United by the retreat of the tide

With the retreat of the tide, two communities are brought together for a fun-filled day of camaraderie and discovery!
Each rock is a world of discovery
A shanny (Lipophrys pholis) nestled among the barnacles

 The Rock Pool Project helps the people of Plymouth meet the wildlife of the rocky shores. First-timers and experienced rockpoolers share in the fun as they discover crabs and shannies, hiding in rocky crevices. 

Where land meets sea

I spend a great deal of my time in rock pools. As a PhD candidate at the University of Plymouth, it’s kind of my job. It is often back-aching, knee-busting, solitary work. Scrambling over barnacle-speckled rocks, slipping on splayed kelp, I stop to stoop over glassy pools of water, bits of ocean left behind by the tide’s retreat. Professionally, I study these places and the animals that live here. Personally, these spaces, the ever-shifting boundary zones where sea and land collide, are my favourite places to visit and explore.

 What makes the rocky intertidal such a special place? The opportunity for endless discovery combined with the transience of the ocean’s retreat. By cautiously lifting and delicately shifting rocks, a dynamic world is revealed: shannies flopping over damp gravel, crabs scuttling into the briny muck, brittle stars waggling spiny arms against a glare of sudden light. Each rock is a world unto itself, and yet it is part of something bigger, too: a whole ecosystem ordered by the ever-dependable tide. It is a community of life, wild and wonderful and close enough to touch.
This is me! Hunting for hermit crabs for my PhD research
A muddy procelain crab (Porcellana platycheles)

Exploring together

Welcoming first-timers to the shore!
Greeting a green shore crab (Carcinus maenas)

Last Sunday was my first foray out into the rock pools of Cornwall with a community of humans: the Plymouth branch of The Rock Pool Project. Considering how close the ocean is and how many rock pool habitats surround Plymouth, it surprised me to learn that many people in the region have never been rock pooling! The Rock Pool Project provides a safe and inviting space for people from around the area to come and learn about the amazing wildlife found at the ocean’s edge and how to rock pool safely and respectfully.

I was not the only newcomer to the group. Paired with a more experienced guide, I helped to lead a family who had never been rock pooling pick their way over the shore, showing them the crevices where creatures could be found. The exuberant joy of the novice explorer was palpable as both the children and their parents became absorbed in search and discovery. Here was a pasty crab (Cancer pagurus), claws tucked tightly against its body, huddled in a shallow, shaded pool. Next, upon lifting a muddy rock, a broad-clawed porcelain crab (Porcellana platycheles) shifted backwards over the tiny whorls of spirorbis tube worms (Spirorbis spp.). But the most exciting wildlife discovery of the day was made by a boy whose keen eyes spotted a speck of bright violet and orange which, when gently placed in a tub of water, unfurled to reveal a nudibranch! The elegant Facelina auriculata!


As incredible a discovery as the nudibranch was, at the end of the day, what left the biggest impression on me was the camaraderie of the group. On the shores of Plymouth Sound, braving a cold and brittle wind, strangers joined together to share an experience, learn about the place where land meets sea, and uncover the life found there. A community of wildlife and a community of people, briefly united by the departure of the sea.

Part of the mission of The Rock Pool Project is to build a sense of community and improve mental well-being by offering a space where people can be together in nature. Judging from the smiles on the participants’ faces as we departed for Plymouth, mission accomplished.

A flat periwinkle (Littorina obtusata) creeping over stones

A Special Thanks!

The Rock Pool Project is only able to run the Blue Recovery Project thanks to National Lottery Players and The National Lottery Heritage Fund. We are sincerely grateful for their support. This funding helps ensure we can connect communities on sea and shore! 

Another huge thanks is due to our friends at Farrier’s Café and Plymouth Boat Trips for helping us arrange refreshments and transportation. Finally, we owe a great deal to Plymouth Sound National Marine Park for their support in helping us spread the word about the benefits of connecting with the ocean and it’s wildlife. 


By: Ari Drummond (PhD Candidate, University of Plymouth) 

Images from the day:

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