No. 37 explore the wonders of a rock pool

Reflection of visitors in a rock pool near Souter Lighthouse and The Leas, Tyne & Wear

As the tide goes out, the secrets of the sea are revealed in the glittering rock pools left behind. Clamber, crouch, peer and scoop on a rock-strewn beach, to discover wonders in your private pocket of ocean life.

Share your adventures with friends and family or explore alone – it’s No. 37 on our list of ‘50 things to do before you’re 11¾’.  

When’s best to rock-up?

You can go rock pooling at any time of the year, but the best time is late spring to early autumn as this is when the weather is at its kindest. Our seas tend to be at their warmest in September and coldest in March.

It’s best to go rock pooling on a day when it’s dry and calm. This will keep the surface of a rock pool still, so it’s easier to see what’s below the water.

" You might see small fish such as a goby, butterfish or blenny. If you’re lucky you might spot a pipefish, which looks like a swimming shoelace and is related to the seahorse."
- Kate Martin, National Trust Marine Biologist

How many critters can you spot?

Take your adventures down towards the sea shore. The rock pools closest to the water will be alive with creatures, like fish, crabs and interesting plant life.

Peer closely into the water. You might find your own reflection looking back at first, so you’ll have to crouch down close and stay still for a little while. Can you see anything darting about near the top? Or is there something moving very slowly right at the bottom? How many different colours can you spot?

Rocks can be a great hiding place for beach-loving creatures. Can you spot anything living above and around your pool? How do the rocks feel on your fingers and toes? Can you find any shells, fossils or cracks? Peek inside crevices and you might discover something looking right back at you.

Take a dip

You’ll want to get your hands wet to truly explore what lies beneath the water. Watch your fingers as they sink into the pool – do they look different as they move? How does the water feel?

Search for some seaweed or other plant life with your hands. Can you describe its texture or smell? What else can you discover with your eyes, ears, fingers or nose? Be gentle as you go and watch out for those cheeky crabs.

Discover what's in a rock pool - it's one of our ’50 Things to do before you’re 11¾’
A family standing in a rock pool on the shore looking in the water
Discover what's in a rock pool - it's one of our ’50 Things to do before you’re 11¾’

Have you got your bucket?

It’s a good idea to take a bucket with you so you can take a closer look at the treasures you find. Put your bucket slowly into the water and see what swims inside or push it gently through the water to scoop up a critter. Is there anything surprising in your bucket? Make a quick sketch, take a photo or write down your findings in a nature diary.

Many rock pool creatures are small and delicate, so it’s best to avoid using a net in case they become tangled and hurt. It’s important to pop your creatures back where they came from after a short time, so they can carry on with their day. 

" Pick up rocks and you may see a green shore crab or porcelain crab scuttle out. Look out for edible crabs, which often look like pebbles, and squat lobsters. Beware of the red-eyed blue velvet swimming crab though, as it can nip."
- Kate Martin, National Trust Marine Biologist

Get to grips with our safety tips

We want you to have a great day rock pooling, so make sure you check with an adult before you set off and wear shoes with a good grip. Old trainers, wellies or wetsuit boots with a thick sole are ideal. Flip-flops are fun to wear, but they might make you stumble or slip on the rocks.

It can get chilly when you’re rock pooling, so take a warm jumper or a coat with you. A small travel first aid kit to deal with cuts and scrapes is also a good idea.

Watch for the waves

It’s really important to check the tide times for your chosen beach – you don’t want to be caught out by the sea coming in. The best time to set out is at low tide: this is when you’ll most likely find lots of rock pools.

Discover daily tide times for your location from websites such as Tide Times and BBC Weather.