Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Seashore Strandline

My travel plans are almost complete and I hope to be on my way soon. It was a nice sunny day today so I took a stroll along the strandline on the beach.

This is the area of the beach where all the interesting seashells and other natural debris is washed ashore. Sadly, as mentioned in my earlier blog, marine litter is washed up to.

These natural objects give us fascinating clues to the animals that live just off the beach or further out to sea. Here are some of my favourite objects that I collected from the beach.
There are many egg cases washed ashore. The most common are the whelk egg cases (below)
Empty whelk shells are also washed up on the beach.
These are the type of empty shell that hermit crabs sometimes live in as they don't have a hard shell of their own.

Dogfish egg cases are one of my favourite. Its amazing that a baby fish spends 9 months growing inside it before they hatch.

The dogfish is actually a small type of bottom living shark.

This is what they look like inside the egg case. You can sometimes see them in public aquariums.
Rays, are related to sharks as they both have skeletons made of soft bendy cartilage. This is the same as the bendy parts of your ear and the tip of your nose. Go on, give it a wiggle and see.

Steve once found an egg case after a storm which had a dead baby ray inside.
Steve's favourite eggs washed up on the beach are cuttlefish eggs, which look like a black bunch of grapes. This is because they are often still alive and can be rescued.

He hatches them out in a fish tank and then returns them to the sea. When they hatch out they are miniature replicas of the parents.

They can change colour to camouflage themselves and squirt ink as a defence. You can also find the white internal shell of cuttlefish, usually called cuttlefish bones.

This is the dried remains of a pipe fish washed up on the beach.

These are oyster shells (above). The oyster has two halves to its shell and lives on the seabed filtering tiny bits of food from the water. In the UK, over 100 years ago in the Victorian period, oysters were very popular to eat. They were so popular that the Victorians collected too many of the oysters and so they had to find some more to replace them. They collected oysters from the east coast of the USA and released them in the English Channel.

Unknown to the Victorians, another seashell was living on the oyster shells. They are called a slipper limpet (picture below, underside view and top view).

The oysters did not do very well, but the slipper limpets survived and multiplied. This is because there was plenty of food (they eat plankton) and they had few natural predators because they had moved to the UK waters. The slipper limpet shell is now one of the most common seashells washed up here on Sussex beaches.
This is a spider crab shell (above). When they are alive, spider crabs disguise their shells using seaweed and sponges so they can hide on the seabed. Like all crabs they shed their shell as they grow. So when you find a crab shell on the beach it does not mean the crab died.

Out of all my collection, this sea urchin shell is my favourite shell.

It is very delicate and it is unusual to find one that is in one piece, they usually get broken on the beach.

I am hoping to bring back some interesting shells and egg cases for my collection from some of the beaches I visit during my expedition.

Bye for now


Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Dead whale

Sadly I have just had news that a bottlenose whale seen off Bournemouth in the UK has been found stranded dead on the beach. Bottlenose whales do not live in the English Channel so there was concern for its safety.

The dead whale had marks on its head that suggested that it might have been caught in nets or rope. Scientists have been studying the dead whale and hopefully they will be able to find out why it died.


Sunday, 20 September 2009

Shark Course

Hi all

I am still here in the UK and my preparations to travel are almost complete. Yesterday I helped Steve run a course on sharks - and I learnt a lot too.

The aim of the course is to challenge children's perceptions about sharks, to show children that while sharks may not be the dangerous man-eater that everyone thinks, the truth is actually more amazing (hence the title, "The Amazing World of Sharks").

Right at the beginning of the morning we asked the children to do a "true or false" quiz. These included statements such as "sharks only live in saltwater", "Sharks eat about 200 people a year", "Great white sharks are endangered", "shark meat is poisonous to eat"and "sharks are the most dangerous animals in the sea". We did not tell the children what the right answers were, they would find out during the course (and we would test them again at the end of the day).

