Our seas are home to many different plants and animals. Sometimes they find themselves washed up on the beach. Would you like to know what lives on the beach? Have a look at some common beach and strandline finds.
Beach and Strandline Finds
What is a strandline?
A strandline is the line of debris left on the beach when the tide goes out. It’s where the waves gently push the material to at the furthest point they reach before retreating as the tide goes out. Find them on most beaches, particularly where the sea doesn’t come up as far as the sea wall. Like the beaches at Cleveleys (below) and Fleetwood, or Lytham and St Annes.
If you like beachcombing, look for patches of seaweed and shells and twigs. Their mass creates something for plants and animals to snag on, then they all get dropped in a tangle at the edge of the tide.
The strandline includes all kinds of things that have been floating in the water. There’s twigs, sea weed and vegetation. Plus other natural debris like egg cases, shells and sometimes dead animals. Plus of course those pesky man made plastics and litter.
Here are some of the things which you might easily find. There’s usually more to be found and a bigger strandline after rough, windy weather. These things have all been found on beaches of the Fylde Coast.
Plastics and Litter
We’ll start with the thing that’s a hot topic – rubbish.
The things in the next photo were all found in just a few minutes in a small patch of strandline. From left to right is a piece of Duck tape, various sanitary liners, a square wipe and cotton bud sticks, oh and a hair band.
What’s interesting is that the textured surface of these items had all been colonised by plants. Small seaweeds were growing into the fibres of each one, even the duck tape. This is why you should only flush the three p’s – pee, poo and paper.
There’s a full set of plastic cutlery, an ice cream spoon and a chip fork. Plus three previously used (and cut) cable ties. At a guess I’d say from a fishing boat.
The small blue circle is the star find – it’s the plastic top off a Smartie tube. Plastic Smartie lids went out of production in 2005 – so this lid has been lost at sea (or somewhere) for at least 14 years!
Single use plastics are a pain. They use precious resources and can easily end up as marine litter. Or in landfill. Could you think twice before you use or buy them?
Oh and one sock. Why is there always just one sock – or shoe? Actually, here’s the shoe, found today to go with the sock –
Natural Things Found on the Beach
The rough tide of a storm brings up lots of different types of seaweed that aren’t generally found every day on the strandline. Plus various interesting natural things that should be found on a beach (unlike the plastics).
From left to right in the next photo are two mermaid’s purse, a razor shell and the cartilage of a fish skeleton.
Have you ever found one of these strange fish skulls on the beach? This one had come straight out of the sea and so the cartilage was still pliable and flexible. After they’ve dried out in the sun they turn considerably more rigid. Strange things, it’s easy to mistake them for plastic, which of course they’re not.
I took it home to save for display but made a classic schoolgirl error. Instead of letting it dry out first it went straight into the sealed container for the Rossall Beach Buddies Roadshow. Where it festered… oh the smell!
This is an egg case, known as a mermaid’s purse. What does a mermaid keep in her purse? The tiny embryo of a ray, skate or shark which develops before hatching as a tiny fish.
You can see where the fish has come out of this one. The coiled tendrils attach it to seaweed or something solid. There’s a number of different colours and sizes of egg cases – depending on the species of fish. Some are quite large.
Find out more about Mermaid’s Purse here, and you can take part in the Great Eggcase Hunt.
Depending on the tidal conditions you’ll often find lots of shells in their own strandline, usually lower down on the beach. Tiny, ground up fragments of shell are mixed up with whole ones. Most of them will be empty, but sometimes you’ll find a complete one with a sea creature inside.
Next is a common whelk shell – it’s the kind of shell which hermit crabs occupy. The type that you can hear the sea in when you hold them to your ear.
Whelks lay their eggs in a spongy clump and you’re sure to have seen their empty egg cases blowing about on the shore (below) They’re known as Seawash Balls because in the olden days they were used like sponges.
This shell and it’s egg cases are still stuck together.
These shells (below) are common oysters. Most of the shells that we find on the beach are from long-dead animals. Fresh oyster shells still have the pearly white opalescent nacre on the inside.
Things that Live in Shells
You’ll often find crabs on the beach – in various states! If you see any that are still alive you could put them back in the sea (or a pool). Others will be dead but still intact. Quite often you’ll find the skeletons sat on the sand, where birds and other animals have had them for dinner and left the shells behind.
Minus the shell, but the Visit Cleveleys Facebook community think that this next weird thing is the animal that lives in a Razor clam shell. It looked like a string of slime, with the consistency of jelly.
The enterprising creatures in the photo below are Goose Barnacles. They’ve made their home on a plastic bottle!
Goose Barnacles are crustaceans, like crabs and prawns. They live underwater like the barnacles that you see on the groynes and rocks which get covered by the sea. They eat microscopic plankton which they filter out of the water. Different types of Goose Barnacles get washed up in the UK. These appear to be Orange Collared ones, which are rarely stranded in Britain.
This pretty little thing, about as big as a marble, is a Sea Gooseberry.
It’s a tiny little jellyfish, with rows of hairs inside that propel it through the water. A pair of sticky, fishing tentacles are used to catch zooplankton. They tend to swarm in summer and we often see them washed up on the beach, sometimes in quite big numbers. They look like little shiny glass beads, twinkling in the sun.
This is a common Starfish. Did you know they can grow new arms if they lose one? So along with the usual five, you might sometimes see one with less arms or one that’s an odd shape or size. It’s not always easy to see whether they are alive or dead, so it’s worth putting them back in water if you find one.
This is a dried up Lugworm in the photo below. They’re what you see fishermen digging for, down at the water’s edge.
