Summer’s just around the corner and my thoughts turn to a trip to the beach – so it’s time to head off for a day at the coast…
As I lay my towel on the sand and settle down, I get a strange feeling that I’m not alone – and I’m not talking about the jocks strutting their stuff!! No, there are others out there in the sand to keep me company – shells of mussels, razors and clams all show an array of molluscs that hang out here – but, just a minute, what’s that scurrying over there?
An ant! – depending on where I am in the world, I might spot a large desert ant perusing the beach scene – although larger in size than your common-or-garden variety, these guys seem very laid back and are just on the lookout for any scraps of food – so perhaps a bit of dropped sarnie would do very nicely. Whilst an ant wasn’t the first thing I thought I’d see, one thing I certainly didn’t expect to cross my path here, is a mouse! If I were on a Florida beach, then chances are I might spot a beach mouse – these little critters live in burrows they build for themselves in the sand dunes and munch on shore plants and seeds.
I fancy a paddle and head off down to the sea – best watch my toes, because I’ll bet there are crabs around here! Believe it or not though, there is one kind of crab that doesn’t have any claws! I’m talking of the sand crab – in fact they don’t look very crab like at all – with a smooth oval body and fluffy looking antennae, which they use to filter their food from the water. Crabs are nature’s cleaners, happily munching on whatever drifts their way, they’re not fussy eaters, but even so, I reckon my feet are safe!
I’m encouraged to wade out into the waves; but what’s waiting out there in the water for me? Might there be something with a sting in its tail, or rather tentacles? I’m talking of jelly fish. Whilst every jelly fish produces some venom with which to defend itself and kill its prey, the vast majority aren’t dangerous to humans – there are, however, exceptions – in Oz, for example, dwells the infamous box jellyfish, which has won the dubious title of the most venomous marine creature in the world and no wonder, when its sting can prove fatal – but in cooler climes, I reckon I’d be OK.
As I swim back to shore, I pass a clump of seaweed – I might not pay it much attention, as it doesn’t look that exciting, but this often-overlooked aquatic vegetation is incredibly important! It releases far more oxygen than land plants do (up to 70%) and not only that: it contains many health-giving minerals and compounds – it’s not only a great source of nutrition, but it contains substances which can be of both medicinal and topical use (wonder if it’s any good for wrinkles…?!)
After my swim I decide to lay back and catch some rays – if I were very lucky, a seal might decide to amble up nearby and join me on the sand for a bit of a sunbathing session – although if it doesn’t need to lay back on terra firma if it fancies a nap, because seals can doze off just as easily in the sea – neat trick!
I take a stroll along the sand and gaze up at the sky – likely, I would spot a seabird or two – these are many and various, including cormorants, razor bills, puffins and in some parts even pelicans! But one bird I might not be so admiring of is the infamous gull – now you might think that if you’ve seen one gull, you’ve seen them all, but you’d be wrong, because there are in fact 50 species of these guys! There’s more to them than meets the eye, because they’re intelligent, have great memories and excellent eyesight and smell, enabling them to detect food at up to 3 miles away! No wonder they’re so good at stealing my ice-cream!
As dusk begins to fall, it’s getting time to head home – but if I were to hang around a little longer, I’d find that the beach doesn’t go to sleep at night – it’s actually a hive of nocturnal activity – and I don’t mean beach BBQs!! Many shellfish, crabs and anemones will come out in the evening as it’s a safer time for them to feed (once those gulls have gone home to roost). Turtles too will come up onto the beach at night to dig a hole and lay their eggs – incredibly, returning to the very same beach on which they were once born years earlier!
After dark, the sea can put on its very own magical light show– known as water phosphorescence – it’s in fact tiny algae floating in the current, glowing with a neon light (maybe there’s a party going on beneath the waves?!)