We visited Pleasant Bay on a misty May day. It lies on the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. Pleasant Bay is a small village first settled by Scottish immigrants and is nestled around a picturesque fishing harbour at the foot of steep hills. The Grande Anse River meets the sea at this point and in the background are the headlands and mountains of the Blair River Inlier composed of some of the oldest rocks in the world. The village itself lies on Carboniferous sedimentary rocks but these are less well represented in the pebbles on the beach than the more ancient igneous and metamorphic rocks like granites, gneisses and schists that have been transported downstream from the surrounding highlands. You can compare these smooth rounded wave-worn beach stones with the angular rock fragments lying on the river bed at MacIntosh Brook and the Grand Anse River near Lone Shieling not too far away.
Irish Beach Stones
If you are as fascinated by beach stones as I am, you will definitely enjoy looking at the new web site by Noel Tweedie at The 365 Beach Stone Exhibition where he has amassed a great collection of photographs and artwork showing amazing beach stones from the Inishowen area in the north of Ireland. His images reflect the incredible geology of the area.
Beach stones with holes in them excite the curiosity of most people. How did the holes get into the rock? There is no single answer but in many cases the holes in pebbles and beach stones have been made by various seashore creatures including several types of bivalve molluscs, marine worms, and sponges. The same creatures can also make holes in thick old seashells. There are several earlier posts on Jessica’s Nature Blog describing how the holes are made, by piddocks, for example Pholas dactylus, sponges such as Cliona celata, and polychaete worms like Polydora ciliata and Polydora hoplura. Frequently, there is evidence for more than one type of organism occupying the same stone.
One of the bivalve molluscs that creates holes in stones and thick oyster shells is the Wrinkled Rock Borer Hiatella arctica (Linnaeus). Like the piddock, this species can actively excavate a burrow in soft stone for shelter and protection although unlike the piddock it can attach itself by byssus threads to the outside of solid objects or in cracks and crevices. However, once embedded in the stone it can no longer exit the burrow but obtains all it needs for sustaining life via the tunnel connecting it to the outside world. Wrinkled Rock Borers are smaller than piddocks, measuring no more than 3.8 cms in length when mature. The valves of the shell are thick and robust with distinct furrows, and the leading edges exposed to view in the burrow are rough and straight edged (truncate). Tebble (1966) says that it is not possible to distinguish between the different species of Hiatella in British waters but the descriptions apply to all the species ever recorded here. Hiatella arctica is common around the British Isles from the lower regions of the shore to considerable depths…… It has a wide geographical distribution in the northern hemisphere from the Arctic south through the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific, but the particular limits of its occurrence are not known. It is almost impossible to remove empty Hiatella shells from the excavated holes without breaking them.
Hiatella holes in rock can be secondarily occupied by a similar but smaller bivalved mollusc called Irus irus (Linnaeus). This grows to about 2.5 cms in length. The protruding frill-like concentric ridges on the shell can be very distorted in shape if the shell is occupying a burrow that is too small to allow normal growth. I am not able to discount the possibility that it is Irus shells occupying Hiatella burrows in some of the beach stones illustrated here. Irus (also known as Notirus irus) occurs from low in the littoral zone to a few fathoms.
Tebble, N (1966) British Bivalve Shells: A Handbook for Identification, published for the Royal Scottish Museum by HMSO, Second Edition 1976, [Hiatella p172-173 & Plate 7h; Notirus p124-125 & Plate 7g].
Hunter, W. R. (1949), The Structure and Behaviour of ‘Hiatella gallicana@ (lamarrck) and ‘H. arctica’ (L.), with special reference to the Boring Habit. Proc. Roy. Soc. Edin. B, 63 III (19): 271-289, 12 figs.
Just east of the outlet of the River Char on Charmouth beach, in the area close to Raffey’s Ledge, the upper shore is strewn with many large irregular stones. Amongst these, the most noticeable are those with white patterns and lines, which on closer inspection turn out to be crystalline calcite-filled cracks in the matrix of the rock. I have been looking at these strange stones over the years and wondering what they were (see the earlier post Pebbles with white lines on Charmouth beach). Now I think I have the answer. They are the worn remnants of the inner cores of Birchi Nodules. Birchi Nodules appear high in the cliff above this section of shore and have a complex structure resulting from a series of processes in the sediments that took place millions of years ago before the sediments compacted into rock. The large ovoid or discoid Birchi Nodules can be seen scattered along a line below the more continuous stratified rocky Birchi Tabular Bed at the top of the cliff. The rest of the cliff below is mostly composed of darker thinly-bedded shales.
These remnants of the inner cores of Birchi Nodules are also a kind of septarian nodule. The stones illustrated here from Charmouth are partial remains that have been worn smooth by rolling around on the beach for a long time. Further east along the coast at Ringstead I have seen complete septarian nodules that have freshly fallen from the cliff face of a different type of rock formation (Septarian Nodules at Ringstead).
[I found out about Birchi Nodules from the most excellent on-line resource for the geology of the Dorset Coast written by Ian West. This is a veritable cornucopia of information but requires that you continuously scroll down the page to locate the items in which you are interested. It is well worth the effort if you really want to find out the information.]
The bright sunshine created wonderful effects on the rapidly moving, crystal clear water of a chalk stream as it flowed over rounded pebbles. Light reflected from the rippled surface of the water. The stones below were covered with some sort of brownish algae that disturbed the flow and made either rainbow-coloured prisms or golden patterns of reflection.
There are different combinations of colours and patterns in the pebbles of different beaches in the Channel Island of Guernsey. The assortment of pebbles in each location reflects the local geology of that area. There is a higher proportion of metamorphosed rocks compared with igneous rocks on the southern coast of the island, as seen here for Havelet which is just west of St Peter Port. Many of the rocks belong to the Southern Metamorphic Region dating back as far as 2,500 million years ago. Rocks from this region include gneisses and schists. The pebbles at Havelet can be compared with accumulations of pebbles on the north coast, such as those at Albecq, where the stones are mostly derived from younger igneous rocks such as granite, diorite and gabbro dating from about 700 million years ago in what is known as the Northern Igneous Complex.
British Geological Survey Classical areas of British geology: Guernsey, Channel Islands Sheet, 1 (Solid and Drift) Scale 1:25,000. NERC, Crown Copyright 1986.
De Pomerai, M. and Robinson A. 1994 The Rocks and Scenery of Guernsey, illustrated by Nicola Tomlins, Guernsey: La Société Guernsaise, ISBN 0 9518075 2 8.
Roach, R. A., Topley, C. G., Brown, M., Bland, A. M. and D’Lemos, R. S. 1991. Outline and Guide to the Geology of Guernsey, Itinerary 9 – Jerbourg Peninsula, pp 21 – 22, & 75 – 78. Guernsey Museum Monograph No. 3, Gloucestershire: Alan Sutton Publishing. ISBN 1 871560 02 0.