Beadlet anemones are found in such shallow water that they are left high and dry, resembling blobs of jelly, at low tide. Divers can enjoy their true beauty.
Forget all those deepwater wrecks and records - Paul Naylor gets most of his scuba kicks in a mere few metres. But is he a 'proper' diver?
When I take my small 7 litre cylinder to be filled, I am often asked one of two questions: 'Why not bring in the whole twin-set?' or 'Where are you doing your pool training?' So what's the story behind diving with such minimal encumbrance? Well, I certainly don't go for short dives - a passion for watching and photographing marine life sees to that - and while I'm by no means a gas- guzzler, I haven't sprouted gills either. The explanation is simple; many of my dives are made straight from the shore in water less than 6 (and sometimes only 2 or 3) metres deep. There's no decompression to worry about, air lasts for ages and there is plenty of light. Best of all, marine life is there in great abundance. Within seconds of putting your head under the water on a beach dive, shoals of sand eels might be seen swirling in panic, with groups of bass or pollack lurking menacingly nearby. With a little patience, the drama can be watched unfolding as these predatory fish swoop through the shoal, then re-group before the next attack. Swim slowly over rocks and you will see the sweeping 'hands' of barnacles emerge from the tops of their shells and grasp for floating food. These barnacle limbs are the principal food of young shannies, which can be watched trying to bite them off. Stay a while and you might see a fierce territorial dispute between a pair of the shannies or other blenny species. In the summer, there may also be a male corkwing wrasse, resplendent in claret and blue stripes, defending his carefully built nest of seaweed fragments. Spectacular creatures such ascuttlefish are also common in the shallows; we once found one so keen to stay in one place and defend its half-eaten pipefish meal that our children were able to take turns to snorkel over and have a look. And a recent favourite was a group of small hermit crabs that were spending so much time and energy fighting, they seemed to have forgotten to eat the food for which they were battling.
carrying the claw of a colleague Often you stop to watch one thing and another mini-drama crops up. The battling blennies seem to have just about exhausted themselves when a shore crab wanders by, carrying the torn-off claw of a colleague that was unlucky enough to be disturbed while soft after moulting its armour. A velvet swimming crab then dashes out of the shadows, grabs the shore crab's trophy and vanishes back under the kelp. You feel almost as surprised as the shore crab! A key factor in enjoying the animal life of shallow water is that there is plenty of time to find the animals, get used to them (while they get used to you too) and then watch events unfold. That sort of relaxation simply isn't possible while fretting about your diminishing air supply or no-stop time down in the depths. Shore dives in only a few metres of water can last well over an hour, often pushing two. Mine tend to be limited by cold in winter or by the 36 frames on my film in summer. But, people ask, is it worth the hassle of putting a tank on if you're not going to do 'proper' diving? Yes, absolutely. Snorkelling is great, but the ability to stay very still near the seabed is invaluable when trying to watch animals going about their lives. It's also much more dramatic to watch shoaling fish swirl overhead against the sun than to sweep by below you. Though several of the potential hazards of diving are much reduced in the shallows, safety considerations can't go completely out of the window. Danger from boats and jet-skis can be greater, so an SMB is a must at many sites. At least take a delayed SMB to be deployed if you have to surface away from the beach.
smallest cylinder you're happy with Some of the best sites are current-swept, so care must be taken with assessing slack water. Visibility close to shore tends to be better at high tide, and this will also make access easiest. In fact, getting into the water over slippery rocks can be the most hazardous part of the dive. That's why I would thoroughly recommend the smallest cylinder you are happy with. After all, if you've just spent two happy hours watching wonderful marine life in a hassle-free environment, what does it matter if the guy filling your bottle assumes that you haven't been for a 'proper' dive?
Top 10 UK Ultra-Shallow Shore Dives
Porthkerris The Lizard, Cornwall
Lamorna Cove nr Land's End, Cornwall
Swanage Pier Dorset
Shoalstone Brixham, Devon
Porth Castell nr Porth Diana, Anglesey
Weasel Loch nr St Abbs, Berwickshire
St Catherines Loch Fyne, Argyll
Kilchattan Bay Isle of Bute, Strathclyde
Some of these sites, such as Weasel Loch, Porthkerris and particularly St Catherines, also offer shore-diving to greater depths, though there is plenty to see in the first few metres of water. There are, of course, many others to explore all around the UK.
Snakelocks anemones thrive in very shallow water where sunlight levels allow the symbiotic algae in their tissues to thrive
Most blennies are very territorial and this pair of tompots seemed to be having a fierce dispute
A pair of pre-mating shore crabs. The female has the orange colour characteristic of crabs close to moulting. She will then become receptive, hence the male's intense interest
Cuttlefish court (as here), mate and lay their eggs in shallow water
This shoal of sprats was found within 2m of the steps at Weasel Loch. They had been cornered there by predatory fish