Dead Dolphin ashore May 2016

Dead Dolphin ashore May 2016

Monday, 31 January 2011

Epple Bay and Crude Oil

Over the past week the wind direction has more or less been North East which I find ideal beachcombing weather on the North Thanet Coastline. It can be a wind of mixed blessings often cleaning a beach or just dumping everything in one particular area somewhere along the coast. The art of beachcombing is to predict the best pssible place to find something and sometimes even experienced beachcombers like myself can be wide off the mark. However, there is one spot that seems to attract everything the sea has to offer when the wind is in the North and that is Epple Bay , Birchington . Like Pegwell Bay in southerly winds, Epple Bay is the same in northerly trapping everything and giving every appearance of a marine rubbish dump. If you take a look at the photograph the promenade is angled and is flanked by cliffs, so it is not difficult to see why so much can be trapped in such a small area.
This morning (31/01/11) just before high water I gave Epple Bay a look even though it is not my survey area I thought I will take some notes.
The weed was banked up and some of it had started to decompose and this was evident by digging into the weed and feeling how warm it was. The small birds were out in force including my little friends the Turnstones picking amongst the weed and taking advantage of the winter kill which consisted of Oysters, Slipper Limpets, Mussels, Small Clams and Razor Fish. Surprisingly there was no evidence of crab deaths. I did take a photograph of the winter kill to compare with the photographs I took in February 2010 and it does look as if the Oysters have got off light this time. However, most of the dead oysters were large ones suggesting that due to their size the tide had detatched them from their bedding. The small sea birds were very active including the Turnstones picking amongst the weed and there was over 120 of all species, all small.
The highest point up against the sea wall was where the flotsam had congregated and there was a faint smell of diesel. There was no evidence of a spillage but smelling the pieces of driftwood it was evident the wood was infact permeated by diesal, probably because at sometime the driftwood may have been floating in a marina or harbour and soaked up fuel spillage.
Also present were cuttle fish bones all small around 20cm or less and these had all been pecked by sea birds. Amongst the flotsam was sea coal, various natural wood resin and small pieces of hardened oil. The hardened oil was smelly and had a rubber feel about it making it a bit pliable from its time in the sea. The smell does linger in the hands when picked up and it smells a bit like used car oil. The only time I have ever come across oil in this form is normally the odd small piece, however this time there was a fair bit worth noticing. Then on the otherhand not enough to get worried about or report. So I took some samples giving me something else to look into at a later date.
I should also add that when I was small I remember the oil from the Torry Canyon coming ashore. In the years after the disaster hardened lumps could still be found on the shore which just makes me curious if anyone else can remember any of this.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Clean beaches.

Recently I rejoined the Marine Conservation Society and this afternoon was spent reading all the information they had sent me. This included many reports and findings, like Botany Bay is the most visited bay on their good beach guide website, another MCS fact is that a crisp packet disposed of at Ramsgate can end up off the coast of Norway .
During the MCS beach watch weekend in 2010 they managed to mobilise 4,000 volunteers to clean 300 beaches, and there are many reports on the beach litter found including a sawn off shotgun found in the Thames Estuary. Top of the list of the debris washed ashore nationaly is plastic and the effects plastic has on the marine environment when it breaks down into small particles. On the two beaches on my patch the Western Undercliff and Ramsgate Main Sands, I must admit that the levels of plastic are low. Probably due to the fact that both beaches are very tidal and there is never much of a build up of litter on the strandline.
It is almost a year since I became a coastal warden and it is very noticable the amount of items that appear on my patch that have been lost at sea by the fishing industry, like this gill net that is on Ramsgate Main Sands at present , photographed above. At present the floats have been cut off and some of the leadline has been stripped, but give it a couple of days and I will remove it.
As mentioned it is a year since I took on Western Undercliff and Ramsgate Main Sands . During that time I have been gradually going over the beach piece by piece very much as I did at Margate between the main sands and up as far as Foreness Point which easily took over twenty years.
As mentioned in the previous posting Ramsgate main sands is very tidal shifting items items around the beach when the sea is rough. Considering the East Pier is a popular fishing spot I have now worked out where lost fishing tackle seems to end up . It is nothing compared to the two tonnes of lead weights recovered off Deal many years ago but it is handy when I feel like doing a bit of metal detecting.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Ramsgate main sands survey 2

