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Summer at the Chesil Beach Centre

September 3, 2013

The summer at Chesil Beach Centre has been jam packed! With our official opening by Lord Sebastian Coe at the beginning of the school holidays, loads of events and 1000’s of visitors to the centre and Taste Café. 40 people came to our Butterflies on the Beach event. There were lots of butterflies about and the weather was lovely, making it a very enjoyable day for all. Some of our most successful events were our Seashore Detectives afternoons where we took people to explore the underwater world of the Fleet that becomes exposed at low tide. Kids and adults alike loved discovering more about the marine environment and the animals that live there. As part of Dorset Wildlife Trusts Marine Week the Chesil Beach Centre held a day showing off all the amazing marine giants we find along our coast. Loads of people came, learnt lots and had a great time taking part in the craft activities on offer.

One of the many highlights was the 4m long bottlenose Dolphin that visitors helped us to papier-mâché, it took us all afternoon and the work was messy but the results were excellent! Everyone liked learning about the dolphins that are frequently seen off the Dorset coast and Mersey Moore said “I love dolphins the best because they are pretty and jump out of the water!” Perhaps she’s a future marine conservationist in the making!

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Volunteers and visitors helping with the huge mission of covering our bottlenose dolphin with papier-mâché.

There was also a life size long-finned pilot whale hanging from the ceiling showing visitors just how big they can get. These 6.3m long whales are seen from time to time from Portland Bill and Durlston Country Park.  Kids (and those that are kids at heart) swam under the whale to see what it would be like to be in the water with these amazing giants .

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Me (left) and Alex Webster (right) trying our best to out swim the long-finned pilot whale!

We get over 30 species of shark in the UK and some of these were on display in the centre too. Our shark-o-meter allowed visitors to measure themselves against species such as short-finned mako’s and porbeagle sharks as well as the second largest fish in the sea, the basking shark! But there’s no need to be nervous, these 11m long giants gather in UK waters to feed on the bountiful supply of plankton in the water. So this amazing gentle giant only eats some of the tiniest animals in the sea! With the help of a leaflet produced by the Shark Trust we encouraged people to go out onto Chesil Beach and take part in the Great Egg Case Hunt. Mermaids purses are the eggs of some shark and ray species and can be found washed up on Chesil Beach, especially after a storm. Finding them and reporting them to the Shark trust helps towards protecting shark and ray breeding areas in the UK. Visitors could pose inside the 1m wide jaws of the giant basking shark to have their photos taken!

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Mercy Moore (top left), Todd – owner of Taste Café at the Chesil Beach Centre (top right), Lyn Marsland and Morph the dog (bottom left) and the Webster family (bottom right) all love sharks!

Jellyfish aren’t everyone’s favourite animals but we get a few big ones in the UK and they are an important part of the marine food chain. They are food for Leatherback Turtles, one of the only species of turtle we get in the UK who come here especially to feast on jellyfish. We had models of the 1m wide barrel jellyfish and the Portuguese Man-of-War with its tentacles over 10m long and although they are normally found out in deeper water and only wash up on Chesil Beach occasionally people were surprised we get ones that big in the UK at all. One of our visitors, Max Holland, said he thought the jellyfish were really cool because they had no bones!” and loved learning more about them.

Marine Litter is the main threat to many of these marine giants, especially turtles and cetaceans (whales and dolphins) as they eat plastic bags (mistaken as jellyfish) or get entangled in old fishing gear.  So as part of the day we tried to raise awareness of this problem and encourage people to say no to plastic!

Unlike sharks, whose skeletons are made of cartilage, the Ocean Sunfish has bones like you and me. It is the heaviest bony fish in the ocean and we see them off the Dorset coast throughout the spring and summer months. They can get to the same size and weigh as a car. Marc Smith, organiser of the event said “people don’t realise how amazing life under the sea is until they see it for themselves! So this day was all about engaging our visitors to show them just how BIG and exciting some of the marine animals in Dorset are and how important it is to protect our fantastic coastline”.

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Marc Smith next to his Sunfish car, don’t worry he didn’t drive home with it like that!

Thanks to all the volunteers and visitors that came and made the day so great! We hope everyone learnt more about the amazing marine environment we have in Dorset at this event and others throughout Marine Week! Chesil Beach Centre has many more fun family events lined up throughout the year which can be found at www.dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/events, so come along and enjoy yourself!
Jess Mead
DWT Volunteer

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