Ireland: The Beach Lives

Did you feel our pain in the post yesterday? It was so disappointing. Looking and looking but nothing. But good news, we found the mysterious Carraroe Beach in Connemara! Amazing!

I think this beach made us all pretty happy. The road to it was long, particularly with the anticipation that we had built the day before. The rocky area of Connemara was different than what we had seen until then. Miles and miles of crushed rock was piled and used to create retaining walls property divisions. It was incredible to see what must’ve been hours and hours of hand labor to create these rock walls. Each of the rocks was placed so perfectly into spaces that seem to have been created just for them. The road was long and lined with homes and land that followed each other one after the other after the other, all the way up the very winding road of Barna.

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The entire time we hoped we were on the right path to this mystical beach that seemed impossibly unfindable…that kept evading us. We stopped at a gas station to fill up and try to find some chocolate Swiss roll cake that we had the luck and delight of finding a few days before. There at the gas station we asked the locals if they had heard of this beach with sands made of dead coral. I personally had started to doubt that this beach existed. The gal that originally told us of it said that it was a secluded beach that only people from Galway and surrounding area visited. But we were asking and no one seemed to know quite where it was, until the girl at the petrol station confirmed it, at the end of the road , she said.

As we drove the remaining few miles, I couldn’t keep myself calm. I mentioned to you yesterday, I was pretty much expecting the Great Barrier Reef. Whatever the gesture for ants in your pants is, insert it here.

We pulled into the paved area that was a designated parking for Carraroe Beach. Holy cow. We found it. I slipped off my shoes, grabbed a cup for my coral collections and set off for the beach. At first, all I saw was rock. I don’t see coral, I murmured disappointedly to myself as I avoided the slippery patches of green on the rocks. I started to sift through some stones, finding enough snails to make a Frenchman drool. Where were these giant coral structures? Did I have to dig for them? I started to eagle eye the ground, I would find a piece of coral on this beach, if it meant extending my trip another month.

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The first thing I stumbled upon, probably the first thing we all stumbled upon was the clear but full water. You see the green above, but look what we found next. They were everywhere…jellyfish!!

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The next thing we noticed was the beautiful creatures in the water. Mermaid hair, barnacles, some sort of beat-like bean root looking things…it was fascinating.

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I love this photo Brad snapped of Ellen’s boots. Look at those bean root looking things…

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And then we saw the coral. It was tiny and it was everywhere. I had never seen this micro coral before. Tiny, 1/4 inch, 1/2 inch, 1 inch…it was all over he beach. It was the beach. Anything that looked like sand was coral, endless amounts of it, just washing up in the western shore of Ireland.

If you happened to be passing by this beach yesterday, you’d have thought you’d have witnessed the four of us at the California Gold Rush. We picked and picked until our little fingers were bleeding (not really). Brad and Ellen looked for pure white pieces for their store, while Dado and I looked for the biggest pieces we could find for the proverbial trophy mantle. ;)

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We wandered and photographed and waded around for more, better, and beautiful things.

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But there was a surprise to be had. As I prepared to write this post, I started reading. Guess what, those little pieces of beauty, are not coral at all. They’re actually algae, coralline algae. According to my Wikipedia reading, coralline algae plays a special role in the calcification of coral reefs, but corals belong to a different kingdom of of taxonomic classification altogether. As a scientist, I’m confident to say that that makes coral and the algae creatures we found very different.

Coralline Algae
Kingdom; Protista
Phylum; Rhodophyta

Coral
Kingdom; Animalia
Phylum; Cnidaria

That’s pretty much as different as us humans and the grass found in your front lawn. :)

This coralline algae, when growing, grows at a rate of 1mm per year. That’s incredibly slow. Pieces from the regions where they are found can be as old as 5500 years. But…they’re not coral.

Should and does this make me love our little bits of any less. Absolutely not, if anything it makes me love it more.

I want to thank you for tuning into the travels. The trip has now wound down. Time to get back to our Midwestern life and the lovely life we live in…there’s never any place, like home.

Keep an eye out for a professional digital album in the upcoming weeks…

xx,
Steph.

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