Part of the Undercliff has been nominated as a candidate for 'Special Area of Conservation' under the European Habitat Directive for its sub-tidal reefs and maritime cliffs that are considered to be of European importance. In between the cliffs and the reef , and particularly at the western end of Ventnor Bay and into Steephill Cove, it is possible to spend an afternoon picking your way through the rockpools to look at the wildlife that lives in this often harsh coastal environment. Animals found in this habitat have to survive being covered with water and then left to the drying effects of the wind and the sun when the tide goes out.
Seaweeds may not be the most exciting find on the beach but they are very important to the food chain on the shore. Just like plants on land, they get their food by using the sun's energy and in turn they provide food for other animals higher up the food chain. In the rockpools on our beaches they act like protective curtains to keep the rockpool and the animals that live there, cool. Common seaweeds found here are Bladder Wrack and Pepper Dulse.
Anemones, both Beadlet and Snakelocks, the flowers of the sea, are really animals. They have sticky stinging tentacles which they use to catch shrimps and prawns and any other food floating in the water.
Limpets attach to rocks using a muscular foot and feed on the algae that coat them. They leave a trail so they can find their way back to the indentation they make for themselves. This ensures a snug fit to the rock and makes them less likely to dry out.
Shannies are frequently found in local rockpools. They feed on barnacles and so have hard flat teeth to help them crush the hard shells. These fish can survive a few hours out of water if stranded by the tide.
Crabs are often found on the shore. There are three main types on Ventnor beach - the Shore Crab is the commonest coming in a variety of colours, although they are usually green or brown. The Velvet Swimming Crab (or Fiddler Crab) is a dark brown colour with distinctive red eyes and lastly the Edible Crab with a 'pie crust' edge to its shell.
These crabs are scavengers, moving through the intertidal area hunting for dead or dying food.