The children discovered the many different species and how they use different methods for catching and eating a wide range of food. We also gave them a food web activity. In two groups the children constructed the food webs (using clues on the reverse side of the cards) and then used these finished food webs to complete an activity sheet.

The children were also asked to explain what would happen to the great white shark if the mackerel disappeared because of overfishing.

We wanted the children to understand how important sharks are in marine food webs for keeping them healthy and in balance.

We also encouraged the children to think about how dangerous sharks really are. We used a fun quiz that helps to put into perspective the likelihood of being attacked and killed by a shark.

Again we used a series of questions that included "are you more likely to be killed by an elephant or a shark", "are you more likely to be killed by a coconut than a shark".

The first question in the quiz is how many people are killed by sharks each year (the actual answer is between 5 - 15). The last question is how many sharks are killed by humans each year (the answer is over 1 million). This really surprised the children and me as well. I am hoping to see some sharks on my journey and hopefully help raise awareness.

We asked the children to suggest how and why humans kill sharks, their answers included "out of fear" "for sport and jaws as a trophy", " to eat".

One of the worst thing people do to the sharks is to kill them for their fins to make shark fin soup. The sharks are caught and the fins cut off and the rest of the shark thrown back into the sea, sometimes while it is still alive. Its unbelievable how cruel some humans can be.

To end the course on a more happier topic we finished off by showing the children how scientists are studying sharks so we can understand more about these beautiful fish and how public aquarium, authors and educators are all playing their part to raise awareness of sharks so hopefully we will treat them better in the future.

Steve showed the children some picture of great white sharks leaping out of the water. They do this when they speed up from the sea bed to catch seals on the surface. This only happens in a few places in the world and is really spectacular.

The children were very lively and enthusiastic and I think they all enjoyed their day. It was good practice for me also as I may well meet some school children on my travels and Steve will not be with me then.

I hope you have enjoyed finding out about sharks too.


Thursday, 17 September 2009

Maritime History

Shoreham high street seen from Shoreham Beach. You can see the Norman Built St Mary's Church and the footbridge that links the beach to the high street.

It's not just Shoreham Beach that is fascinating, the town has an intriguing maritime history too. The beach itself is a shingle spit formed by the river adur as it flows to the sea and deflected east by longshore drift (the natural movement of shingle pebbles from west to east). Shoreham has been important as a port town for many centuries and one of the biggest problems was combating the longshore drift of pebbles that kept blocking the harbour mouth. However, without longshore drift there would not have been a Shoreham Beach as we know it today.

By 11th Century Shoreham-by-Sea, as it is known, was an important thriving trade port following the conquest by the Norman invaders. There has also been a very important ship building industry at Shoreham until the late1800's. The ships were built entirely on site and many of the towns population were engaged in this trade as shipwrights, sail makers, rope makers, sailors etc.

There was a steady supply of timber from the trees that covered the chalk hills to the North - the South Downs. They could be floated down river to Shoreham and sawn up to make the ships. Over the years vessels were made for trade, to combat piracy and some took part in major sea battles against the Spanish Armada and during the 100 Year War. In the 1800's, the Victorian Period, there was an industrial Renaissance. Wooden sail vessels were no longer required, now it was the age of iron and steam.

Two of the last ships built at Shoreham, viewed from Shoreham Beach before the footbridge was built. The tower of the Norman St Mary's Church can be seen in the background.