It is well over a month since the mass winter death of Velvet Swimmer crabs around the Thanet Coast. Where at Ramsgate on the main sands I estimated that more than 1,500 crabs died.
A few days ago I revisted the area where I found the dead crabs and to my surprise a bank of shingle had built up on the same spot where I first came across the dead crabs.
Nothing ceases to amaze me when it comes to Ramsgate main sands as it is clearly the the most volatile stretch of the sand on the Thanet Coast in rough weather . The beach can change its shape as quick as the wind changes in direction, and when the wind has a touch of North or East in it there is always something to new to discover.
After a few weeks of varied weather conditions the remains of the dead Velvet Swimmer crabs are nothing more than legs and broken shell. The strandline has also changed and the most noticable thing is the amount of whelk egg sacs that have turned up, they are larger and are heavier than normal plus they have this freshness about them. I took a photograph but unfortunately forgot to add something to give some idea of scale. I counted 75 large ones for my Thanet Coast Project survey sheet plus I recorded dog fish egg sacs and mermaid purses which all add up to a fair bit of breeding on the off shore sandbanks.
I should also add to readers outside Thanet , that Ramsgate main sands is a sandy beach with a fair amount of flint below the strandline. During the winter months the tide will leave piles of flint in certain parts of the beach then after a short period of time will disperse them.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Painting the Margate Lighthouse

A few days ago I emailed Trinity House, regarding the proposals by TDC to paint the lighthouse at Margate red and white which is the same colours Trinity House use and as to whether this is permitted. This is the reply.

"The painting of lighthouses in a red and white colour scheme is not unique to Trinity House - it is a practice used world wide. The idea of painting a lighthouse in these colours is to help them stand out against their background to provide what we term a 'day-mark'. This is why the current Beachy Head lighthouse is painted this way in order that it stands out against the white cliffs behind it. A mariner would be informed of these changes before they went ahead and they would then use other factors to double check that the lighthouse they were looking at was the one they thought it was. Vessels should have an approximate idea of where they are at any stage and part of the process of approving such things as lighthouse painting means thatTrinity House are consulted on changes like this. In this case, Trinity House would not grant permission for a lighthouse to be painted in this way if there was already a lighthouse painted the same way nearby with whom its identity could be confused.
I hope this helps. "

Paul Howe
Communications OfficerTrinity House

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Beachcombing Pegwell Bay

Today I had a look at Pegwell Bay, Ramsgate to take a few photographs for my records plus to gather some information for Beachcombers both nationally and internationally. Pegwell Bay is a site of specific scientific interest , however in one area of the bay which is situated to the left of the old Hoverport runway is perhaps the worst place for beach litter on the Thanet Coast. Brought in by the tide from Sandwich Bay the combination of weed and litter originates from the English Channel and from the photograph it is not a pretty site. The site is regularly cleaned by volunteers who's efforts are undervalued because without their efforts the view would look even worse. From a Beachcombers perspective this a interesting site as many items for on the strandline originate from
most member states of the European Union and some of it has been in the sea for a long time.

