Investigating the world of marine inverts in Worms’s Head, Gower

The view of Worm’s head from the coastal path

Last week, Dr Ed Pope kindly offered me the opportunity to join him and his class of second year biosciences undergraduate students at Worm’s Head to take a glimpse of the intertidal marine invertebrate community. The weather was on our side, giving us a good window of sunshine to explore the fascinating inverts in the tidal pools.

Worm’s head is located on Rhossili Bay, and forms the westernmost point of the Gower peninsula. With deep rock pools, gullies and huge limestone boulders, Worm’s head is the ultimate place to look at the different forms of invertebrates present in the intertidal zone. We all set off our walk over the rocky causeway leading us out to the Worm’s head. The causeway is underwater, except for around three hours both before and after a low tide.

A rock goby edging up to the side of the pool (it’s camera shy!)

The Welsh marine environment offers a rich diversity of marine life. Around 37% of the marine environment, including 75% of the Welsh coastline is protected under national and European legislation (Marine Conservation Society, 2019). As the country has one of the largest tidal ranges in the world, the diversity of marine life found on the coasts is unique and thus is the home to a special underwater world.

Male crab guarding the female crab
Snakelock anemone attached to rocks in the rock pool.
Sea urchin grasping onto mussels and the pebble and a chiton hiding behind.
The students handling and exploring the edible crabs

This was going to be my first time rock pooling, so being accompanied by marine biology students and experts was ideal and I was pumped with excitement. We all set off to explore the rock pools on the shore following the rocky causeway, where the exposed rocks were encrusted by mussels and barnacles. Even after the onset of the cold autumn weather, the shore was thriving with life. I was quite intrigued to see the rock pools inhabited by colourful patches of coralline algae and sea anemones, especially the snakelock anemones flashing their vivid green colour. We noticed plenty of species of crabs and did not miss a chance to hold them and have a closer look!  Along with observing various species of hermit crabs, spider crabs and the edible crabs, we also got a chance to observe the mate guarding activity in them. We kept finding many more invertebrates in the lower shore pools, these pools were active with tiny shrimp foraging on the sponges, minute molluscs and sprouting seaweeds. The beautiful honeycomb worm reefs offered a very impressive view of the pattern of protective structures built around the worms and were a delight to see. The student groups were spread across the shore and their findings were all interesting to catch up with. They came across a variety of sea urchins, starfishes and tiny fish like blenny and gobies.

Hard honeycomb structure formed by honeycomb worms as a defence structure.

Further down the coast, in the inner head, we saw seals with their white and fluffy fur coats and distinctive dog snouts resting on the rocky shores.  

Grey seals spotted on the inner head rocks

Sadly it was time to head back towards Swansea and end our rock pooling adventure before the tide crashed on the Worm’s head shores.

I would like to thank Dr Ed Pope and Dr Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley for their support and giving me the opportunity to discover the invertebrate life on Worm’s head.

Thank you and keep watching @FireLabTweets and our FireLab blog for more reflections and experiences.

References:

Mcsuk.org. (2019). Wonderful Welsh Seas | Marine Conservation Society. Available at: https://www.mcsuk.org/wales/

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