The rocks at Fall Bay are arrayed like the riffled pages of a book. Layer after layer of Carboniferous Limestone is sequentially spread out across the west side of the bay. Each layer has an observably different texture; some are bioturbated with bioclasts and fossils such as fragmentary crinoids and corals. The bedding planes of some strata have deeply sculptured surfaces from weathering and bioerosion. Lichens, barnacles and limpets colonise the rocks and take advantage of the meagre shelter offered by cracks, crevices, and solution hollows.
Peering into the rock pools on the Worms Head Causeway in Gower reveals colourful kaleidoscopic patterns of common British seaweeds beneath the rippled clear water.
The Seasearch Guide to Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland produced by Francis StP. D. Bunker, Christine A. Maggs, Juliet A. Bridie, and Anne R. Bunker, published by the Marine Conservation Society in 2010, ISBN 978-0-948150-51-7, is a really good book jam-packed with wonderful photographs and clear descriptions of seaweeds to aid identifications.
One rainy morning I walked the coastal path along the terrace at the foot of Rhossili Down in Gower. Clouds shrouded the slopes of the Down above me. Ahead of me, Burry Holms and Llangennith Burrows were part concealed by mist. Below me, the tide was going out – far out. The sand on the beach was still wet from the waves and the rain. Slowly the cloud cover thinned and allowed a filtered light to penetrate. The pale light was reflected by the shore, high-lighting the sea-sculpted rows of ridges and ripples in gentle gleaming silver. A stream cascading from the height of the Down worked its way down to the beach, where it spread out in a fan of interweaving channels that cut across the parallel ridges on its way to the water’s edge. Coloured sediments carried by the stream tinted the silvery patterns and made them seem opalescent.
Dark streaks drawn into abstract designs by the swash and back-swash of waves sometimes decorate the succession of driftlines on the sandy beach at Rhossili Bay as the sea recedes. The blue tinge of the darker areas makes me wonder whether they are composed of comminuted fragments of blue-black mussel shells.
I never cease to be amazed by the new variations of natural patterns in the sand revealed with each ebbing tide on the vast sandy shore at Rhossili Bay in Gower, South Wales. These photographs were taken in March 2015 and add to the continuing documentation of the array of topographical changes that affect this wonderful beach.
Extreme low tides at Rhossili on Gower allow access to parts of the cliffs less frequently inspected. The distal north face of the Rhossili headland shows a complex mixture of natural and man-made features, on both a minor and major scale, often impossible to distinguish. The Carboniferous limestone was at one time quarried and this has resulted in changes of shape in the cliff face. However, most of the characteristic cracks, crevices and caves are the result of the waves and the weather working upon naturally-occurring fissures and cavities in the exposed bedrock surface.
On a small scale, it is possible to see where fractures in the Black Rock Limestone, sometimes infilled by white crystalline calcite and red haematite, are the lines of weakness along which erosion is progressing. These natural clefts are typically wider towards the outside, narrowing down to the width of the crack. The wearing away and widening of the break in the rock is initiated by mechanical and chemical action of waves and rain. Once the crevice has started to widen, it becomes a habitat for small organisms which add to the erosion process, again by both mechanical action and acid erosion.
In the photographs accompanying this post, it is possible to see some conical limpets, small acorn barnacles, and spots of bright orange sponge taking advantage of the relative shelter of these natural clefts; while minute blue-black mussel spat frequently settle (at least temporally) in the narrow confines of the crack itself. The clefts tend to retain moisture to a greater degree than the main cliff face, and may act as channels for water to drain downwards to the beach. These damp locations make ideal places for microscopic algae and bacteria to grow, and for mud-tube dwelling marine worms to thrive, especially low down, near the mobile beach sediments. Mostly, it is the former presence of the worms that is indicated. The level of the sand and pebbles fluctuates and affects the survivability of the worms. They leave a strange texture on the rock surface – composed of thousands of burrows or tunnels, just a few millimetres in width, that were incidentally etched by their acidic metabolic waste products.