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.
As I walked further along the beach from Hill End to Spaniard Rocks, I realised that there were maybe four or five strandlines lying parallel to each other and to the water line. Each line of mainly organic debris was slightly different in its constituents. Similarly, there were changes in the make up and proportions of the animal and plant debris in the strandlines in a linear way as I walked from south to north along the shore. The starfish became less numerous and the numbers of bivalve molluscs and their shells increased,
Most noticeable was the way in which the darker particle component of the strandlines became separated out on the up-shore side of the lines, and formed patterns contrasting with the yellow sand on which it lay. Sometimes there were branching lines of clear spaces, like rivulets running through the black stuff. Sometimes, the black pieces followed and echoed the shallow ripple marks in the sand – either as parallel lines or cross-hatching designs full of beautiful natural abstract compositions. In other places, small obstacles such as seashells had formed little dams to impede the flow of lighter, darker, material as the water that carried it swashed and backwashed over the beach, and this had created distinctive patterns as the water flowed around the barriers.
I was curious about what made up the fine black material responsible for the patterns. I took some samples to look at under the microscope when I got home.
The sky became bluer and the vast expanse of low tide sand seemed superficially at least to be featureless – but peering into the distance, towards Burry Holms, there was an unexpected dark line. Viewed through the zoom, it turned out to be something interesting on which dozens of young gulls and a few crows were having a great feast.
During the early hours of the morning the sea had brought in a sad harvest of seashore creatures now lying dead or dying on a bed of broken plant stems and fragments of blackened driftwood. Most of the animals were common starfishes (Asterias rubens) but rayed trough shells (Mactra stultorum), the elongated Pharus legumen, common whelks (Buccinum undatum), and the occasional masked crab (Corystes cassivelaunus) were also present. What had caused this mass stranding event I do not know but it happens every now and again. I have photographed similar multiple deaths on this beach before.
You can click on any picture to see the whole gallery in enlarged format
The wind-swept expanse of Whiteford Sands in Gower, South Wales, is the final resting place of many interesting objects that include beach stones, seashells, seashore creatures and driftwood. Here are some pictures of just a few of them that I recorded on recent trips.
The natural patterns of ripples in the sand on the beach always fascinate me. Here is a selection that I photographed at Whiteford Sands in Gower recently. They had all formed on the expanding sand bank at the western end of the beach – which is also where I captured the strange serpentine ripples a few years ago.
At the end of a long hot sunny day almost the only thing left on Rhossili Beach are the footprints of all the visitors. Large ones and small ones. Bare feet and shod. Clear impressions in deep, soft, damp sand, with ripple patterns left by the sea. Fuzzy prints left in dry, powdery sand with ripple patterns left by the wind. The low-angled light of the setting sun throws the footprints into sharp relief by casting deep shadows and creating highlighting glints on these remains of the day.
The sandy beach at Rhossili Bay in Gower is a vast natural canvas on which the sea creates ever-changing designs and sculpturings as the tide ebbs and flows. The patterns in the sand are enhanced by the way that the waves sift and sort the grains of different sizes and of varying colours as they weave their natural works of abstract art.
The dynamics of sediment movement on beaches intrigues me. Every time you visit a favourite beach it looks different. The tides, currents, wind and weather all play a part in the transformations. The structure of the seashore is sometimes hidden and sometimes revealed. Last autumn the pebbles at the foot of the soft red cliffs beneath Rhossili Down on Rhossili Bay in Gower, South Wales, were in the process of being covered up by sand.
The texture and distribution of the sand showed that it had first been a wind-blown accumulation; then had been consolidated by rain; and at that particular moment it was drying out and beginning to crack over the curved surfaces. The images illustrate the contrast in textures and colours between the sand and the pebbles. The surface of the sediment layer mimicks the pebble shapes below. The overall effect is one of softening of the appearance of the pebbles as if they had been covered by a light blanket of drifting snow.
After walking the 5 kilometre length of the beach from Rhossili village to the island of Burry Holms, some people like nothing better than to sit for a while and watch the waves as the tide comes in. I know someone like this – who carries a folding chair for just that purpose. There is something mesmeric about it. The waves gently creep forward a bit, stay back a bit, and every now and again there is an unexpected sudden surge and you have to run for it or get your feet wet.
It’s mysterious how the sea makes its progress up the shore. There is a theory that it’s the seventh wave that’s always the greatest. Amy Lynn at the WordPress blog Flandrum Hill wrote an excellent post recently on this phenomenon which you can see if you click on The Seventh Wave.