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A shoreline tale

Thursday, 14 January 2016 12:13 Written by  Lisa Leslie
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The extensive stretch of sand and sea is considered as one of our region’s most enticing natural assets. The scenic grandeur, the crashing waves, the salt air, the cool water and sand beneath your feet - a walk along any one of our beaches promises to engage all the senses. These also offer a glimpse into the intriguing world of marine life.

The dynamic Indian Ocean constantly spits out the remains of dead creatures during the shifting tides, leaving many a live one stranded, providing food for others in return. The next time you take a leisurely stroll along the beach remember to take a closer look at its myriad of contents telling a fascinating tale of the complex web of life that exists along our coastline.

During certain prevailing winds (usually the onshore easterly winds) our beaches can often be seen sprinkled with beached blue bottles (also known as the Portuguese Man o' War). These blue bottles are not one single organism, but a colony of four kinds of minute, highly modified individuals called zooids. Incapable of independent survival, they live together and survive in symbiotic bliss.

Other unfortunate victims of the tides are various jellyfish species, most prolifically the barrel jellyfish that is widely distributed throughout South Africa. It is opalescent white or blue in colour and has no trailing tentacles around the bell, but has eight, thick arms underneath covered in frilly tissue. Within minutes of these washing ashore, smooth plough snails can be seen descending upon these gelatinous masses. These snails are very sensitive to traces of food nearby and, using its large foot as an underwater sail, they surf up onto the beach in search of prey. They then stick a proboscis into their prey to suck out the soft tissue.

After the high tide waters recede you will often come across the empty shells of bivalve molluscs, sea urchins, snails, oysters, limpets, crabs, cuttlefish, and many more. If you are really lucky you may get to see the extremely fragile pansy or paper nautilus shell.

Kelp gulls, African black oystercatchers and white-fronted plovers are often seen taking advantage of the low tide surf and exposed rock pools that dot the shoreline. Take the time to peer into these intertidal zones, for they hold an extraordinary treasure chest of life.

Within these pools a kaleidoscope world of colour exists. You will see various types of filter feeding barnacles that have attached themselves to the rocks. Limpets, which are famed for their sticking ability, are a common sight and are surprisingly mobile, moving slowly across the rocks grazing for food. There are many different limpet species. There are false-limpets which have lungs and are related to land snails and there are true limpets which have gills. Hidden in the dark crevices away from predators are the brightly- coloured spiky cape urchins, the otherworldly looking anemones, bright orange starfish and the agile octopus to name but a few.

The multitude of riches that can be found along our shoreline coupled with the breath-taking scenery makes a beach meander a must-do when visiting the Greater Knysna area. For an educational and uplifting guided beach tour contact our local nature guru Mark Dixon of Garden Route Trails on 082 213 5931

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