The shipwrights at Shoreham wanted to continue to use the old methods of ship building and their industry slowly died out. The port however continued to thrive and today. The main part of the harbour is now to the east of the town, built within a channel that is believed to have been created by the river trying to find another exit point to the sea when the river mouth was blocked by longshore drift.
Brighton Beach

Most people in the UK have heard of Brighton (and many people worldwide), which is a few miles to the east of Shoreham. However until the Victorians made the seaside popular with the advent of rail travel which allowed cheap day trippers from London, Shoreham was far more important. Until then, Brighton had been just a small fishing village.
Bye for now

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Marine litter and other debris

I am sure that it will not be a big surprise to know that we have a problem with litter and other debris on Shoreham Beach. The Friends of Shoreham Beach run beach clean and litter survey events to help reduce this problem and to raise awareness. Globally, marine litter is a huge problem. Marine rubbish of this kind can kill wildlife when it is accidentally swallowed, mistaken for food or when animals become entangled in it. Hundreds of thousands of seabirds, sea mammals, sea turtles and many other marine animals die from marine litter every year.

A marine Turtle entangled in marine debris Greenpeace©/Carè©/Marine Photobank

I am planning on finding out more about the problems caused by marine litter including a trip to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Here there is a vast accumulation of marine debris, miles wide, which has been called the Great Garbage Patch. There is a similar garbage patch in the Atlantic Ocean too.

Marine litter can be a danger to animals on the beach as well. Sea birds often collect nesting materials from beaches and along with the seaweeds and other natural items they also collect litter. The biggest danger is plastic materials which they use to make their nest. When the chicks hatch they may become entangled in the plastic and as they struggle they may break a limb or just become hopelessly entangled.

The Friends of Shoreham Beach have sent me the results of a recent litter survey. The beach was surveyed for 100 metres and all the litter items were collected. 49 volunteers together filled 4 big black sacs with debris. The most common items found were plastic, 746 items, 75% of the total of all items collected. Where possible the source of each litter item was also recorded. Surprisingly, at least 32% of the items were left behind by beach users. This is a large proportion of the litter.

Friends of Shoreham Beach Marine litter displays

The Friends of Shoreham Beach do a great job with their beach cleaning events. I hope the awareness they raise about beach litter will eventually reduce the amount of litter left behind by people visiting the beach.
Plastic sandwich packet
Apart from the damage done to the wildlife, litter on the beach spoils the beauty of the beach. Tackling the litter and debris that washes ashore from elsewhere is going to be much harder to tackle.
Bye for now

Friday, 11 September 2009

Sea Mammals

My local coast is also visited by sea mammals each year, in particular bottlenose dolphins and common seals. Both of these species are protected because they are threatened by human activities.

Bottlenose dolphin off Shoreham Beach

Bottlenose dolphin often visit in the summer months, sometimes as early as March, and may be seen on and off until about September. These dolphins migrate along our coast, usually travelling west to east, often as close at 100 metres from the beach. They are beautiful animals and a spectacular site. I have never seen a whale, but I am hoping I might be able to do some whale watching during my journey around the world.

We even had a visit from a sociable dolphin called George (above) who spends most of the year off the coast of France. Unfortunately George loves boats and has recieved several injuries from boat propellors because of this.

Common seal on a jetty near Brighton (photo by Bill Carter)

Common seals also visit our coast, but sadly the numbers of these seals have declined by over 50% in the last few years. Earlier this year 5 seals a few miles up the coast were fitted with elecronic tags to monitor their movement. This is a small group of seals that live in the Solent area and there is a lot of worry about their future. This is why the seals have been fitted with special tags so scientists can find out the important parts of their habitat. They hope to find out where they feed, haul out on land etc, so these places can be protected for the seals.

This is one of the seals fitted with a tag, it does look rather funny. Its like having a mobile phone on your head. Everytime the seal comes to the surface of the sea it sends a message (automatically) to a computer which records where the seal is. The tag also records and transmits information about how long and how deep the seal dives underwater and where it rests out of the water. Very clever technology.

This map shows how the information from the tags can record where the seals travel each day, how far they swim etc.

Surpringly, the common seals that swim past my local beach sometimes also travel many miles up river for a while. Maybe they are following fish?

Common seal , River Ouse in East Sussex, near Brighton.

Most of the seals are fit and healthy but occasionally a seal is washed up on the beach because of injury or illness.

