The next stage of the walk from Hill End to Spaniard rocks saw an even greater reduction in the numbers of washed up starfish, and correspondingly greater concentrations of seashells in the strandlines, mostly empty shells of the bivalve Pharus legumen. The fine black detritus arranged itself in elaborate patterns mostly to do with the drainage of water back down the beach.
The sample of the fine dark particles that I took at the time, turns out to have a very interesting composition now I have had a chance to examine it under magnification back home. There is a fair proportion of small dark decaying wood fragments but most of the black material is composed of minute shiny hard particles of coal (what you might call coal dust). The coal is not difficult to account for since coal mining and its export from nearby docks was a major industry in the past. There are many ways the coal could have been accidentally deposited in the sea. Together with the coal dust there are various seeds that I am not able to identify and, most surprisingly of all, what seem to be myriads of delicate fish bones. In fact, so many small threadlike rib bones that the dried sample seemed to have a fibrous texture. Amazing.
These intricate and delicate structures are vertebrae from a fish. They seem both complex and beautiful. They are an example of the interesting and amazing things you can find washed up on strandlines if you only take a closer look. These backbones were still articulated and joined to the head (illustrated in the picture below). I am not certain, yet, what type of fish this is but I am going to find out when I can access the right literature; both the bones and the scales can provide clues for identification.
It would have been very easy to overlook these fishy remains on the beach. An entire mono-filament nylon fishing net, complete with the catch of fish, was washed ashore and mostly buried in the sand. Only a small portion of the net was visible above the surface. On close inspection, dead fish heads and bones were entangled in the mesh and protruding from the sand – as you can see in the photographs below. Some of the skin and scales remained but the meat had been removed. In the sand around the nets and bones are small holes where small seashore creatures, like the sandhopper amphipods, have burrowed into the sediments and feasted on the fish.