On Sunday I walked out to the long reefs of red rock that extend from the flanks of the baleen Seabird centre at the western edge of Milsey Bay. Churning white horses cover them at full tide on a windy day, but left on their own when calm returns they reveal worlds of aquatic beauty in the pools and crevices carved into the rocky beds. Closer to the shore, the flat outcrops are blanketed by a tight weave of Fucus spiralis and green gutweed (Ulva intestinalis). As the reef stretches out to sea, it changes to a moonlike topography of crustaceous life; from the tiny silvery eyes of a thousand pinpoint barnacles, to scores of domed limpets and black-eyed snails, edged by reef river beds of sea mosses, Corallina clusters and banks of Pepper Dulse (Osmundea pinnatifida).
Crater-like holes are the refuge of tiny capricious crabs that scuttle the sandy bottom of their domains, clutching their protective shells tightly, beachcombing for tide-borne treasure. Luminous eyes of a wandering sea green fish watch from the shadowy fringes of Ulva latuca, while tiny flat speckled sea bugs dart back and forth across their aquaria home.
I had come to this side of the town’s beaches to find the elusive Lithothamnions glimpsed on a earlier foray. Indigenous to Scotland, and residing primarily along the rocky outcrops of the East Coast, they are distinguishable by their calcareous forms and brilliant purple and pink hues resembling splatters of dripped paint.
Some Lithothamnions are crusty, with microscopic volcanic-like protrusions, covering loose stones and rocks in the deeper pools. Others splay out like lichens, on smooth, flat rock pool bottoms, always just under the lowest surface water. Set against the red-orange stone, their vivid pigmentation creates a startling abstract expression of colour, light and form at the base of these shimmering pools.