Our foreign service continues this week, in the form of shallow water surveys, employing those most rudimentary tools of the marine scientist: snorkel, mask, fins and a good attitude. Which is what we would be most likely doing were we in Mayo this week, given that we are into the last weeks of July and early weeks of August. Settled seas, good visibility, warm(er) waters and friends on holidays mean these weeks of the year are prime snorkelling season.
Better wetsuit technology in recent years means now more affordable and reliable warmth in our temperate waters, which will top off at – a still quite cool – 16° Celsius or so, sometime in September. These key pieces of equipment, which were once heavy, expensive and came in limited sizes, are now light, reasonably priced and widely available for everyone from toddlers to xxl folk.
More and more people, thus, are taking their first look below and seeing for themselves the occasional wildlife treasures that they didn’t know could be found in Mayo, such as the cuckoo wrasse (pictured). Family visits to Mayo’s 11 blue flag beaches now often deviate to the fringes of the strand where rock-pools and shallow water rocky habitats draw kids and adults hopeful for a glimpse of an iascán, darting nervously in between rocks, or more ambitiously in deeper locations perhaps, a pollack, or a dogfish snoozing on the bottom.
Shores which are too sheltered such as around Carraholly, Newport and Bunnacurry, Achill aren’t much good for snorkelling as their waters are often sedimented giving poor visibility and subject to strong tidal flows. More exposed locations such as Old Head, Keem, Inisturk and Clare Island are perfect, providing there is not much swell present. On extremely calm days, a lone rock in shallow water at beaches such as Carramore, Doughmakone, Mulranny, Keel and Elly Bay is a perfect introduction to Mayo marine life. Rock pools left by the tide are perfect for the youngest of snorkellers.
Important to remember is that snorkelling zones are usually well outside the limits of lifeguard protection; snorkellers with 20 years of experience always tell someone on shore before they go and never go alone; nobody should. For those looking at rockpool life, a tide table is necessary as is careful consideration of the following phrase, which those living by any West of Ireland shore will have heard countless times – ‘tide waits for no man’.