Sunday, 25 June 2017

Extreme Rockpooling with Wembury Marine Centre

Stunning rockpools in Wembury
I've never seen so many different species of crab!!!

Britain's shores are teeming with vibrant life, and although I've blogged about rockpooling with kids before, today we stepped things up a few levels by doing EXTREME rockpooling with the help of some of the fab marine biologists who volunteer for Wembury Marine Centre. Folks, this is an incredible experience! Let me tell it via pictures:

Rockpooling rockstar Ed showing us their resident starfish

Making friends with a crab

A baby crab

A pasty crab
Do you remember the video I posted of the velvet swimming crab we found on Wembury beach last time? This one was much bigger - and feisty too!

Velvet swimming crab

I found a hermit crab! I love the way they scurry around in their shells #stealth
This crab is carrying eggs - how wonderful is that? They look a bit like caviar...

A crab carrying eggs
Just when you think you've seen it all, we came across this - a crab that has, for reasons unknown to any of us, seized two rocks and is clinging onto them for dear life:

Rock-ing out
You might be feeling crabby now, so here's a glimpse at the other sealife we came across:
I found a prawn!
I also found and held a Cornish sucker fish. As you might expect, when I tried to put it back in the water, it stuck fast to my finger! I liked the way its mouth opened and closed on my palm. But don't be fooled by its cuteness - those bulges on its head are fake eyes! These sea creatures are really good at the whole stealth thing.

Cornish sucker fish
We also came across this incredible sight - a Cornish sucker fish's eggs, in different stages of development:
I've never seen a live lobster up close before, so was pleased to see this:
Squat lobster

Chillin' with a starfish
Apparently starfish can regrow all their legs even if they lose them all, like this one-legged starfish we found:

Technically still a starfish
A normal starfish

A very wriggly sea spider
This is not all the sealife we found - there were also countless fish, pipefish, a three-inch-long blue sea worm... In fact, the folk at the centre compiled a list of all the species we came across in two hours of rockpooling, and it is rather impressive!:

How cool is that?! Aimed at ages eight and up, and for only a small fee, Wembury Marine Centre runs events like this over the summer. They also teach children (and adults) to rockpool safely, and to look after the critters, e.g. by returning them to where they were found. I feel privileged to have taken part in this activity with the centre's exceptionally engaging staff, and it was extremely satistfying to see so many beautiful creatures up close. Give Wembury Marine Centre a like on their Facebook page, and get involved!

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Labyrinths and waterfalls in Tintagel, King Arthur's Cornwall

I need to update this blog more - probably a sentence most bloggers have written! I started this blog as a way to write for fun, as all my other writing work is paid, and therefore has to be of a certain standard. I'll still write science-based posts here, but because content that requires a lot of research takes some time to write, and because I already so much of it for paid work and my MSc, I am going to blog more for fun! Therefore, here is a heavily picture-laden post of my most recent trip to...


I love hiking, and I love wild places, and having adventures. So it will come as no surprise that Tintagel is one of my favourite places to visit in Cornwall, as it's a lovely wild village found on the Atlantic coast of England, and also home to Tintagel Castle. Although this is a popular tourist attraction, be warned - this really is a place of adventure!

For example, it's a fair treck up to the castle grounds, and that's after the walk uphill to the 'entrance' or ticket booth, where there is an entry free for access to the castle grounds, followed by a steep trek up and down sets of stairs and across a bridge. I'm glad I didn't bring the kids along to Tintagel the first time we explored it! They're a bit young to navigate the path yet, and on a blustery, wet day, one could easily be blown into the sea!

The steepness, however, allows for some breathtaking views...

Tintagel Castle

Tintagel Castle is associated with the legends of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, as folklore tells us that Arthur was born here. Apparently this is thanks to a man who wrote about Arthur's life in his fictionalised account of British history, the Historia Regum BritanniaeIn fact, the structures are mostly Norman, built in the 11th and 12th centuries.

It is also possible to climb down to the beach and catch a look at Merlin's Cave (in the top right corner of the picture below).

There is plenty to explore - easily enough to fill a day with. Tintagel is also a site of archaeological interest, with regular digs taking place, and an annual Archaeology Festival which I hope to attend this summer.

And at the end of the hike, there is a lovely cafe on site, which actually stocks my favourite chocolate and coconut vegan flapjacks!

The Rocky Valley

We made the most of our time in this part of Cornwall by going off the beaten track a bit and wandering into the Rocky Valley which is found along the Trevillet River near Tintagel, and owned by the National Trust. Over 161 different species of moss have been recorded in this area.

