People often talk about what a thriving and diverse ecosystem the intertidal or littoral zone is, but I’m just as struck on my coastal wandering by what a realm of death the strip between the low- and high-water marks can be.
One of the triggers for an instant flashback to my childhood is the odour of banks of rotting seaweed deposited along the upper edge of the tide’s advance. Throw in some deceased fish, beached molluscs, the odd unfortunate seabird and mix it all up in a heady mulch of driftwood, putrefying jellyfish and millions of decaying mangrove seedpods, and there you have it: the Smell of Summer.
A whiff of Aerogard or Rid — the spray-on insecticides favoured Down Under — and perhaps a salubrious coating or two of sunscreen, might take some of the edge off this seaside incense, but overall we who live or lived near a real (rather than TV or resort) beach know it’s not all a monoculture of (often imported) coconut palms and a sterile infinity of white sand. It’s far messier and more interesting than that. Our dogs used to think so too, and would often enjoy a nice roll in some fragrant flotsam so that they could bring the perfume home to share with us.
To date the biggest dead thing I’ve found deposited on a beach is a whale — or a vertebra thereof, bleached and ancient-looking, tossed up among the beds of weed and sticks on a wild beach in southern Tasmania. It now takes pride of place in an assortment of walking memorabilia slowly taking over Kate’s place in the States.
There was also a dolphin on my last Moreton trip…
..but it wasn’t exactly ready for exhibition.
I’ve had a lot more “luck” with sea turtles. The very tolerant/bewildered Kate has made space also for a turtle breastplate I brought home (and transported at great expense) from a Moreton Island trip. Old bones can be beautiful things, once sea, sun, salt and time have played their part in making them presentable.
According to the World Wildife Fund, six of the world’s seven species of marine turtle occur in Australian waters. On Moreton Bay you might see a bony head bob above the surface, but apart from divers, most of us on the coast see little more of them than that. But with their beached remains after death, I’ve had a lot more luck.
A Moreton trip usually means finding one or two, but on one walk round the island I came across four, enough to make me worry that an epidemic or other catastrophe might be to blame. That adventure was shortly after serious flooding in Brisbane, and there was some talk of pesticide run-off being a factor in turtle die-off. (I also recall a meeting with a ranger on Moreton who described seeing from an aircraft dozens of live ones in the waters offshore, which was reassuring.)
Apart from old age, illness and predators, I’m sure collisions with boats and ships account for a large percentage of the casualties. A fully grown marine turtle is enormous, and even in death they make an impressive sight. The really old ones (they can apparently enjoy roughly humanoid longevity), their shells battle-scarred and encrusted with barnacles, make a particularly arresting sight, and they’re visible from a long way off.
A few veterans on their last trip ashore:
The littoral zone is in constant flux, and even here in the relatively sedate Bayside suburbs of Brisbane, the tide can deposit treasures or artefacts that flavour even a well-stomped walking route with a potential to surprise. Yesterday I came upon a big and not-long-dead turtle deposited at the ever-eroding base of Shorncliffe.
Journey’s end for this gentle and charismatic ocean voyager:
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote