THE BEST OF BRI­TISH

Whether it’s fully im­mers­ing your­self by div­ing or snorkelling, or just dip­ping a toe into the wa­ter while rock­pool­ing, what bet­ter way to make the most of the sum­mer than en­joy­ing our own na­tive marine life?

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Welcome - WORDS: CHRIS SERGEANT

What bet­ter way to make the most of the sum­mer than en­joy­ing our na­tive marine life?

It can be easy to dis­miss the wa­ters around the UK as freez­ing and murky, with few ob­vi­ous signs of life, but re­duced vis­i­bil­ity doesn’t mean a lack of bio­di­ver­sity. In­stead it can pro­vide an in­vis­i­bil­ity cloak un­der which a huge va­ri­ety of crea­tures live and thrive. It just takes a lit­tle pa­tience and know­ing where to look.

What the UK lacks in trop­i­cal reef ecosys­tems, it makes up for in a va­ri­ety of other habi­tats; Sea grass mead­ows, rocky reefs, un­der­sea caves, seaweed gar­dens and maerl beds all play host to a va­ri­ety of marine species. Charis­matic megafauna such as sharks, rays, whales, dol­phins and tur­tles, of­ten more com­monly associated with warmer climes, all call UK wa­ters home, and trop­i­cal reef staples such as trig­ger­fish, sea­horses, corals, nudi­branchs and sponges can also be found in­hab­it­ing our shores.

Dive in!

For the more ad­ven­tur­ous, Scuba div­ing is a great way to get up close and per­sonal to the seascapes and fauna we have to of­fer. Although wet­suits, or some­times dry­suits, are a ne­ces­sity due to the wa­ter tem­per­a­ture, this is a small price to pay for the full, im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence div­ing brings. PADI and BSAC in­sti­tu­tions can be found all over the UK, re­gard­less of how in­land you live, and of­fer a va­ri­ety of train­ing cour­ses and dive op­por­tu­ni­ties, from novice to ex­pe­ri­enced.

If you don’t have the equip­ment or the qual­i­fi­ca­tions to dive, but you still want that im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence, just don a mask and snorkel in­stead. Re­mem­ber to check ahead for local sea con­di­tions and tide timeta­bles first.

Rock­pool­ing — easy, fun and free!

By far and away the eas­i­est and most ac­ces­si­ble way to take in our local marine life is through rock­pool­ing, and as a sum­mer beach pas­times goes, it takes some beat­ing.

Tim­ing is im­por­tant

The best time to go rock­pool­ing is around an hour be­fore to an hour after low tide, al­low­ing ac­cess to some of the pools that re­main sub­merged for the vast ma­jor­ity of the day. Check the local tide ta­ble though, as the last thing you want is to be caught by the ris­ing tide. Low spring tides pro­vide the great­est dif­fer­ence in the tidal range, and thus the low­est of low tides. Spring tides oc­cur twice a month, with the name re­fer­ring to the idea that the tides ‘spring forth’, rather than hav­ing any­thing to do with sea­son­al­ity. Hav­ing said that, spring time can be an ideal time too, as it’s the breed­ing season for many rock­pool in­hab­i­tants.

Hide and seek

Life in the lit­toral zone is tough, and the an­i­mals you are look­ing for are adapted to live un­der per­ma­nently fluc­tu­at­ing con­di­tions. As the tide re­treats, the small bod­ies of wa­ter are cut off from the main chan­nels and the wa­ter tem­per­a­ture and salin­ity be­gin to rise, only drop­ping back down when they be­come re­con­nected again on the high tide. Dur­ing these pe­ri­ods of shift­ing wa­ter pa­ram­e­ters, many species choose to hide un­der­neath rocks, seaweed or un­der­cut chan­nels around the edges of the pools.

Ini­tially a pool may look bar­ren, with just the odd shell on dis­play, but get closer and a whole world of crea­tures re­veal them­selves.

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