Today I came across some sea coal which is common on the Thanet Coast this time of the year of which I photographed. However, the reason for my visit was to take a look at the Winter kill on the strandline.Surprisingly there was no evidence of crab deaths, especially the Velvet Swimmer crabs that died in their masses on the Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Margate foreshore a month ago. This was probably due to the fact that there isn't a Velvet Swimmer population in the Bay. I did find evidence of Winter kill of one resident of the Bay and that was the Cockle. Like the Western Undercliff further along the coast the Winter kill was consistant with what I would expect to see washed up on the strandline this time of the year, So for the record I have taken a photograph incase there is a reoccurance or a pollution alert in the near future.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Western Undercliff survey 2

Today I carried out my second survey of the Western Undercliff Ramsgate this morning at 8:50 am. It was low water when I arrived and the tide had started to come in. My first impression was how clean everything seemed to be and this reflected from my survey of the strandline. Gone was the litter and the pieces of plastic as everything on the strandline was natural from the marine environment. Being a short stretch around 100 metres it was easy to record things in detail. I counted 40 mermaid purses and around 30 lesser spotted dogfish egg sacs which is down on previous surveys, also there were no crab deaths to report which is strange as the East Pier side of the Harbour is a graveyard of crab shells following the recent cold spell. The only winter kill were the razor fish shells and oysters I came across as I walked the full length of the base of the promenade. Even the amount of razor shells and dead oysters were normal for this time of the year. Looking towards the low water mark I counted 23 Turnstones and 17 Oyster catchers foraging amongst the rocks on the low water mark, surprisingly there were 4 Rooks on the higher rocks getting in on the act. Walk back along the base of the promenade wall I picked up as much debris as I could of a man made origin and left the area in its natural state. The haul included disposable batteries, fishing tackle, beer cans and pieces of metal all to be recycled.
As mentioned in a previous posting there was sea coal present on the beach and this was a small patch about a few metres across in diameter. Its main consistency were the small pieces of coal of the type imported into Ramsgate many years ago for the Gas works. The rest was coal dust mixed with other black mineral which is something completely different from the coating that appeared on Broadstairs main sands a few weeks back. Like all surveys I always come away with a trophy for my collection and this time it was another small piece of Baltic Amber, and this time about the size of a small walnut which is large for this area of the Thanet Coast.

Finally, I rejoined the Marine Conservation Society and everything is now nicely set up for surveys in 2011.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Dead porpoise at Broadstairs.

On page 3 of the Isle of Thanet Gazette (14/01/11) there is a excellent article on the porpoise that was found dead at Lousia Bay Broadstairs, something of which is a rare occurrence. Such articles do have a huge interest and most importantly they make good historical references for the future as they can be sourced. Recently, I have moved away from researching local history and focusing on researching the Thanet Coast especially old "finds" that have come ashore in the past, as there are very few records apart from snippets in old editions of the local papers or old photographs.
Some time ago I may have mentioned in a previous posting that I was fortunate to obtain a photocopy of the permanent station record from the Kingsgate coastguard lookout at Broadstairs. Dated from 1924 to 1956 and excluding the records of Second World War period from 1939 to 1945 there is a record of porpoise and dolphin remains being washed ashore at Kingsgate on page 91. Of the five entries four are either heads and jaws including a bottle nose dolphin head, The other entry dated 03/04/1956 records that on that day a five foot common Porpoise was washed ashore in Kingsgate Bay. The Jaw and carcase were sent to the Natural History Museum as requested by telegram and a honorarium of 15 shillings was paid.
The Thanet coastline does have a habit of turning up all sorts of things and as all beachcombers around the world can confirm, nothing can be found to order or off the shelf.
The next three months are perhaps the most interesting period on the Thanet Coast for finding the interesting and the unusual and all I can say is watch this space.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Has it all happened before ?

