A Modern Oyster Shell Midden

Oyster shells in a heap at Whitstable for use as cultch for collecting oyster spat

I have spent a large part of my life studying oyster shells that have been excavated on archaeological excavations of sites in the British Isles dating from the last two thousand years. The shells have been found in a variety of contexts including middens which are heaps of kitchen waste including oyster and other marine mollusc shells. Strangely, I had never seen a modern equivalent until this week when I visited Whitstable on the north Kent coast. I had read all about the famous Whitstable Oyster Fishery but somehow had never got around to visiting the place.

I did not choose a very good day to see Whitstable for the first time. It was very cold, dull, and windy with the choppy sea high up the shingle beach and salt spray continuously misting my camera lens. Nonetheless, I had a great time and made some interesting discoveries – not least of which was my desire to go back ago and explore some more.

Almost the first thing I saw when I hit the shore after a coffee at the Horsebridge Gallery, was the building of the historic Royal Native Oyster Stores belonging to the Whitstable Oyster Company. It included a seafood restaurant closed at the time, and outside were two substantial heaps of empty oyster shells – middens – one against a wall and the other on the shore. A casual observer might wonder why mounds of empty shells had been left lying around and not properly disposed of. There is a good and logical reason.

The shells are being kept for cultch. The youngest form of an oyster is a free-swimming larval stage which needs to find somewhere suitable to settle down and grow. It is very particular about the type of object on which it will land and attach its embryonic shell. It has a limited time, maybe just a couple of weeks if the temperature is optimum, to find just the right place. It likes all sorts of hard substrates but it likes oyster shells best – sometimes empty ones and sometimes live ones.. Traditionally, this preference is catered for by the oyster fishermen who put down quantities of empty oyster shell as cultch on the seabed to encourage the settlement of young spat oysters. They also string old shells together to act as suspended spat catchers in the water. It is interesting to see these historic practices still in operation in an age when many oysters are bred in laboratories before being grown on in metal mesh bags on trestles covered by the tides. They use both old and new methods here.

The pictures in this post show more than one type of oyster shell. The Native British Oyster, also known as the European Flat Oyster (Ostrea edulis) is the type for which Whitstable is most famous. They also use the Pacific or Rock Oyster (Crassostrea gigas) which grows faster and is therefore a good commercial proposition, especially when in recent times the numbers of our native species have reduced.

A Walk at Rocquaine Bay

Follow in my footsteps with a virtual walk along beautiful Rocquaine Bay on the west coast of the Channel Island of Guernsey. It is protected by a long sea defence wall which has employed different construction techniques along its length; mostly using local stone but also with along stretch of reinforced concrete (probably originating from German occupation World War II fortifications). The beach is both rocky and sandy with some pebble patches. Seaweeds of every colour abound. Huge limpets with white shells cluster on the bright orange-spattered L’Eree granite bedrock while outcrops of monochrome microgranodiorite occur on the upper shore near Fort Grey. Marine worm casts cover the softer muddy sands. Streams flow across the shore, their clear shallow water reflecting sunlight from the ripple crests and creating shadow patterns. A small stone jetty looks marooned among the rocks and a multi-coloured carpet of weed. Small boats bobbing in the turquoise water, rusty buoys and chains half-buried in seaweed, and algae-encrusted mooring ropes add to the evidence for fishing and leisure boating activities.

Click on the first picture to view the images in the gallery in the sequence that they were taken during the walk.

Winter Walk at Whiteford Sands

Red fishing buoy flotsam

Crisp and cold, bright and sunny, just right for blowing away the cobwebs with a walk along the strand at Whiteford Sands. On this particular winter’s day the tide had brought ashore lots of flotsam – fishing nets, buoys, floats, and crates, shoes, hard hats, and miscellaneous plastic rubbish that rested on a driftline of sand, pebbles or shells. Here are some of the things that caught my eye as I strolled the high water mark from Cwm Ivy Tor to the spit beyond Whiteford Point on Boxing Day 2013. Click on any of the images in the gallery below to view in a larger format and slideshow.

Shoreline at Annapolis Royal

View across the water from Annapolis Royal to Granville Ferry in Nova Scotia

At the time, I didn’t know what to make of the piles of stone and structural timbers lying on the shore at the edge of town in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. It has taken me a while to realise that they could probably be historical remains, industrial archaeology if you wish, a window on the past commercial activities and prosperity of Annapolis Royal.

Apparently, in the mid-19th century, apples grown in the Annapolis Valley were the main crop of the region, and there was a big demand for them in Great Britain. There was no problem transporting them to Annapolis Royal from the farms in the Valley because the western terminus of the railroad ended near the Annapolis Royal waterfront. The problem lay in getting the apples stored safely over winter and then shipping them to Britain, and dealing with the twice daily tides that made it difficult to load ships.

