Lounging on beaches is a lovely pastime. However, when engaged in this inactivity I will often get restless and do a little exploring - even if it's only an amble to the far end of the beach or an investigation of the flotsam and jetsam left by the last high tide.
So it was near Albufeira, on Santa Eulalia beach in southern Portugal. I left Shirley gobbling up the pages of yet another novel and padded over to the rock pools that the outgoing tide had revealed at the western end of the beach. Two bikini-clad English girls were doing the same - one of them sporting hideous tattoos. Each pool was like a little underwater world in itself but you had to look closely and wait, perhaps disturb a rock or two. Little silver fishes, translucent shrimp-like creatures, shiny anemones like blobs of jelly and little crab pincers poking out from miniature caves.
There was a lot of henna-coloured seaweed draped around in the pools and over the rocks. I had to tread carefully for fear of slipping. Just as I was about to return to my beloved nurse, I noticed something. It had the exact same colour as those sea weed drapes but was it moving? If it was moving, it was advancing extremely slowly. Its body shape was reminiscent of a healthy courgette. I crouched down and disturbed it gently with a piece of bamboo I'd found. Yes it was moving.
It was a creature, not a strange seaweed bud. It seemed to propel itself by expelling water from its rear end. It had lines of stubby tentacles rippling almost imperceptibly and it was about nine inches in length. Though a garden snail could surely move quicker, I would swear it was fleeing to safety. I watched it for ten minutes or so before departing. It had found shelter under seaweed fronds so I was hopeful it would be safe till the tide returned.
This wasn't a Great White Shark or a Loggerhead Turtle, it was, as I have just discovered by foraging in Google, a Tubular Sea Cucumber (Holothuria tubulosa). There are at least 1250 known species of sea cucumber and the one I spotted is relatively common in the eastern Atlantic. There are, astonishingly, websites devoted to sea cucumbers and they have many enthusiasts around the globe. They are primitive creatures without real brains or sensory organs. Many species are capable of sort of liquefying their bodies in order to squeeze through impossibly small gaps. They have several other unique features.
I have a feeling that along with the cockroach, the sea cucumber may be around long after homo- sapiens has disappeared from this much-abused planet. I named the one that I spotted Alan - after the smug TV football pundit - Alan Hansen.