Has it all happened before ? that is the question I have been asked regarding the recent death of the Velvet Swimmer Crabs. Well the answer is yes, the only difference has been the numbers and considering that December has been the coldest winter in god knows how many years it is hardly surprising to have such a high casualty list.
In the past events like this would have gone unrecorded and I can list many, like when hundreds of thousands of cockles were washed up onto the shingle at Minnis Bay, then the year when we had a kelp weed explosion and Margate Harbour became full of the stuff and it all rotted beating any smell we experience today. One year (1981) there were masses of seed mussels around the coast with the rocks covered in them, the rocks at Foreness Point one year were also covered in millions of winkles it was impossible to see the chalk rock, then there a time when starfish appeared everywhere on the chalk reef only to suddenly die off, tons of pipe weed one year washed ashore resulting in some people coming into contact with it getting a rash, then there was 1976 the hottest summer ever and the sudden drop in temperature killing off many species we have never seen on the coast before like the rays bream for example. The list is endless , unfortunately in the past it has never been recorded.
Today things are so much different as the then underrated Thanet chalk reef is now taken seriously. The Thanet District Council sponsored Thanet Coast Project with its volunteer wardens now monitor the coastline recording data and raising awareness of what has been in the past a underrated asset.
Finally, we have the Internet that can give up to date reports on the Thanet Coast to any where in the world and from my stats recently I can confirm that there is definitely a interest.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Winter Crab deaths - the statistics and a ramble

On the front page of the Isle of Thanet Gazette (07/01/11) there is a article on the recent deaths of the Velvet Swimmer crabs, in the article are the statistics released by the Thanet Coast project. In total the Thanet Coast project wardens accounted for 20,000 + dead crabs. Working around the coast in order working from the west to the east the stats are 4,500 by Nayland rock Margate, 10,000 at Palm Bay, 4,000 at Kingsgate, Broadstairs and 1,500 at Ramsgate main sands. Other bays like Epple, Walpole, Botany and Joss are not included in the count.
I suppose looking at the statistics, if this had been a earthquake Palm Bay would had been the epicenter. However, for us beachcombers dead velvet swimmer crabs in the winter have been a common site since the mid seventies. The only surprise is the numbers that have come ashore, so why is this ?
There are many reasons and I suppose the only explanation that I maybe can explain through experience is the fact that perhaps when the crabs are weakened by the first stages of hypothermia they are easy prey for predators. In this case the primary inshore predator would have been Cod and I can recall as a fisherman in the early eighties when gutting large winter Cod caught off the Palm Bay area the stomachs were full of crab including velvet swimmer crabs. In recent years the inshore stocks of large Cod have dwindled and supposing that the large Cod numbers would had been at the 1980's levels during the recent drop in water temperature would as many dead crabs had been washed ashore ?
On a another point there was a size difference in the dead crabs (1500+), those found at Ramsgate as they were mostly small crabs with very few measuring more than 60mm across the carapace, looking at the photographs taken at Palm Bay the dead crabs found there were mostly large adults. As a coastal warden for Ramsgate main sands and western undercliff I surveyed the area well during the summer. It was noticable around the East Pier wall and the breakwater rocks on the East Pier entrance that there were a few small swimmer crabs swimming around the breakwater rocks and up the sea wall when the tide was up .The strange thing was that during the summer on the western undercliff and western breakwater rocks there were none and this did reflect in my survey of the dead crabs.
Ramsgate is on the edge of the chalk reef and when the wind does have a touch of North or East behind it, the tide does neatly deposit items near the East Pier from the edge of the chalk reef as my surveys and photographs have proved.

Living in Margate most of my life I am familiar with everything on the chalk reef and as I am living and beachcombing closer to the edge of the reef it is opening my beachcombing to a lot more diversity. This is because any wind with a touch of west behind it comes straight off the Goodwins, Downs and Sandwich Bay. So when the wind is back into the west I will back on the trail of the Chinese Mitten Crab, counting lesser spotted dogfish and thornback ray egg sacs, monitoring sea coal, counting small scallop shells, collecting European cowries, collecting amber and counting sea birds etc.., great days ahead.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

More on the Winter Crab deaths.

This morning I checked the area on Ramsgate main sands where the remains of the velvet swimmer crabs killed off by the sudden drop in temperature during the recent cold snap have been deposited by the tide. Almost all the remains have broken down and I have scanned a example of the back legs of the velvet swimmer crab. As you can see the back legs are flat and act as a paddle. This is an advantage for the swimmer crab when it comes to hunting out prey and escaping predators, unfortunately it does make it difficult for them to burrow in the sand and mud when the water temperature drops. Unless they can find a hole or crevice in the chalk reef to hole up in they are very much doomed when the water temperature drops unless they make it into deeper water.

