Marine Week: Explore our fantastic coast

As part of National Marine Week, we are posting a series of articles focusing on different aspects of Scotland’s incredible seas. In today’s article, we have created a bucket list of activities you can take part in along Scotland’s amazing shoreline. 

Heading to the coast this weekend? If not, why not? Scotland’s coast has some of the most dynamic, intriguing and inspiring places in the world! From dazzling seabird colonies to internationally-renowned geological formations, Scotland’s coastal environment is steeped in nature, culture, and history. To help inspire you to get out there during National Marine Week, we have created a bucket list of favoured pastimes. Be sure to let us know how you spent your weekend by tweeting us or posting photos on our Facebook page!

Rock pooling

Rock pooling. © Brian Mitchell

The smell of low tide means one thing….rock pooling!! When the tide goes out, the crevices and pools of the coast become exposed revealing an array of natural aquariums waiting to be explored.

Some are big enough to swim in and some are no bigger than a tea cup, but all contain life. You could discover crabs, shrimps, fish, snails, seaweeds, sea squirts, maybe even an octopus!

Rock pooling is great fun for children and is an invaluable way of introducing them to wildlife and ecosystems – what better way to understand marine habitats, food chains and the natural cycles of the sea than to actually get in up to your knees and rummage around!

Remember to bring a good pair of wellies, an ID book, and a bucket, and always take care when walking on the slippery rocks!

Beach-combing

Walk along a beach at low tide and you will find an incredible array of treasures left behind by the sea. The strandline is mostly made up of detached seaweeds but among the vegetation you can also find shells, shark and ray egg-cases, driftwood, old fishing buoys, and maybe even a message in a bottle!

Many beachcomber’s even search for lost cargo from shipping vessels, most famously the 28,000 plastic toy ducks and other bath toys (Friendly Floatees) lost in the Pacific in 1992 that started appearing on shorelines all over the world – a valuable, albeit accidental, experiment on ocean currents!

Beach-combing can be a fun and inspiring activity for all ages and interests, from children collecting different coloured seashells to enthusiastic naturalists testing their ID skills and artists collecting driftwood. Beach-combing can even be combined with a little beach clean! Just be careful what you pick up, and make sure you know the tide times before going out.

Geology and fossils

Scotland’s coasts contain a diverse range of geology that is reflected in its dynamic coastline. Rock formations can provide a fascinating insight into Scotland’s geological history, from when it once lay at the bottom of the sea to when it was covered in giant glaciers. In the northwest you can find some of Europe’s oldest rocks (Lewisian gneiss) and on the east coast you can find great examples of rock stratification (layering) – most notably at Siccar Point on the Berwickshire coast where the 18th century geologist James Hutton proved that the Earth was millions, rather than thousands, of years old.

The layered rocks of the east coast are also hot-spots for fossils, especially along the Fife coastline. Fossils help us understand how life and climate have changed throughout Scotland’s long geological history and provide a great source of interest for scientists, students, and amateur geologists alike. Budding fossil hunters can find prehistoric marine creatures, such as ammonites and bivalves, hidden within the rocks and stones of the coastline.

Whale and dolphin watching

You don’t have to go abroad to watch whales and dolphins. There are many places here in Scotland that are perfect for spotting cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises). 29 different species of cetaceans have been recorded around the UK. Many can be seen from the shore, such as the resident pod of bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth, or for those looking for more of an adventure, there are many organised whales watching boat trips, you can find operators through the WiSe Scheme.

Do remember, if you are lucky enough to see a whale, dolphin or porpoise, please submit your sighting to Whale and Dolphin Conservation, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust or the Seawatch Foundation. These sightings provide invaluable data when it comes to learning more about our wonderful marine mammals that are often just off our shores. Also keep an eye out for seals, basking sharks, sea birds and white-tailed eagles!

Bird watching

In summer Scotland becomes home for an incredible number of migratory seabirds that return here to breed. Gannets, puffins, kittiwakes, and guillemots (to name just a few) can all be seen in some of the most spectacular bird colonies on Scotland’s coastline. From Bass Rock in East Lothian, to Handa Island in Sutherland and St Kilda in the far west, seabirds come in their hundreds of thousands to nest on some of Scotland’s most rugged and exposed sea cliffs. A large seabird colony is truly a wonderful sight to behold. Just remember to bring your binoculars and camera!

Snorkelling & scuba diving

Gruinard Bay on the North West Highlands
Snorkel Trail. © Noel Hawkins

Scotland’s seas are home to a fantastic variety of marine animals that can be found just a short swim from the shore. Colourful seaweeds, rocks encrusted with sponges, bryozoans, and barnacles, and various other weird and wonderful creatures, such as crabs, fish, and jellyfish, are all there to see.

Check out the Trust’s  Snorkel Trails for more information on where to go and what to see. Just make sure you never snorkel alone, check the weather and sea conditions, and always remember the Three T’s – don’t Touch, don’t Take, and don’t Tease!

Foraging and fishing

It’s often said that ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’, well pop down to your local shoreline and this could be proved wrong. Razor clams, winkles, limpets, mussels, crabs, and seaweeds can all be found amongst the rocks. The popularity of foraging has grown in recent years but it is important to know what you are eating and what the potential hazards are.

You can now find reliable guides that will tell you what to look for, where, and when. For example, it is important to know that filter-feeding organisms like mussels can accumulate toxins and pollutants and should only be collected from clean waters. Also, it is important to know which species are protected and should be left alone, such as horse mussels and native oysters.

Beach clean

Picking up litter might seem more like a chore than a fun weekend activity, but beach cleans can be a great way of getting out and exploring the coast, getting close to nature, and doing something positive for the environment. There are lots of benefits of cleaning up the environment. the beach becomes a safer place for families and pets, plastics and other rubbish that could end up in the food chain or entangle animals are removed, and the beach becomes a much more attractive place to spend time.

A beach clean doesn’t have to take all day or require a huge amount of effort. Even picking up a few pieces of litter while walking along the beach can help. If you are interested in volunteering for an organised beach clean, check out the Marine Conservation Society’s and Surfers Against Sewage’s websites, or contact your local council to find out if anything is happening near you.

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Preface

In today's article to celebrate National Marine Week, here's a few activities you can enjoy along Scotland's amazing shoreline. 

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