Trevellett River is beautiful.

Kieve waterfall is stunning, but this was the closest I could climb down to it without getting drenched!

If you are dedicated enough, and like exploring, look for the Rocky Valley labyrinths. These are carvings found in the slate there, which most likely date from the early Bronze Age (1800-1400 BC), although some archeaologists believe that they are are from the Celtic (Iron Age) period, roughly between 500 BC and AD 200, while others argue that the carvings are relatively modern, perhaps even made by one of the mill owners.

This site has become a sort of worship-place amongst pagan and New Age visitors in recent years, who have decorated it by tying ribbons to tree branches, and leaving behind rocks carved with lovers' names and small trinkets. It's a sweet little place, and one I will go back to one day.

Opposite this site is what remains of the old mill. Does the font of this sign look familiar to you??

And thus ends our adventure! Where are your favourite hiking spots? I will post more of mine soon. After all, the road goes ever on and on...

Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Aquarium: The Perfect Plaice for Learning about Marine Conservation

If you're looking for an awe-inspiring, science-based activity for a rainy weekend, I wholeheartedly recommend visiting a local aquarium. We love rock-pooling in the warmer seasons, so when we can't go to the beach to find sea creatures we instead visit the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth. This is a conservation charity that aims to raise awareness of the oceans, teach people about underwater sustainability, and drive marine conservation through engagement, and there are similar projects all over the UK/world.

I can't recommend this activity enough. While museums can be stressful experiences to navigate with boisterous young children, I actually find aquariums to be the opposite in nature. This may partly be because watching fish in aquariums has been found to lower people's stress responses and improve their mood, or there may be other reasons behind it.. If you have any ideas, let minnow ;)

Visitor interaction at the National Marine Aquarium is high, with many varied activities to take part in, which are included in the entry fee. Although the entry price might seem costly at first, it covers a full year of visits, so if you visit more than once in a year it actually works out fairly cheap. You just need to attach photos of all the attendees to the receipt to be able to take advantage of this offer. It's a bit of effort but worth it in the long-run - mullet over and I think you'll agree...

The National Marine Aquarium has a simple engagement tool for children, which (from a science communicator perspective) I thought was really good. On the way in you collect a small card that pictures different sea creatures, e.g. a shark, a sea star, then as you make your way around the aquarium you collect the a stamp of each picture. My girls loved doing this as it gave their busy little hands something active to do, rather than only looking at the sights around them.

They were also really excited to see a Velvet Swimming Crab, as we saw one in the wild while rock-pooling last summer. I love watching my children's minds develop into making these links between past and present experiences, and asking questions about them: the basic foundation required for any scientist.

Watching scientists at work
Soon after we arrived at the aquarium a member of staff saw my daughters marvelling at the starfish and came over with a preserved one to show them. It was really interesting to be able to feel the sea star's bony skin, and added a great level engagement to the experience for my children. They were full of interest and questions.

Exploring a sea star up close with a member of staff

Obligatory sea star selfie
Did you know? Starfish are now called sea stars. Marine scientists decided that sea star is a more appropirate name for the echinoderm, since it is not actually a fish. As a space-obssessed family we love the new name of course!

'Look mummy, these sea stars are cuddling!'

The National Marine Aquarium is home to the deepest tank in the UK, a 550,000 litre exhibit called the Atlantic Ocean:

This photo is of Snorkel the Sea Turtle. He has now sadly passed away (and is sleeping with the fishes... Sorry).

Turtley awesome
We also saw lots of different kinds of jellyfish:

I could have stared at this incredible sight for hours

Drifting with the water...

As an added experience-enricher, we listened to Poco Drom's ethereal Jellyfish Lullabubble song when we got home (be warned: it's catchy and will also make you sleepy!):

So many fish exhibits to trawl through...

Did you know? All species of flatfish are born upright, like any normal fish. As they grow older they flatten out, sliding their eyes around their heads. Officially fishy business!

Flatfish in the ocean exhibit


This face means: there's a shark behind me isn't there...!
There were also some really cool octopi, but none of my photos of them came out clear enough to post. Looks like we'll have to go back for another visit soon then! No squidding.

I hope you've enjoyed this blog post. I've tried to fillet with as much useful information as possible, but please do post any points I've missed in the comments.

Disclaimer: Apologies for all the fishy jokes in this post. The writer admits to being gillty of making bad puns.