On another point when searching a sandy rock pool it is noticeable that the common shore crab will burrow into the sand when threatened, a swimmer crab will swim for it and never burrows.

These are the photographs I took by the East Pier Ramsgate of the remains of the velvet swimmer crabs. As you can see the tide has pushed the dead crabs up against the sea wall. Further along the strandline along the shingle are the carapaces stripped clean of flesh by the sea birds taking advantage of the winter kill.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Western Undercliff first survey of 2011

Around mid day at 11:30am I carried out my first coastal survey of the Western Undercliff Ramsgate for the Thanet Coast Project. The tide was high so it was really a quick check of the strandline and making a few observations. The sea was calm there was a cold bite in the air , perfect conditions for a survey. Following on from my recent survey of the Ramsgate main sands and the East Pier I was really expecting to find masses of dead Velvet Swimmer crabs. In fact I did not come across any dead crabs of any species. Which in a way did come as a relief because it convinced me the recent deaths of over 1500 swimmer crabs in one area was a result of the tide picking up dead crabs from further along the coast off the chalk reef and aided with a Northerly backed wind, depositing the whole lot in one area by the East Pier.
On the strandline I counted 15 turnstones foraging amongst flotsam on the strandline, there was very little noticeable Winter kill apart from a few Oysters that had bedded on a insecure foundation and ended up swept away in the tide and deposited on the beach.

Amongst the weed I must have counted over 70+ dogfish eggs sacs and about a dozen Mermaid purses all empty. I did come across something that has been intriguing me since I first started surveying the area almost a year ago., and that is small plastic tubes with pink ends which I have taken a photograph of . Every time I survey the Western Undercliff I always find a few in different areas of the beach, maybe they are the same ones each time but I will find out for sure because on the next survey I am taking a permanent marker and I am going to write my name on them and see where they end up

Finally, my last observation was the coal dust that was in the waves of approaching tide. Last year there was a bank of sea coal in one area of the beach and I wondered where did it all come from. It lasted until the spring and then it disappeared, so I am assuming that between December and March there is a silting process of sea coal and then it disappears in the Spring only to return in the Winter. So I have taken a photograph for the records.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Winter crab deaths

Last Winter we experienced the mass death of Velvet swimmer crabs on the Thanet foreshore. Such a site of thousands of dead crabs did lead to many theories, some bizarre and others feasible. However, the one I subscribe to is the one that Velvet swimmer crabs die in a sudden drop in water temperature around our coastline because Thanet inshore waters are the Northern point of their migratory cycle. The Velvet Swimmer crab thrive in warmer waters and the winter deaths are part of their life and death cycle. To make this point the TDC sponsored Thanet Coast Project has asked its wardens to report any winter crab deaths so they can build up data on the subject.
This morning I carried out my first survey of the New Year on Ramsgate main sands and for the first time this winter I came across substantial numbers of dead swimmer crabs. In fact I estimated something in the region of 1500 to 2000 dead velvet swimmer crabs on the strandline by the East Pier Ramsgate. They had been dead for well over a week as the bodies were breaking up and compared to last year the size of the majority of the crabs were smaller measuring less than 60mm across the carapace.
Apart from the dead velvet swimmer crabs, I found one dead female lobster around 200mm in length and a small number of edible crabs. I counted 70 mermaids purses and a large number of dogfish egg sacs probably around 200 to 250, in both cases they were empty. So it does look as if we are in for another good breeding year for both the Thornback Ray and Lesser Spotted Dogfish.

One of the advantages of being a coastal warden is that TDC do provide us with excellent identification sheets. So armed with this library of information I can positively report that I observed 25 turnstones foraging the strandline taking advantage of the winter kill.