Common seal pup suffering from pneumonia, rescued near Brighton.

Occasionally we also see the larger grey seal as well. This young grey seal (below) is underneath the footbridge on the river Adur which connects Shoreham Beach with the high street.

You can find out more about these sea mammals, including the seal tagging project, on the following weblink

There are many types of seal and sealion that live in different parts of the world. I hope to be able to see them on my travels.

Bye for now


Thursday, 10 September 2009

Global Warming

My local beach at Shoreham is also in danger from global warming. If the polar ice caps continue to melt and sea level rises, the vegetated shingle may be washed away.

Shoreham beach suffers from what is known as coastal squeeze. This is when the beach habitat is squeezed between the sea and development at the top of the beach, in this case, houses.

Over hundreds of years sea levels rise and fall naturally. When the sea level slowly rises over many years, coastal habitats can spread further inland as the coastline changes. However, if the top of the beach is developed the habitat cannot move further inland. As the sea continues to rise it may flood the shingle and the plants may be washed away. Scientists have also predicted more severe storms along the south coast in the future. This may also threaten the vegetated shingle as bigger storms may wash the plants away or loosen the shingle. These plants only grow where the shingle is stable and doesn't move. This is very worrying.

In the last ice age, the ice at the north pole extended down as far as London. The weight of this ice caused Scotland to sink slightly and the south coast to rise up.
At the end of the last ice age this ice melted and since then Scotland has been slowly rising. This also means that the south coast (including Shoreham) is slowly sinking to its original level. This is only about 2 or 3 mm a year, which doesn't sound much. However, if sea levels are also rising by 2 to 3 mm a year because of global warming, the sea may actually be rising by as much as 6 mm a year.

Global warming may also affect the plants if the climate changes. Or it may affect the bees and other insects that pollinate the flowers.

Bumbee visiting the flowers of the Bitter sweet (also known as woody nightshade) a relative of the potato

During my expedition I will be looking to see how climate change and global warming is affecting other parts of the world.
Bye for now, Ed.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Planning the Expedition

Hi all.

I am in the middle of planning my expedition and there is a lot to organise. I plan to travel to various countries around the world and I have already received several offers of help from the USA, Alaska and Australia from people who will look after me and show me around.

In the meantime, I thought I would share with you some of my experiences in the UK, particularly the wildlife and places near where I live. These experiences have been a major inspiration for my expedition.

This is my local beach. It was made a local nature reserve in June 2006 because of the rare vegetated shingle habitat found on the stable shingle above the high tide mark.

Vegetated shingle beach is not only rare in the UK but is also a rare habitat worldwide. There are over 90 different species of plants that have adapted to this harsh environment. There is almost no soil to be found and no standing fresh water. There is a lot of wind and sunshine that can damage plants and of course sea spray too, plants hate salt. So these plants are kind of special. Some of the plants only grow right at the top of the beach while other more hardy types grow right down to the high tide line.

During the winter most of the plants are growing close to the ground or have died back underneath the shingle. In spring, the beach bursts into life and colour and is at its best in the summer months. Through the autumn the plants die back until next spring. Even these plants would find it difficult in the winter so they rest beneath the ground protected by the shingle.
The following 3 pictures show how the vegetated shingle plants reappear each year.
March 2009

April 2009
May 2009

Last year the beach was covered in snow for a couple of days.
Tortoiseshell butterfly

The beach is also home to lots of invertebrates (insects, spiders and snails) that either eat the plants or use them for shelter. Lots of birds visit the beach as well, in the spring and summer they eat the invertebrates and feed on the plant seeds in the autumn. I have also seen a fox on the beach and there are also lots of lizards.
Common European Lizard

One of my favourite shingle plants is the yellow horned poppy which has large bright yellow flowers.
Later in the year the plant produces long thin seed pods (a bit like a green bean pod) which look like horns.
Bye for Now, Ed.