Estuary (Llansteffan / Burry Inlet)
Birds love Carmarthen Bay, not just being one of the UK’s two marine Special Protection Areas but also because it’s an overwintering haven for waterfowl and waders that dive and delve into its relatively shallow waters and mud to harvest a rich picking of food: look out specifically for rafts of common scoter at sea, a dark duck with pale beak, and as estuaries come alive at winter, the yelping call of black and white oystercatchers tripping up and down the water’s edge, with clouds of the diminutive wader, the knot, swirling over the worm rich mud.
Rocky coastline (Pendine)
A whole micro world exists in the pools set into the sandy coves below the cliffs west of Pendine. Amongst the deep crevices of rock and wavy seaweed fronds, tiny fish, sea spiders, limpets, prawns, crabs and starfish thrive in the freshly changed sea water after every high tide. A perfect cross section of the sea life caught in a snapshot in front of your nose. Prawns are one of the most enchanting inhabitants of a rock pool and the most of the most crafty. Hanging out in seaweed or under rocks, almost transparent, a sharp rostrum over black dot eyes, lots of gangly legs, they fan their tail to move rapidly backwards to evade capture. A close relative, shrimps bury themselves under sand and look roughly similar to prawns - bar the rostrum and with a sandy grainy colour.
Sand dunes (Pembrey)
Dunes are moving all the time and have differing stages from embryo to semi stable yellow dunes to grey stable dune grassland. Unique plants are found within this habitat from the dune pansy and gentian to sand catchfly and bloody cranesbill which in turn provide specialised breeding conditions for small blue butterflies and solitary bees. Spring is the best time for colour in the dunes with cat’s-ear, wild pansy and lady’s bedstraw attracting insects such as the Sandhill snail hiding in the plant to avoid the hot sand. Towards the sea, sand-hoppers will be found under the washed up detritus of the high water mark. Everything has its purpose and munching their way through rotting seaweed, the sand-hopper navigates by the sun and moon as well as sand particle size and moisture content, jumping erratically out of the way to escape. At least they can escape unlike the hapless jellyfish.
The stiller you are, the more you see. Creep up on a pool of water left by the retreating tide and look out for what’s moving in this micro-ocean. Snail trails across rocks, shrimp’s ghostlike form within the sand, quivering sea spiders disguised as seaweed, fast moving baby mullet flickering in the shallows and of course, the all fascinating crab. Moving sideways, shore crabs vary in size, colour and shape and move only from cover when they have to; either to grab some passing morsel or to fight off a rival. Throw a small piece of meat from your sandwich into the pool and wait. Check out hermit crabs who nab empty shells into which they cram themselves to live, with one claw larger than the other, fitting perfectly in the ‘door’ of the shell. The wavy tentacles of the red coloured sea anemone, related to coral, theoretically can live forever but like most things in the sea, are eaten by something else before long.
On any rock below the high-water mark, a limpet will be found. See if you can whisk if off the rock before its amazing suction cuts in and if you succeed, feel it’s touch sucker before putting it back. It’s easy to pick up a periwinkle but once the tide goes out, both are at risk of drying out. Periwinkles possess a thin transparent operculum to seal off the aperture while the limpet holds water under its shell, tightly clamping itself to the rock as they both digest the algae they’ve munched on when under water. Starfish are easy to spot and after picking one up, turn it over to feel its hundreds of tiny tube suckers underneath used to ponderously propel themselves towards their next meal. They’re carnivores and will prize open mussels or barnacles to invert their own stomach into the shellfish to dissolve the contents of its prey and then retract their stomach back into its five fingered shape.
The hot dry smell of marram grass in the sand dunes can transport you to some more exotic seaside clime. The sharp spiky grass with its tightly rolled leaves and long roots, enable it to survive along the dry shoreline, anchoring the dry sand preventing it from being blown away by the wind. A winter’s walk on the edge of the mud flats with a strong westerly wind bringing salty air into your lungs, the feeling of health-giving properties of sea air with its own unique cleansing effect giving both energy and a great night’s sleep. Seaweed clinging onto rocky shoreline is probably the best odour producer of the coastline - fresh, different to anything else you smell inland, with seaweed being a great source of iodine and when washed up at high water line, a well rotted flavour ripe for sand-hoppers to feast on.