The Shore Thing Project
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The Shore Thing Project. ROCKY SHORE ECOLOGY. Tides. Tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun There are generally two tidal cycles in 24 hrs The rise and fall of the tide varies depending on whether it is a neap or spring tide

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The Shore Thing Project


  • Tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun

  • There are generally two tidal cycles in 24 hrs

  • The rise and fall of the tide varies depending on whether it is a neap or spring tide

  • Tidal range varies around the UK coast.

The Rocky Shore Environment

  • All species specially adapted

  • Marine and terrestrial

  • Exposure high

  • Changing conditions

  • Different zones on the shore

  • Location important for identification

Environmental Variations

Feeding time



Temperature variation

Salinity variation

Upper shore


Lower shore

‘Splash’ Zone

  • Extremely exposed

  • Salt spray

  • Conditions extremely variable

  • Dominated by lichens

  • Rarely submerged

Upper shore

  • Very exposed

  • Conditions very variable

  • Diversity low dominated by channelled wrack and small periwinkles

  • Submerged for short periods

  • Exposed for long periods

Middle shore

  • Moderately exposed

  • Conditions moderately variable

  • Dominated by fucoids, barnacles, molluscs and gastropods

  • Species depends on exposure

  • Submerged and exposed every tide

Lower Shore

  • Less exposed

  • Conditions relatively stable

  • High diversity of specially adapted marine species

  • Dominated by kelps, red algae, sea squirts and sponges

  • Submerged most of the time, only exposed on low spring tides

Rocky Shore Identification

Major groups/phylum of species are:

  • Algae (seaweeds)

  • Lichens

  • Marine Invertebrates (animals without backbones)

    • Porifera (sponges)

    • Cnidaria (anemones/jellyfish/hydroids)

    • Crustacea (crabs/barnacles)

    • Mollusca (top shells/limpets)

    • Echinoderms (sea urchins/starfish)

  • Marine Chordates (animals with backbones)

    • Tunicates (sea squirts)

    • Fish

Marine Algae

  • Brown – Wracks and Kelps

  • Green

  • Red – includes encrusting algae

  • Flowering plants such as seagrass


  • Fungus and algae living together in symbiosis

  • Often an encrusting layer on rocks

  • Found in the splash zone

Marine Invertebrates

(animals without backbones)

  • Porifera - Sponges

    • Attached to surfaces

    • Very simple animals, covered with pores

    • Rounded or branched forms

    • Often need microscope to identify them

Marine Chordates brittlestars

(animals with backbones)

  • Tunicates – Star of ascidian and sea squirts

    • Larval stage has a backbone

    • Two openings body covered in ‘tunic’ of jelly

    • Colonies sometimes confused with sponges

Key Features brittlestars





Species No. 1 brittlestars

Cone shaped shell, up to 2.5 cm high

Tooth on inside of mouth opening

Shell grey-green

Shiny ‘mother of pearl’ inside shell opening


Osilinus lineatus

Species No. 2 brittlestars

Bushy brown seaweed

Covered in what looks like small leaves and tiny round floats

Very dense, feels coarse and wiry

May form long lengths (like a washing line)


Sargassum muticum

Species No. 3 brittlestars

Prominent midrib

Pairs of almost spherical gas bladders

Dark olive brown

Up to 1 m long


Fucus Vesiculosus

Species No. 4 brittlestars

Small round hole on underside of the shell

Dull greenish in colour with reddish-purple broad diagonal stripes

Small top shell 1.6 cm high. 2.2 cm across


Gibbula umbilicalis