Subtle Beauty on a Southern Ocean Beach

I take great delight in the ordinary, because upon closer examination it so often proves to be extraordinary. 

The Southern Ocean is scene to frequent powerful storms and weather systems deep in the southern hemisphere which can generate massive swells. These swell lines march unseen and unhindered to the weathered south coast of Australia. The beaches at and near Apollo Bay on the west coast of Victoria have more or less withstood this onslaught since time immemorial.  I have seen waves with faces over 30 feet in height at Two Mile Reef just west of Port Campbell (100kms or so to the west of Apollo Bay).  I enjoy witnessing and photographing these mighty displays of nature in this part of the world. The west coast of Victoria is famous for such displays

But there is a subtle beauty missed by many who walk these beaches with eyes turned to the horizon or the heavens. It lies silently and inconspicuously in the minutiae of the littoral zone, either too small to be seen while upright and moving, or concealed by the sea, rock, seaweed and sand. These few photos record some of the surprising beauty I found on the beach this morning simply by not being in a hurry, and by being willing to kneel or lie down from time to time on the exposed reef or the beach to gaze in wonder and take these photos.

Most photos were taken using a Nikon AF Micro-Nikkor 60mm f2.8D lens on a Nikon D810 camera.  They were all taken on a 50 metre stretch of the (considerably longer) beach between Apollo Bay and Marengo in Victoria Australia, on the low tide and in a single visit.  The beach in question is just below Point Bunbury.  They were taken mid-morning under cloudless blue skies on the last day of winter 2017.  Every subject is as I found it, and as I left it.

In a number of these photos where moisture was present, there are starburst reflections of the sun wherever the water or shiny wet surface was on a plane which redirected the sun to my lens. This feature was captured exactly as shown, and neither filters nor editing were used to create this aspect of the images below.

I take photos and I write a bit. But I have no idea of the name of any of these marine life forms.  I can tell seaweed, seagulls and shells apart (in bright light) and that’s about it. But if a reader of this post knows the names of any of the living things below, I’d be pleased to learn what they are. There is a link for comments at the foot of each post on this blog.

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These miniature mussels had aggregated on the edge of a rock pool, with sand from many tides packed between them. The mussels at top of frame were out of the water, those mid-frame got wet as the occasional slightly larger waves pushed a gentle shallow surge of white water across the reef, and the mussels at the foot of the image were in the sea water in the rock pool. I find the colours, shapes, reflections and forms in this image startlingly beautiful. If an artist were to be asked to paint a dozen or more small mussels and to include some sand and water in the picture, I’m confident none would be bold enough to create such an image.  Beauty is indeed where you find it. [Addendum: since posting this photo I have learned that these are Little Horse Mussels.}
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I’d very much like to know what these are called. As my three year old grandson told me while looking over my shoulder as I downloaded this image, “They are so shiny and polished.”  I didn’t touch them, but they appeared securely fastened to the narrow roof of this shallow rocky overhang.  [Addendum: thanks for putting me on the right trail Richard, by identifying these as anemones. Turns out these are examples of the Waratah anemone. When the tide comes in and sea water covers them, elegant red tentacles emerge for catching prey. The hole through which the tentacles emerge can be seen on the anemone at the far left of the image.]

