It’s no secret that Swansea and Gower are absolutely amazing places to go rock-pooling. It was something we always did as a family when I was growing up and still brings me absolute joy even now. It’s fascinating what you can find drifting in on the tide and making itself at home in the pools among the rocks.
There’s a variety of places you can go rock-pooling and it depends on what you want to find, how long you want to be there – depending on the tide, and what your stability is like as some have very large rocks to clamber about. For me, one of my favourite places to visit is Three Cliffs; it’s fantastic to gently wander with a net and pull out species of crabs, shrimps and fish, it’s a brilliant place for families as there are no rocks. But be wary of the deeper water pools near the rocks. Port Eynon, Bracelet Bay and Caswell Beach are all great places to do some rock-pooling, how-ever these are very rocky areas. The unsung hero of all rock-pools is the causeway to Worm’s Head at Rhossili, it is absolutely amazing – I’ve never seen so many star fish, fish and crabs.
So what kit do you need to have for the best rock-pooling experience? Use either a bucket or a cat litter tray and fill with water and leave in a place that will be your designated catching zone – it saves carrying it around with you! Make sure all your creatures go into your tray or bucket and consider keeping the larger creatures like crabs in a separate bucket, remember to return them to their natural habitats after you’ve had your time with them.
Let’s look at some common species you are likely to find in the pools!
A small fish which comes in a variety of colours, they always have a triangle like head and two dorsal fins – the ones along its back- the first will have an off-yellow colour to it. These are one of the fastest and most common fish you’re likely to find!
Another very common rock-pool fish is the Shanny or Common Blenny. This smiley little chap has one long dorsal fin down its back and is often found just sitting on rocks in the pools, they can survive on little water so make sure you check around the tops of the pools or in the damp rocks, just around the edges.
One of the most common crabs we find here in Wales, the beauty that is the Common Shore crab! They are usually up to 10cm in size and very spread out and flat, with long legs leading out from their shell.
The first rock-pool species I learned to identify! The humble Periwinkle is an iconic species found within any rock-pool. Unlike Limpets, these are not able to stick to the rocks as easily and often fall off with the waves. They come in all different colours and sizes and are an absolute joy!
The iconic starfish is a very intelligent character. Starfish do not cope well out of water and can show signs of stress by curling their leg tips upwards. One of the top predators in pools despite their cute-like appearance, they have a large mouth piece on their under-parts which they use to eat their favourite prey, molluscs!
It’s not just about the fish and other creatures in the pools, the anemones which attach them-selves to the sides of the pools are just as interesting. There are a few varieties including the Beadlet and Snakelocks that just look amazing in the pools waving around in the water, they provide a great habitat for creatures to live in, but these are in fact alive too!
These are the two hardest but most fun creatures to attempt to catch in the pools! There are two types and can be identified by their rostrums (the large nose-like piece that sticks out from the head). Rock-pool shrimps (Palaemon elegans) are slightly smaller, with brownish stripes on its see-through body. Common Prawn (Palaemon serratus) are slightly larger and generally prettier looking – but take a magnifying glass with you and look how many serrations are on the rostrums, the shrimps will have 6-8 ridges in the upper rostrum and the prawns will have 7-10 ridges in the upper rostrum. Prawns also have their main pincers on the 2nd body place after the head.
It’s not just about what’s in the pools; it’s easy to find what’s in the sea by just walking along the tide line and looking for these shark egg cases. There’s a variety of them and it is worth downloading the Shark’s Trust app to identify and even log your sightings. The most common are the Catshark cases (the small yellow ones with the string-like piece at the top), Thornback Ray (almost square looking with four even points) and the Nursehound (huge, tube like purses). Sharks and members of the shark family give birth to live young and they emerge from these cases which are then taken out with the tide, which is why we can find them on our coasts.