Unless you’ve also dug for them you probably haven’t seen a fresh, lively looking one. They’re quite big when fully grown, about 23cm and very similar to an earthworm. You’ll almost certainly seen one of their casts. The cast is the sand which it pushes out of its U shaped burrow.
Worms and molluscs and bi-valves are important coastal creatures. They live in the flats of the sea bed and are a vital source of food for animals higher up in the food chain.
Honeycomb Worm Reefs
Have you noticed these brown, peaty looking things, sticking out of the sand at low tide? They’re Honeycomb Worm Reefs.
These hummock-looking mounds are made from lots of individual worm cases, each one made from bits of sand and shells. There are so many of them, all stacked side by side in a honeycomb pattern, that they build a reef. The worm itself is a filter feeder, catching plankton and tiny bits of food as the sea passes over it.
It’s an important conservation feature in it’s own right, which can lead to designation of Marine Conservation Zones. There are especially big reefs on Cleveleys beach and at Fleetwood. At low tide you’ll see then covered in sea birds – the reefs are a rich source of food for them.
You’ve probably walked over the beach at low tide and wondered what the sticky, gooey, almost oil like stuff is that you’ll come across in patches. That’s what’s in the foreground of the next photo. I know, I walked into it!
It’s plain old, common-or-garden mud. Would you believe that mud is very important too. It makes the underwater sandy beaches so productive because it’s nutrient rich. It’s largely made from decaying marine algae. The Irish Sea is one of the most productive areas that there is in UK waters.
- Did you know that microscopic marine algae produces more oxygen than trees?
The mud supports a huge amount of basic life forms. The phytoplankton (plant life) and zooplankton (animal life) that feed on the nutrients helps to feed all kinds of life. That’s why we occasionally see Basking Sharks and even Leatherback Turtles, and more commonly bottlenose dolphins and many species of porpoise.
- Did you know there’s as much diversity of species in the Irish Sea as there is in pretty, tropical waters?
- Did you know there are Marine Conservation Zones off the Fylde Coast? They’re important for smelt fish.
There are lots of different types of seaweeds, they live in different places and grow in different ways in the marine environment. You’ll usually see the black stuff with the air bubbles along the length of the strands laid on the beach. The weather had washed some different specimens up that you don’t see quite so often.
Unfortunately we also see dead birds and animals on the beach too. It’s quite common to see the bodies of seabirds washed up after storms. They’re in various stages of decomposition depending on how long they’ve been in the water. Like this unfortunate Guillemot.
There are seal colonies at Walney Island and on the Isle of Man. We often see live seals swimming offshore, along with an occasional corpse, like this one, which you can see is very dead.
There are often reports of dolphins and porpoise swimming offshore, especially as the sea becomes increasingly clean. Sometimes the dead bodies of porpoise and dolphins wash to shore too (below).
If you find a dolphin or porpoise body you can report it to the local authority (Blackpool, Wyre or Fylde Council). If it is in a reasonably good state it might be possible to carry out a postmortem to establish the cause of death.
You can also report your own findings of dolphin and porpoise to the UK Cetaceans Stranding Investigation Programme.
Less Common Beach and Strandline Finds
After periods of really rough weather you might find some strange looking animals thrown up from deeper waters.
This is a sea mouse. It’s a species of scale worm which normally lives buried under a sandy seabed. It’s about as big as a mouse, and covered in hairy bristles – hence the name. They usually wash up upside down – turn them over to see that it looks like a mouse.
This next photo is a species of coral known as dead man’s fingers.
It grows in a fleshy blob, similar to fingers, firmly attached to rock. Dislodged in storm conditions, it gets stranded on the beach.
Below is a sea anemone, detached from its home somewhere to get washed up on our beach.
Fascinating little creatures, sea anemones are predatory. They often have symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationships with single celled creatures and algae which live within their own cells.
They eat small fish and shrimps. Catching and paralysing them with a stinging harpoon like filament that it throws out when triggered by touch.
Like the ones that are a blight in our back gardens, this is one of a huge variety of shapes, colours and sizes of sea slug.
Different ones feed on different prey. That might be plankton or, with their razor sharp teeth, other small animals. Like jellyfish, sea anemones or even other sea slugs.
If you want to share something that you found on the beach please send your photos (jpegs) and stories for inclusion in this section.
You can email jane@theRabbitPatch.co.uk
Beachcombing and Beach Toys
It’s quite usual to find plastic buckets and spades and beach toys along the strandline, particularly after rough weather.
Rossall Beach Residents & Community Group look after the shingle beach at the north of Cleveleys, and they’ve come up with an ingenious answer. In 2019 the group installed a Beachcombing Box for you to share anything you find that’s either useful or nice.
If you’re walking at Cleveleys you can pop buckets and spades, balls and leads in here. If you’ve visited the beach and don’t want the toys that you brought you can also pop them in here for another child to play with.
Found on the Beach
Here at Visit Fylde Coast we love to go beachcombing. It’s amazing what you might find – literally animal, mineral and vegetable!
One sunny morning we lined up what we found in half an hour and photographed it all. Take a look at this link
Essential Guide to Beachcombing and the Strandline
This book is highly recommended – use it to learn about what you find and see.
While you’re here…
Have a look at the homepage of the Visit Fylde Coast website for more of the latest updates.
Love the Fylde Coast? Sign up for your weekly email newsletter. Packed full of interesting things it arrives in your inbox all 52 weeks of the year.
Join us on Facebook at our Visit Fylde Coast Facebook Group
Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @visitFyldeCoast