I was jealous of the divers slipping bath-like into the water 2 hours before sunset on a long evening last week. The sea in May is as cold as any day in December but the air was warm, the sun was still warm and the water looked warm and quietly receptive. Returning home from a surf mission up north, and without snorkelling equipment we were bound pitifully to the shore to watch their bubbles rise to the surface while they watched whatever was hiding behind fronds of kelp 20 metres below. They were SCUBA Divers, diving with tanks, regulators, rules and buddy systems. SCUBA is fun and useful for when serious research has to be done underwater but on this evening all I wanted was a mask and fins and the simple liberation of free-diving.
An hour later, crouched with camera, I had forgotten about the divers and the deep and renewed my enthusiasm for the shore. I couldn’t get enough pictures of the most colourful rock-pool I’ve ever seen; 2 feet square and a humble 2 inches deep, it was populated by a sea of life. Green, pinkish red and brown seaweeds grew like decorative installations beside evenly spaced peach yellow limpets covered pimple like by barnacles, all out competed for boldness and exoticness, besides space on my camera’s memory card, by the flamboyantly brilliant orange and maroon Beadlet Anemones.
When Beadlet Anemones are left high and dry by the dropping tide, they withdraw themselves into a slimy brown blob, unattractive and not even hinting at how good a show they can put on when underwater. There, and despite years of looking at these animals, they still appear to me as if they might not belong to an Irish shore. Their tender structures, rich colour and delicate wavering tentacles look like relics of a warmer sea or maybe another planet depending on your imagination.
They wouldn’t just impress me I thought, this rock-pool and those extra terrestrial anemones would probably grab a whole classroom if they could only see them. There’s no entrance fee to the intertidal zone and a teacher looking for an economical 2010 school outing could find it here. The Heritage Council’s highly successful Heritage in Schools Scheme www.heritagecouncil.ie can tell you more about the expert in your area who can advise you where to find a good site and answer the endless questions a living rock-pool such as this will generate. Visits to the intertidal should be made at low spring tides which occur between 11am and 2pm for three or four days twice a month. This year, the 13th to 18th and 27th to 30th of May and the 13th to 16th and 26th to 29th of June will be good dates, tide-wise, to go to the shore.