noticed the patterned and textured edges of shallow depressions with just a centimetre or so of water on the horizontal surfaces of the Carboniferous Limestone at Spaniard Rocks on Rhossili Bay. These little pools seem to be showing evidence of the acid erosion process. You can almost literally see the rock dissolving around edges of the small pools.

Shallow pool in Carboniferous Limestone with acid etching on the margins

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Colour in the Cave at Spaniard Rocks

Natural colours and patterns on High Tor Carboniferous Limestone in a Gower cave

Natural patterns of what are probably bacterial and algal encrusting growths cover the damp rock surface in the recess of a small limestone cave near Spaniard Rocks on the Gower Peninsula. These give green, red, orange, blue and purple patches. The High Tor Limestone rock itself adds to the effect with the inclusion of minerals like iron that tint the rock shades of yellow and orange.

Natural colours and patterns on High Tor Carboniferous Limestone in a Gower cave

Natural colours and patterns on High Tor Carboniferous Limestone in a Gower cave

Natural colours and patterns on High Tor Carboniferous Limestone in a Gower cave

Natural colours and patterns on High Tor Carboniferous Limestone in a Gower cave

Natural colours and patterns on High Tor Carboniferous Limestone in a Gower cave

Natural colours and patterns on High Tor Carboniferous Limestone in a Gower cave

Natural colours and patterns on High Tor Carboniferous Limestone in a Gower cave

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Oiled Guillemot

Oiled Guillemot - Living Guillemot, Uria aalge, stranded on Spaniard Rocks, flightless with oil on its feathers, Rhossili Bay, Gower, South Wales, 13th December 2012.

This poor bird was stranded flightless on Spaniard Rocks at Rhossili Bay one very cold and windy day last week. It was unable to fly because of oil on its feathers – which it was frantically trying to preen off. It is a Guillemot showing the characteristic winter head plumage pattern with a dark line running back from the outer corner of the eye.

It wasn’t possible to rescue it. The tide was rising fast and the location was very far from any source of help. Trying to capture and carry it would have been too hazardous – its beak was like a dagger. Only recently someone tried to rescue a bird here in similar circumstances. They had the bird wrapped up safely and got as far as the car when the bird panicked, the guy lost his grip, and then lost his eye as the bird attacked him. Warning enough.

Strangely enough, there was no sign of any oil on the beach. I had been walking up and down it for a total of eighteen hours over three consecutive days and saw not the slightest trace. So it is a mystery as to where the bird had become contaminated. Some small illegal discharge from shipping far out at sea, perhaps, that later became rapidly dispersed or sank in the rough water.

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Greenleaf Worm Image

Image

A fairly decent photograph of the marine polychaete Greenleaf Worm (Eulalia viridis) in which you can see the rows of paddles along each side of the animal attached to each separate segment of the body.

Other posts on Greenleaf Worms:

Greenleaf Worms at Spaniard Rocks, Rhossili

Green Leaf Worms – video clips

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Green Leaf Worm – video clips

These short movie clips relate to an earlier post called Green Leaf Worms at Spaniard Rocks.

The Green Leaf Worm is a marine polychaete worm – Eulalia viridis (Linnaeus) – that can be found moving around looking for food among the barnacles, mussels, and other encrusting organisms that cover the rocks exposed as the tide goes out.

The earlier post only had a still shot of this type of worm so I thought I’d post some mini movies to show them in the action of foraging or hunting for food.

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Rhossili Beach Walk 22nd August 2012

What links the following photographs is my feet! The images are in chronological order and describe some of the many delights and interesting features of a walk along Rhossili Beach in Gower – from flotsam, flowers, and fishermen, to sand patterns, sea ripples, surfers, and seashore creatures.

Starting with a pot of tea in Eddy’s at the Hillend Caravan and Camping Site, and cutting down through the dunes to the beach, I turned right and walked northwards towards Spaniard Rocks and the island of Burry Holms with the dune system of Llangennith Burrows on my right.

My first impression once I hit the seashore, was, as always, how vast, open, and expansive the beach is. Space. Space. Space. The enveloping sound of the waves. The feel of the wind on my face.

The tide was going out. More than usual, coloured pebbles were scattered on the wet sand across the upper shore. The sand gets pushed around the beach on a regular basis and the number of pebbles that are visible varies with the type of tide and the weather. Flotsam frequently accumulates on the strand-line at the high tide mark – and this day was no exception. Shoes, body-boards, fishing nets, plastic toys, plastic sheeting, along with barnacle encrusted driftwood and the remains of dead birds.

On Spaniard Rocks the lichens and wild flowers were colourful. The outgoing tide revealed a new and temporary topography of water-filled dips and mounds, while shallow water rippled in ever changing patterns. The freshly exposed rocks of Burry Holms were covered in seashore creatures competing for anchorage in cracks and crevices of vertical limestone faces. Edible mussels smothered low-lying boulders with a glistening variegated carpet. Limpets clinging to the cliffs were heavy with attached barnacles and mussels.

I spotted an angler in the distance, balanced precariously on the wave-pounded rocks at the back of the island, at the very moment that he landed a big fish – a shot I didn’t want to miss (though the resulting pictures from the zoom are poor quality, I am afraid). Along the water’s edge, birds gathered and paddled as if they were watching the live show of wind-surfers and kite-surfers as well as looking out for emerging shell-fish to eat – reminding me it was time to get back up to Eddy’s for something to eat myself before last orders.

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Spaniard Rocks Part 1

Natural geological abstract patterns of cracks, crevices, and ornamenting lichen encrustations, in the Carboniferous Limestone of Spaniard Rocks at the northern end of Rhossili Bay, on the Gower Peninsula, in South Wales.

Abstract patterns in rock

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Up-date on the multi-coloured rock pool at Rhossili

Rock pool recovering from plastic pollution in October 2009. The water is fairly clear. (1) 

Previously I have talked about a small rock pool at Rhossili that had filled up  with  multi-coloured pieces of plastic probably arriving at this one small area of the beach from hundreds, even thousands, of miles away. Bright coloured fragments and pellets of plastic were also observable in the regurgitated remains spewed up by seabirds on the beach. That was back in the summer 2009. I have been keeping an eye on the pool to see what its fate might be.

Rock pool recovering from plastic pollution in October 2009 (2) 

By October 2009, high tides seemed to have mostly cleaned out the pool and it looked on the road to recovery.

The rock pool filled again with plant remains and plastic by winter seas. January 2010 (3) 

By January 2010 the pool was contaminated again. However, a large proportion of the rubbish in the pool this time was organic. Vegetable remains included straw-like terrestrial plant stems, broken fronds of brown seaweeds, and the large air bladders of Egg Wrack.

For earlier postings related to the plastic pollution in this pool, click here Multi-coloured Rock Pool at Rhossili and More about the multi-coloured rock pool at Rhossili.

Plant remains and plastic rubbish trapped again in the pool over winter. 1 January 2010 (4) 

Plant and plastic rubbish trapped again in a high rock pool over winter. 1 January 2010 (5) 

Revision of a post first published 19 January 2010

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More about the multi-coloured rock pool at Rhossili

Flotsam-filled rock pool on the seashore at Spaniard Rocks, Rhossili Bay, Gower, UK on 03.08.2009 (1) 

Not so pretty now! Earlier I wrote about a multi-coloured rock pool at Rhossili that I had photographed on 26th June 2009. The pool was full of small pieces of brightly coloured plastic and other rubbish. This was highly unusual for this otherwise outstanding and beautiful location. A great deal of flotsam does accumulate on the sand here but I had never observed it migrating to the rock pools before. I commented that, despite its detrimental effect on the environment, it was visually quite attractive.

Several weeks later, on 6th August 2009, I noticed that regurgitated seabird pellets on the sand (near to the outcrop of rocks with the rubbish-filled pool) contained not only mussel shells from the rocks but also small pieces of coloured plastic (see Gulls’ gobbets on Rhossili seashore).

At the same time, the pretty pool was no longer pretty. More rubbish had accumulated and the water itself was stained deep red. The photographs in today’s blog show what it looked like then.

I will be visiting the place again soon. I hope that high tides and stormy seas will have scoured the pool clean. The rubbish, however, will be a continuing problem which washes ashore from hundreds of miles away.

I often see dead and decomposing seabirds on the shore. Most seem to have broken their neck while diving. From now on, I will look to see if the stomach contents remain in situ to determine the extent to which plastic rubbish is being ingested by the birds.

If you would like to read more about the way plastic rubbish is contaminating the environment and entering the food chain, have a look at Pharyngula

Flotsam-filled rock pool on the seashore at Spaniard Rocks, Rhossili Bay, Gower, UK on 03.08.2009 (2) 

Flotsam-filled rock pool on the seashore at Spaniard Rocks, Rhossili Bay, Gower, UK on 03.08.2009 (3)

Flotsam-filled rock pool on the seashore at Spaniard Rocks, Rhossili Bay, Gower, UK on 03.08.2009 (4)  

Revision of a post first published 20 October 2009

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