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Kelp (possibly). Once again, the magic of moist shiny plant surfaces sending the sun’s rays on their way in this dazzling display.
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This cake-like composition of mussels, sand and small seaweed plants was not very big, but seemed very sturdy in its structure and its grip on the rock.  Viewed while standing, it looked quite unprepossessing.  I don’t believe that can be said of this closer view.
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Kelp
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Colours not often associated with Victorian beaches (except by divers and swimmers). This is not coral.
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Out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed this bird approaching while I had some green seaweed cornered for a snap, and with camera settings ideal for still subjects I quickly panned in its general direction as it flew past and pressed the shutter release. The low shutter speed could’ve ruined the shot, but somehow the shot works for me. The blurred wing and out-of-focus sand convey the impression of the speed at which this tiny little bullet of a bird was flying.
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A further hurried shot, inadvertently capturing the bird’s shadow on the water.
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The pink plant is very spongy (despite looking like coral). This shot was photo-bombed by a greenweed critter popping up. These are not the Latin names of either of these plants.
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These beady or grape-like plants are common enough on Victoria beaches.  I included this photo because I was taken by the solitary central sun sparkle in this context. [Addendum: since taking this photo I have discovered the beady things are in fact Neptune’s Necklace brown algae].
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The dark mussels at top right of the image are under water, the adjacent bluish sheen reflecting the sun is near the edge of the water and the mussels to the left are all out of the water beside this rock pool.  It’s all about the light.
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Green seaweed forest.  You’ll have to visit the beach to get some idea of scale.
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Natural forms are so often beautiful forms.  Slow seeping of seawater down the gently sloping beach on an ebbing tide created this beautiful embossed pattern.  Tributaries, fractals, veins, a lyre bird dancing?? Or simply a pleasing form?  It’s transience enhanced its beauty.

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Without the aid of any research or knowledge, I’m guessing this is a seed pod.  But in the eyes of my three year old grandson again, it’s without doubt a scorpion.
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A more familiar object found on Victorian beaches, but usually in wet shiny clusters.  I suspect this one has reached its use-by date.
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This discarded seagull feather seemed a fitting close to my brief and desultory photographic wander through the minutiae of the beach at Point Bunbury.  Beach life and forms are characterised by varying degrees of transience. The rock forms change over eons,  the embossed fractals in the sand last only minutes and the starburst winks of sunlight are there and then they’re not.  This feather lies somewhere in between.  No longer streamlined and with its decay under way,  it gives fading testimony to its former life soaring over the waves, cliffs and dunes in the area.  It is now breaking down to eventually merge unidentifiably back into the earth and the sea.  No longer airworthy, it has its last random flights over short distances at the whim of the wind.  But it somehow remains a thing of beauty.

14 thoughts on “Subtle Beauty on a Southern Ocean Beach

  1. Loved seeing your photos John, particularly after the personal tour you gave us this week where we saw many of the featured species…your photos have captured them so beautifully! Thank you for sharing with us ‘your’ Apollo Bay.

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  2. those reddy/chestnut lumps under the edge of the rock we always called ‘anenomes’ on kids; rightly or wrongly and I suspect wrongly; certainly didn’t hesitate to give them a squeeze and get a satisfying squirt of seawater!

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    1. Seems you were entirely correct to call them anemones Richard. A quick search once you put me on the right track identified them as Waratah anemones. Seems they are even more spectacular once the tide comes in and their red tentacles emerge. Might have to revisit that rock pool at high tide with the GoPro (but not in the sizeable swell forecast for the next few days). Apparently this anemone eats shrimps, worms and fish, and is in turn eaten by fish, crabs, starfish and some larger slugs. It’s a tough life in the rock pool.

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  3. Hi John
    Very much enjoyed your photos – making the ordinary look extraordinarily beautiful!
    Particularly the sand forms, I’ll be keeping my eye out for something like next time I’m at the Kennett.
    And you captured starbursts on your kelp shot – very beautiful!
    Thank you
    Cheers Peney

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    1. Pleased you enjoyed these photos Peney. As for the embossed designs on the sand, sunlight on a low angle will throw them into relief more worthy of a photo. I’m sure your home beach at the Kennett will be a gallery of such patterns refreshed and revealed by every ebb tide.

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  4. Thank you for sharing your stunning photos John and your gentle prose that accompanies each photo….I love the eagerness with which you write about some of natures smallest specimens and bring the otherwise unseen into view…and to life x

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  5. I’m confident nobody else who took this morning stroll saw the beauty around them like you did Dad. There’s a lot to be said for being present – your photos have transformed the ordinary into things of wonder and beauty. Thank you also for clarifying that you hadn’t used the Latin names… 😉

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