Felt a sudden urge to do a bit of rock-pooling at the weekend so called in at Marsden bay near South Shields, to see it there was anything interesting on the shore. This is an exposed coast and it's early in the season so were weren't expecting to find much.
There were plenty of common limpets on top of the rocks and ...
..... lots of chitons aka polyplacophorans aka coat-of-mail shells underneath rocks. But not a lot else.
It was freezing cold and blowing a gale, which dimmed my enthusiasm when my hands began to turn blue. So I collected a small tuft of red seaweed that I found growing in a rock crevice and carried it home in a vial of seawater (about an egg cup-full) for a closer look under the microscope, in the comfort of an armchair.
Spring comes to the coastal waters just like anywhere else, but it's not immediately obvious until you look really closely. As the spring plankton bloom progresses numerous small animals settle out of the plankton onto the shore, especially amongst the fronds of small red seaweeds that begin to grow now.
To go rockpooling in comfort, all you need is one of these - a binocular microscope with a zoom range between x7 and x45. It costs about as much as an entry level digital SLR camera and can provide hours of amusement.
Almost immediately I found these attached to the seaweed - tiny hydroids, waving their tentacles in the air, until the slightest tremor .....
... sent them into contractions
Then there were these minute mussels, translucent but beginning to acquire their darker pigment at their base, that were anchored to the seaweed after the mussel larvae had settled out of the plankton.
This little animal is an isopod crustacean, hard to spot amongst the seaweed fronds, but best of all there were ...
... loads of these little gammarid shrimps, beautifully pigmented to match the seaweed forest.
Their compound eyes are particularly striking, as are the highly reflected patches embedded in their exoskeleton
This tiny seaweed microcosm was home to about 20 of these gammarids, some of which had highly reflective, sparkly eyes.
The exoskeleton is this one contained small reflective patches that looked like interior lighting and it had eyes that glowed.
Aside from the mussels, gammarids, hydroids and isopods I also saw a minute sea slug and a flatworm, as well as copepods.
The photos aren't very good (they were taken by holding a pocket compact camera up against the eyepiece of the microscope) but they do illustrate the wealth of microscopic marine life that's present even on exposed shores, down at the bottom of the inshore marine food chain. And at this time of year it's the most comfortable way to go rock-pooling.