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Coastal, General, Inshore

Legacies of a wild November

In the glassy December stillness after a high energy November, the meddlesome traces of this stormy and violent month were making themselves apparent in our marine ecosystems. A phone call from an excited Mark in County Clare, excited not because his photo was reproduced in several newspapers that day, but for the exotic reptile which had been placed in his care was the first and most exotic deviance from normality I met last week.  You have probably seen and heard about “Imirceach” or “Little Migrant”, the loggerhead turtle, blown off course by the endless lows in the North Atlantic over the past 6 weeks, ultimately making landfall on Doughmore Beach. In a coma state, he was greeted by biologists and professional aquarium staff who are keeping him alive* and plotting his reinstatement to a more southerly point in the North Atlantic from where he might eventually complete his migration to a site more favourable to loggerhead reproduction.

At home, the workings of swell after swell which finally ceased last Thursday to a calm orderliness groomed by light easterlies continued to reveal themselves over the weekend. At the north end of the beach waves broke in a place they normally don’t; enough sand had been displaced by the wave action and its accompanying rip currents to form a shallow sandbar just far enough outside the beach to be notable. The sand had been scoured deep around it, focusing the wave energy on the centre, a powerful and perfect wave for those lucky enough to access it.

Such events have a capacity to unearth, to claw at our moveable shores and dig things up, perhaps revealing more than is at first apparent. Inside the new sandbar, the beach had lost a few feet of its sand rudely exposing a bed of rocks from their summer covering.  Scattered amongst these new additions to the shore’s topography were rods and fragments of kelp, our perennial indicator of what is going on in the elusive offshore kelp-beds. Contrary what is often thought (and sometimes taught) the presence of sea rods on the shore is usually determined more by the plants’ life cycle than the action of the ocean. In this instance however, the masses of short, thin fragments littered on the shore implied that the juvenile Laminaria and Alaria species which should be hanging on in their unknown strongholds between Carrownisky and Inishturk for a few more years were interrupted by an extraordinary month.

And not only the deep, but the past was evoked by the legacy of November 2009. A little further down the shore and sand again was divulging its secrets. A section of the cliff bluff, which is nothing more than sediment held in place by resolute marram grass, had given way to incessant westerlies undermining its base. Here, 20 feet above the high tide mark, crumbling out of the cliff face were periwinkles and baineachs. Many Novembers ago, somewhere between mesolithic and medieval, these molluscs of the low tide rocky shore made their way to someone’s mealplace by hand. The people who identified a shellfish which would ultimately be harvested and sell well in France (the periwinkle, the baineach’s taste never found popular favour) laid down their rubbish in a shell-midden for us to consider our past with. November has passed, December is here and the sea is bringing us a newer, colder agenda from the north. The winkles and baineachs make their way back down to the ocean and the sediment as new legacies are deposited and secrets are covered up again by the timeless sands.

*The turtle died some days later as staff made efforts to gradually readjust him to warmer waters.

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