The Scottish Wildlife Trust’s ‘Living Seas’ project has launched a snorkel trail of nine coastal sites, that showcase the stunning coastal habitats that Sutherland and Wester Ross have to offer. This coastal edge, a continuous seam of frill, indent and island where sea meets beach and rock, shelters a cornucopia of marine life. The snorkel trail invites us to dip into it and get up close. As part of the trail launch I went along with my eight-year-old daughter this summer to a Scottish Wildlife Trust snorkel taster session at Ullapool Harbour on the shores of Loch Broom, with fifteen fellow Wildlife Watch Group members. The aim: to give a gentle introduction into what it’s like to peek under the surface of the sea.
There is a fair amount of activity required on the shore before we can even dip our feet in the water, and a lot of groaning and straining to pull neoprene over feet, hands and heads. Then a run through water safety, and a discussion of the kind of things you need to be aware of when entering the sea, including tides, currents and the weather. We then practice a sample of the universal hand signs used to communicate underwater.
Next we get to spit in our masks like ‘real’ divers and swill them out with cold seawater before strapping them to our faces. “It might be freezing cold, I might not like it”, my daughter squeaks. I smile at her, as encouragingly as I can with the snorkel clamped between my teeth. Staying within the shallows we finally take the plunge and put our heads beneath the surface.
Why make the effort to break that blue surface and take a peek under the sea? It could be described as akin to journeying to another planet. “Crabs are out crawling about, not under rocks”, my daughter observes; because when the tide retreats, crabs are always wedged away in some crevice, hiding. Now we can watch them in silent dance across the cobble sea bed or edging sideways up vertical rock. The laws of gravity seem up ended; “there are bubbles under water, things are floating in the sea that don’t float in the air”.
Ever present are the slurpy, trickly sounds of the water enfolding you, “you can hear the sound of your breath in the snorkel, it sounds like Darth Vader”. Floating gently above, we are observers in this ‘water world’, adapted for entry with mask, suit and snorkel. As my daughter rightly points out, “wearing the mask it’s not as clear as it would be if you could see underwater”. What she means is, if you had the eyes of a seal. Snorkelling you become acutely aware of the perfection of adaptation of everything living below the surface, from seaweed to barnacles, from sea slugs to fish. Adaptations to float and swim, to feed and breed in the sea’s tide and current. Entering into their world, we feel like intrepid explorers just metres from dry land.
The North West Highlands Snorkel Tails are for everyone. Find out more about the snorkel trails and snorkel safety on the Scottish Wildlife Trust website.
Always check the tides and weather first and never snorkel alone.
All photos by Noel Hawkins/Scottish Wildlife Trust.