Nearing the end of my walk now from Hill End to Spaniard Rocks and back again. The damp sand for hours exposed to air revealed in the oblique light intricate traceries of trails where small invertebrates had travelled around unseen on the surface to hunt for food. The tide had turned and was fast washing the shore clean again. First the light particles of wood and coal dust floated away and gradually all the other organic debris and flotsam were removed in order of weight. Just a few items left to go. Incredibly, a soggy soft pink toy starfish found itself marooned with a real starfish. I photographed it exactly as I found it. The red mooring buoy seen high and dry earlier in the day was now licked by the waves, along with paired prickly cockle shells, living whelks, a dead dogfish, and a wellington boot.
The sun was bright and the sea was dark blue and scintillating. Rows of sand ripples reflected the blue sky like a natural abstract painting. Such a view of the sea and sand in Rhossili Bay is one of the most uplifting I know.
I reluctantly left the water’s edge to negotiate the makeshift bridge across Diles Lake once more. This time I photographed the unattractive brown periphyton attached to the underwater rocks as well as the beautiful sunlit surface ripple patterns of the flow. While it was time for me to leave, others were just arriving with surf boards, impatient to immerse in the iridescent sea – now that must be some high on such an afternoon. I can’t wait to go back.
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.
Diles Lake is really a stream that drains the Llangennith marshes lying behind the dunes at Rhossili in Gower. The water is frequently dammed back to resemble a lake by banks of pebbles pushed upshore by strong tides – but the water always works its way through the pebbles and sand to flow across the beach, spreading out into myriads of shallow channels as it approaches the sea. Underwater, the many colours of the pebbles are clear to see, contrasting with the dry stones stacked to the side often showing a black coating caused by earlier burial at deeper anaerobic levels of the beach.
It can be quite tricky to cross the stream but on this occasion someone had conveniently made ‘stepping stones’ from an old pallet and driftwood. I noticed that the stream exiting the dunes had long trailing clumps of unpleasant-looking brown filamentous algae of a type resembling something more typical of polluted water – but I must have been mistaken because the water sampling point for Rhossili is nearby and it has only recently been declared of excellent bathing quality.
The heaped pebbles once over the stream had brightly coloured pieces of knotted rope from fishing activities and a scrunched up newspaper (perhaps it had held bait). My eye was also caught almost immediately by a much larger piece of vivid flotsam washed up and stranded at mid shore level. It was about 1 metre in diameter and hip high and made quite a sculptural addition to the beachscape. Faint embossed lettering provided the clue I needed to do an internet search and discover it was a wrecked rigid mooring buoy style MB350 made by the Norfloat company in Exeter.
You can click on any picture to see the whole gallery in enlarged format
June 2009 was the first time I noticed this heap of orange and green fishing net flotsam. It had probably washed ashore over the winter months. It was already partly covered by wind-blown sand and a plant had established itself on top of the nets.
Each time I visited the same location over the next six months (in August, October, November and December) I recorded the fate of the nets to see what would happen. With the passage of time, the nets began to be incorporated into the beach, being buried by the sand and bound by the root systems of colonising plants which later decomposed within the synthetic fibres and inert sediments.
In archaeology, the study of the processes that affect organic objects after they have been discarded is termed taphonomy. Strictly speaking the term is applied to organic materials becoming part of the fossil record (see anexample definition). It has, however, been applied to the fate of inorganic objects – the taphonomy of artefacts. I think the term might also be suitably applied to the fate of organic and synthetic objects on the seashore that are affected by natural (and sometimes man-made) events. These might include processes such as burial by sediment drift or wave action; alteration by erosion and weathering; colonisation or destruction by other animal or plant organisms; and mechanical damage or incineration.
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.