Stormy weather reveals seaside trash and treasure

by-the-wind-sailor jellyfish, shore crab, cotton bud sticks and goose barnacles There's a plastic problem washing ashore with wildlife

With stormy weather forecast, conservationists consider the best and worst things that will be washing up on British beaches.

This weekend heralds the beginning of National Marine Week, the Wildlife Trusts' annual celebration of sea life. Weather forecasters are warning that conditions could be stormy, and following wild weather, a variety of flotsam and jetsam can be found on British beaches.

There are plenty of natural wonders to discover. But conservationists say that a growing amount of what is washing up is manmade.

Treasure hunting

When it comes to the best things on Britain's beaches, Joan Edwards, who runs the Wildlife Trusts' Living Seas programme, says there's no better time for a strandline stroll than the calm days following a storm.

Beside the seaside

See what the Springwatch team found on their beach safari

Find out more about Britain's 11,000 miles of coastline

Watch what lives beneath our waves

"At this time of year it's a pleasure to walk along the beach. You can see what you're looking for, the sun is shining and after a storm you never know what treasures you might find," she says.

Her top ten bits of biological booty you can find on the shore this summer are: mermaids purses, whelk egg cases, goose barnacles, cuttlefish bones, crab claws, sponges, tropical beans, by-the-wind-sailor jellyfish, kelp and limpet shells.

But stormy weather also washes up less welcome manmade trash, rather than natural treasures.

Every September, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) leads regular beach cleanups, including its annual Beachwatch Big Weekend campaign which aims to get an army of volunteers to the seaside to deal with some of the mess.

Last year the charity filled 1,800 bin bags with waste from over 90km of beaches in the two days.

Plastic problem

"Plastic bits and pieces made up almost 65% of what we found [in last year's Beachwatch] and beach litter levels just continue to rise - the problem's not going away," says Emma Cunningham, MCS Litter Campaigns Officer.

Plastic poses a serious threat to our marine wildlife as they can become entangled in waste or ingest items that do not break down easily.

Volunteers clear the beach at Crook Bank, Lincolnshire Volunteers clear the beach at Crook Bank, Lincolnshire

Plastic bags are particularly fatal because they can block digestive systems when mistaken for jellyfish by larger animals, leading to starvation and death. Bags have been recovered from the stomachs of beached turtles and whales around the UK coast.

Even the smallest plastic waste, such as particles known as "nurdles", pose dangers. Small creatures can mistake them for food and die from ingesting them, in turn denying larger animals the prey they need to survive.

Also, biologists are becoming concerned that toxins in this micro-plastic waste are transferred through species with unknown effects.

"There is a worrying potential for toxins to accumulate through the food chain and ultimately on to us," says Mrs Cunningham.

"Nobody knows the true impact of this pollutant transfer."

Mrs Cunningham recommends a straight-forward approach to ridding our coast of its worst features: reducing how much waste we create and getting involved in litter picks to tackle what is already there.

Mermaids purse

Dog shark eggcase

These whimsically named items are actually the egg cases of dog sharks and you can identify the species by studying the shape of the "purse"

Dog shark eggcase

Whelk egg case

These fragile structures can be the same size as a tennis ball and contain 500 eggs. They look like a lump of bubble wrap and are usually empty but you may find yellow tinted ones still have whelks inside

Goose barnacles


These crustaceans attach to debris deep in the sea on long stalks but can be found on shores in the South West after a storm

Goose barnacles


Although more often associated with tropical seas, sponges are found in UK waters too

Cuttlefish 'bone'

The flat, white structures are familiar sights in pet shops where they are sold as bird food but belong originally to cuttlefish. They are a kind of internal shell in the cephalopods that controls buoyancy

Cuttlefish bone

Tropical beans

Stormy seas in tropical waters dislodge the seeds and beans of island plants, some of which reach the size of golf balls and can be swept to our shores

By-the-wind-sailor jellyfish

Velella velella

These small purple jellyfish are named for the gas-filled "sails" on their backs which help them to traverse the seas. They wash up on beaches in the South West following heavy weather

By-the-wind-sailor jellyfish

Crab claws

As they grow, crabs moult their exoskeletons which means regularly shedding claws and carapaces. They then inflate the soft tissue underneath with water before it hardens to create a new shell


If seas are stormy early in the life of this common brown sea weed the stalks will break and large deposits can end up on the beach

Kelp on the beach

Limpet shells

Ferocious waves will detach these molluscs from their rocky homes but they also fall prey to dog whelks. Look for a tiny hole in the shell where the whelk's rasping tongue attacked

Have you found any wildlife wonders at the beach? Tell us about them and join the big Summer of Wildlife conversation on Facebook and Twitter @BBCNature - #summerofwildlife.

And don't forget to share your wildlife photos on the Summer of Wildlife Flickr group - #seeitsnapitshareit.

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