Did you know that the octopus is considered the invertebrate intellect of the sea? Or that, every night thousands of giant pill bugs scurry along the beach eating all sorts of dead and decaying marine debris? Periwinkles have ingeniously adapted to withstand extreme daytime temperatures by literally ‘bungy jumping’, in tandem, off their scorching hot host rocks by a thread. Did you know that the sex of a crab can be distinguished by the shape of its abdomen? And that the blue bottles often seen strewn across our beaches are in fact siphonophores – which is a colony of four kinds of minute, highly modified individuals that live together and survive in symbiotic bliss.
Before I met Judy Dixon, I knew very little about these or any of the other weird and wonderful creatures that thrive here. In fact, I realised that I have been walking Sedgefield’s beaches for nearly a decade with blinkers on. Of course, I have always marvelled at the sublime beauty of this stretch of sand and sea, but I have never taken the time to really find out about the remarkable web of marine life that exists here. As Sedgefield’s unique inter-tidal marine world was exposed, the beach took on a whole new dimension and I felt suddenly truly connected to my surroundings. It was as if I was looking at this beach for the very first time.
As we set off with Judy on the 3-hour Starlight Stroll, dusk’s colours had all but drained from behind the sculpted fossil dunes and an infinite assembly of stars appeared overhead. The faint outlines of sandstone boulders were visible across the beachscape. We walked slowly; stopping often to study the beach’s numerous life forms. The dark pounding surf which flanked our path was a constant companion. We were headed for the intertidal zone near Gericke’s Point, which holds in its clear pools a most extraordinary display of life. Some of the most dazzling are the ‘anatomically complex’ vividly coloured anemones, the spiky sea urchins, elaborately designed cushion stars and other-worldly symmetrical starfish. We watched octopus on the prowl for dinner and small schools of adorable little zebra fish. There was something at which to marvel in every nook and cranny.
Countless nocturnal creatures which remain largely hidden during the day for fear of predation venture out in the dead of night and many of them exhibit fascinating and sometimes downright bizarre behaviour. Judy, a former biology teacher, is a walking encyclopaedia of knowledge about this marine world and her passion for this complex web of life holds an audience captive throughout the trail.
Judy’s motivation for doing these educational excursions is to create awareness. “Aware people care” she remarks with enthusiasm. She is eager to help people understand everything is connected: take one away, and delicate life cycles start to unravel. This highly educational trail successfully illustrates the complexities of our ocean environment and the need to protect it.