Mumbai’s shores may make it very hard to believe this, but shore life is actually wildlife. And as with all other forms of wildlife watching, there are basic rules to be understood and followed when you are in a creature’s natural habitat. With intertidal marine biodiversity growing in popularity of late, and with an increasing number of people (hopefully including you) exploring our shores, here’s a quick guide to introduce you to these rules. Although we’ve covered most of the important points here, please note that we still recommend that you do your first few walks in the company of experts - the finer points come from experience, not from reading.
Watch your step
On rocky shores, many creatures are sedentary (not-very-mobile) ones that attach themselves to rocks. These include small sea anemones, tube worms, sponges, mollusc eggs, hard encrusting corals, and soft zoanthid corals to name a few. Some of these take a lot of time & effort to grow. You should take care not to trample on them, and to do this, you need to be capable of spotting them – this comes with practice, and guidance.
Picking things up (and making them pose)
First and foremost, for your own safety, NEVER HANDLE creatures that you are not an expert on. Do not step in or put your hand in places where they could be lying hidden or camouflaged. Mumbai’s seashores have several small, harmless-looking creatures that can be very dangerous and even deadly to humans (you will be surprised at the reach and strength with which some of these can strike out, even if handled with gloves or tools). These include things like fish, jellyfish, worms and even plain-looking snails.
Second, animals that are picked up and placed differently will not behave the way they normally do. What you get as a result – be it a photo, video, notes, or just sights – is basically not normal behaviour and hence not entirely accurate. You see a stressed creature behaving very unlike what it would in its habitat if left undisturbed. The resulting information is rarely of much serious value.
Third, we often see animals engaged in important activities of their lives – spawning, egg-laying, mating, hunting, feeding. Disturbing the creature often causes it to abandon the activity. For many creatures, this can be very, very costly in terms of time and energy. As a responsible marine life enthusiast, please don’t interfere with their lives just for a good photo and a social media boost.
Fourth, there are some animals, such as crabs and sea cucumbers for example, that will literally dismember themselves if you pick them up. Crabs will do this by cutting off their own limbs and dropping away to safety, leaving you wondering why it went to bits in your hands. Sea cucumbers will do something even weirder - they will eject their insides upon you. These creatures do this as a defense mechanism and will regrow the lost parts, but not without extra costs - survival is a challenge to them until they’re back to normal. It is best to not make these creatures use their defense mechanisms unnecessarily - especially if you’re planning on doing it just to watch a ‘demonstration’.
Moving things around
Many creatures (including but not just marine ones) choose very specific, ‘just right’ places to play out their lives. This could be one particular tide pool with perfect conditions, a specific type of sponge or algal patch, the underside of a particular stone, or a certain type of soil with the right mix of sand and mud. The creatures may not survive in another place, even if it’s just a few feet away. Hence, DO NOT pick a creature up, because you might place it back in the wrong spot.
Yes, there are legit reasons for professional biologists to collect organisms, but no, they do not apply to hobbyists and enthusiasts, or even to biologists without a definite aim to collect them. For obvious ecological reasons, avoid collecting creatures just because they ‘look interesting’.
Don’t collect creatures and attempt to keep them alive in captivity. Because firstly, as mentioned in the points above, you’re likely to end up disturbing them. Secondly, they are unlikely to live well even in a marine tank. Many sea creatures prefer seawater with a very precise balance of organisms, nutrients and minerals, and more often than not, this cannot be replicated effectively in an artificial setup. Scientists have tried and failed for years. Our recommendation – DON’T TRY IT.
A lot of people collect seashells. Many of these can turn out to be live (i.e. containing its animal, or creatures like hermit crabs), and you see that after you get home. Often, it is hard to detect with one look that there might be a creature inside – even if you think you’ve looked carefully. It is therefore advisable to leave shells where you find them.
Note that a lot of biological specimen collection – dead or alive – requires legal permits. The repercussions of doing so without legal clearance can be very, very serious.
Updated on 2018-02-14T10:07:21+05:30, by .