The solution arrived in 1881with a ship builder called Laurence Delap and a banker, Thomas Spurr Whitman, who set up the Acadia Steamship Company, and built a 300 foot pier extending out into the channel so that ships could be loaded at any stage of the tide. They also constructed a large apple storage warehouse, insulated with sawdust, on the pier itself.

The pier structure, as well as the wharves were built box-like from whole tree timbers in-filled with boulders for stability and strength. Similar modern structures can be seen nearer town, supporting residential property, as well as a more recent revetment (possibly a restoration or reconstruction) further upstream near the beach strewn with the historical remains – see photograph 12). The piles of boulders representing the long pier belonging to the Acadia Steamship Company, can still be seen extending out into the channel – see images 2, 3, and 10.

At a later date, Whitman extended his business interests to the export of lumber and salt fish. The fish were destined for markets in the West Indies and South America, and were dried using a patented process that Whitman himself invented, using artificial heat.

The wooden buildings, wharves and piers needed for all the commercial activity, including, ship building, no doubt stretched all along the shoreline on the edge of town. The businesses continued into the twentieth century before faltering. The wooden waterfront structures eventually became abandoned and derelict; and today only the timber pilings survive in disarray – like the bones of by-gone days scattered amongst the boulders on the muddy beach.

Rocks and timber on the shore at Annapolis Royal

View across the Annapolis Basin showing remains of old piers on the right hand shore

Rocks and timber on the shore at Annapolis Royal

Rocks and timber on the shore at Annapolis Royal

Rocks and timber on the shore at Annapolis Royal

Rocks and timber on the shore at Annapolis Royal

Rocks and timber on the shore at Annapolis Royal

Rocks and timber on the shore at Annapolis Royal

Rocks and timber on the shore at Annapolis Royal

Eroding salt marsh muds and clays on the shore at Annapolis Royal

Timber revetments on the shore at Annapolis Royal

Rock boulders on the Annapolis shore covered with sea foam

View across the sea foam covered stretch of water between Annapolis Royal and Granville Ferry on the opposite shore

COPYRIGHT  JESSICA WINDER 2013

All Rights Reserved

On the beach near Mumbles Pier

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.

COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2013

All Rights Reserved

Gabions made from lobster pots on Grand Manan

Sea defence gabions made with pebble-filled old lobster pots

Wooden stilted houses cling to the slopes at the foot of basalt scarps in Dark Harbour on Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick, Canada. To prevent waves washing away the foundations, sea defence gabions made from pebble-filled old lobster pots have been stacked on the shore, together with other barriers built from massive tree trunk driftwood that accumulates in vast quantities on the massive pebble bank separating the harbour from the open sea.

Sea defence gabions made with pebble-filled old lobster pots

Sea defence gabions made with pebble-filled old lobster pots

Sea defence gabions made with pebble-filled old lobster pots

Shore line at Dark Harbour

Sea defence structure built with driftwood timbers

Detail of a sea defence structure built with driftwood timbers

Detail of a sea defence structure built with driftwood timbers

Driftwood timbers and fishermen's hut on a pebble bank

COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2013

All Rights Reserved

Smoking Herrings on Grand Manan

Detail of an old herring smoke house at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

For a hundred years a thousand people earned their living by processing herrings in 300 picturesque smoke houses that clung to the shore in coves from North Head to Southern Head on the island of Grand Manan in New Brunswick.

Progress means that the herring are now canned in modern factories and the last wooden smoke house closed in 1996. The abandoned sheds stand mostly derelict in sad clusters on skinny stilts with rusting roofs – occasional repositories of lobster pots, fishing nets and floats. The windows boarded, doors gaping, and the clapboard walls bleached and shredding with flapping remnants of brightly coloured weather boarding.

However, herring are still an important part of the economy on the island and along the shores of the Bay of Fundy, where characteristically heart-shaped fishing weirs in shallow off-shore waters are draped in seine nets to trap the herring for the fishermen to collect as the tide recedes – if the seals don’t steal them first.

These photographs were taken at Seal Cove on the east coast of Grand Manan Island.

View of the fishing village of Seal Cove where there are old herring smoke houses, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

Old herring smoke houses at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

Old herring smoke houses at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

Old herring smoke house at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

Detail of weathered wooden shingles on an old herring smoke house at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

Old herring smoke houses at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

Close-up of tattered green weather-proofing tiles on an old herring smoke houses at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

Old herring smoke house at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

Close-up of tattered red weather-proofing tiles on an old herring smoke houses at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

Old herring smoke house at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

Detail of weathered wooden shingles on an old herring smoke houses at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

Old herring smoke houses at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

Detail of weathered wooden shingles on an old herring smoke house at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

Detail of weathered wooden shingles on an old herring smoke houses at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

Old herring smoke houses at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

Old herring smoke house at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

Detail of weathered wooden shingles on an old herring smoke houses at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

Old herring smoke houses at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

Old herring smoke house at Seal Cove, on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.

COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2013

All rights reserved