By Duncan Pritchard.
The dolphin coast is riddled with intertidal rock pools. These little waist deep pools are a surprising hive of activity. As a general rule, you see less than 10% from the surface, but stick your head underwater, look around and you’ll be astonished at what you can find. It’s the perfect safe, relaxed, affordable place to expose youngsters and non-divers to marine life. Rock pools can be a significant gateway drug leading to a lifetime addiction to the oceans.
I am no ocean guru or marine biologist; in fact, I spend more time trying to figure out a name for what I have seen in a rock pool than actually looking. I don’t use any particularly high-tech gear and everything you see here has been taken in rock pools along the Dolphin coast with a simple “point and shoot” in a waterproof housing – no strobes or any particularly complex gear. Just a mask and snorkel.
Some things are just better at night. Your everyday zoanthid is hardly even noticed by most people, but get yourself an ultraviolet light (the kind most outdoor stores sell as “scorpion lights”) and head to your nearest rock pool. The resulting fluorescence brings the browns and dull greens of the day alive with incredible vivid colours. Even bits of seaweed washed up on the high tide line change from dull brown to intense orange. For me, experiencing this was always the realm of an exotic trip somewhere, one day. But no, it was right here, easily accessible with just a short after-dark stroll on the rocks.
Another rock pool highlight is the sheer variety of crabs. Strange and unusual, sometimes brilliantly camouflaged crabs make rock pools their home. It’s just a matter of looking closely. The more patient you are, the more critters eventually come out of their hiding spots and treat you to some amazing sightings. This tiny and difficult to spot Pom Pom or Boxer Crab (Lybia sp) is a regular find in our rock pools of Ballito. Boxer Crabs are notable for their mutualistic relationship with the anemones that they hold in their claws for defense. In return, the anemones get a safe home and plenty of left-over food particles.
Young Moray Eels love the protection of the many little cracks and crevices found inside of rock pools. Just around the Dolphin Coast area, we have found at least eight different species of Moray in our rock pools. In the relatively confined space of a rock pool you can easily get very close to these fish. After spending some time, they tend to relax and allow you some amazing photographic opportunities. A dive torch can be extra handy for finding eels hiding out under dark overhangs or deeper crevices.
Rock pools are a treasure chest of nudibranchs, a large family of very funky looking sea-slugs. The sheer variety of species we have found in seemingly dull looking rock pools is quite staggering and almost always something new. Hypselodoris carnea and Dendordoris denissoni are two of the more common species around the rock pools of the Dolphin Coast, but look closer and a host of more obscure and unusual species are easily found. Interestingly, of the roughly one hundred species we have seen in rock pools around the area, around 75% have only been seen once and never again, making nudi-hunting in rock pools especially exciting for sea slug enthusiasts.
Besides the host of juvenile butterfly fish, wrasse and sturgeons, rock pools are also home to a variety of fish not readily seen in deeper waters. Species such as Surge Damsels, the endemic Zulu Wrasse and some crazy looking, almost impossible to identify blennies and gobies also make their homes in our rock pools.
The downside to this narrow, rich ecosystem we call the tidal zone is that this is the one area of the ocean that is impacted by humans more than anywhere else. In virtually every rock pool, you’ll also find bits of trash and old discarded fishing line that kills birds, smothers corals and causes general havoc. Take some time to cut away old fishing line you may find or remove bits of trash. Take some time to introduce friends, family and children to the life in our rock pools. This may seem like a small token gestures in the bigger scheme of things but every bit old fishing line that is removed or every person who falls in love with our oceans makes a constructive difference for our coastline.
Tidal Tao Snorkelling Safaris
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