A BBC Radio 4 programme, and an email exchange with Professor Charalambos Kyriacou about tidal influenced circadian rhythms.

This Excellent BBC Radio 4 programme The Life Scientific – A passion for Fruit Flies interviewed Professor Charalambos Kyriacou about body clocks in animals and circadian rhythms. The latter part of the programme discusses tides and body clocks, particularly that of the speckled sea louse. Fascinating stuff about tidal life.

I decided to email Professor Kyriacou with a question and he very kindly replied. And he also kindly agreed that I could post or email exchange here. So here it is.

From: Owain Jones <owain.oj@btinternet.com>

Dear Professor Charalambos Kyriacou

I study tides – but via cultural / arts and humanities approaches.

I have a very quick follow up question after your fascinating interview with Jim Al-Khalili on BBC Radio 4 yesterday.

So,  the speckled sea louse has a moon responding  cycle in its habits which is 12.4 hours. And you said,  it does so ‘because that is when the tide comes in and out’.

But around the world there are a whole range of different tidal patterns and rhythms which don’t correspond to 12.4 rise and fall. This is also so around the coast of the UK,  where local geographies shape tidal rhythms and times. For example, there are 4 high tides  a day in the Solent as the tides wash around the Isle of White.

So I am wondering, although I am sure the sea lice will have body clocks, which would make them follow the 12.4 hour lunar rhythm in the lab, maybe, in the actuality of local conditions, their habituated response to the environment would have to override that,  and rather correspond to local tidal rhythms and durations.   

This is copied to my friend and colleague Professor Heather Green of Arizona State University , who also studies a tidal landscape in the Gulf of Mexico  https://www.heathergreen-art.com/tidal-timespace

Regards Owain   

Dear Owain, thanks for getting in touch…….sure, tides are location specific….and you are correct, I would imagine that if you take animals in some of these more esoteric tidal locations and put them in constant conditions immediately in the lab to measure their cycles they might not be 12.4 h.  In fact that is exactly what we do with Eurydice – we move them immediately from the beach to the lab and their 12.4 h cycles are perfect, because the local tides are 12.4  h.  The question though is whether an animal exposed to 4 tides, when placed immediately in constant conditions to express its endogenous cycle will reveal a 12.4 or 6.2 h dominant cycle?  Of course on the beach it will be entrained to 6.2 h, but the genetically encoded oscillator I bet would be 12.4, because the circatidal ancestors of those animals would have evolved in a more conventional tidal environment – that’s my bet anyway…..I’ll look into the literature to see whether anyone has done the experiment……… nice one………….best,  Bambos

Charalambos P. Kyriacou, FMedSci

Professor of Behavioural Genetics

Department of Genetics and Genome Biology,

University of Leicester.

I copied the emails to my friend and tidal colaborator Heather Green at Arizona State University. See something our shared work here. Tidal Timespace.

Seaside Gothic Magazine and Website

This looks great. Please think of supporting, and submitting material. I intend to!!

From the website

Seaside Gothic is a magazine from the edge of the sea where the frontier of civilisation meets the wild of the water.”

And …

  1. It is led by emotion, not reason, exploring the human experience mentally and spiritually as well as physically, and is unashamed to embrace the violence of the sea and the wind along with the beauty of the land and the sky and the ever-changing tide.
  2. It addresses duality—land and sea, love and hate, the beautiful and the grotesque—to reflect the structures that line the coast, which are both those solidly braced against the fiercest elements and those built from what surrounds in a state of shanty transience.
  3. It connects to the edge, living on the seaside either literally or figuratively, and has one foot in the water and the other on solid ground, presenting the juxtaposition of a physical border with open space and a wilderness of water that provides life yet is inconsumable.

One of the stranger tidal facts/stories I have come across; foraging hogs in New Brunswick.

In a restaurant in Bath they hadve a complete set of old encyclopaedias on a shelf. I looked up tides!

The entry includes a strange fact about hogs in New Brunswick. I have tried to find other references to this online – but can’t.

Click on pic one to read – then on pic two. The relevant bit is right at the bottom of pic one and runs onto pic two.

Tides and death: drownings, execution and burial.

Death by Flood

Tides and the intertidal areas they expose are, obviously, things to be very cautious of when living or walking by the coast, and on the foreshore at low tide.

There are, sadly, many stories of people being drowned by in-coming tides. I will just mention a few. And there are other, darker, stories of tides and death.

Throughout Britain’s history there have been catastrophic episodes of coastal flooding where high tides, exaggerated by storm surges, have overtopped sea defences and caused huge floods. In 1607 this happened along the shores of the Bristol Channel and Seven Estuary when as many as two thousand people drowned. This was recorded in a famous pamphlet written soon after the event, which have woodcut illustrations. To this day flood level marks can be seen cut into the stone of the church of the estuary’s lowlands. See here for a fuller account. https://www.aforgottenlandscape.org.uk/projects/1607-the-great-severn-estuary-flood/

In 1953 a devastating flood affected Eastern England drowning as many as 300 people on the coasts of Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. Area of Holland on the east coast of the North Sea wee also badly affected, and many died there too.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Sea_flood_of_1953

Drowned by Incoming Tides

Floods which over top sea defences aside, sadly,  many people have perished when they have ventured beyond the seawall and into the intertidal zone for either curiosity, leisure, or work. Perhaps most notoriously, in the UK, as many as twenty-one Chinese illegal immigrant labourers were drowned by an incoming tide while picking cockles off the Lancashire coast on Morecambe Bay. Now called the Morecambe Bay Cockling Disaster, this occurred on the evening of 5 February 2004, when those drowned were taken unawares by the speed of the incoming tide. Much more information is  here on Wikipedia The famous Irish folk Singer Christie Moore wrote  folk song about the disaster. The lyrics contain the line  ‘the tide is the very devil….’

A very sad example, local to me, and the Severn Estuary, is the tragic case of two young cousins who were playing whilst exploring the intertidal areas of Beachley Point near Chepstow.  One of the boys, Chepstow schoolboy Jamie-Lee Wilson Cartwright, eight, drowned when they got in trouble because of the incoming tide. His cousin Kyle, then nine, survived thanks to the quick-thinking of a bird-watcher who heard their shouts for help and the work of members of the Severn Area Rescue Association (SARA). Jamie-Lee lived in Beachley, and floral and other tributes are still placed on the shore close to where he tragically drowned.

A third and very horrible tale is of a father and son who were drowned by an incoming tide at Ulverston Bay, Cumbria, 06 01 2002. On a fishing trip, they were walking on the intertidal area of Morecambe Bay, when dense fog came down and they could not see which direction to head, as a high spring tide was coming in. The father had a mobile phone and was in touch with the police in a series of increasingly desperate calls. He ended up wading in the deepening water, carrying his son on his shoulders as they tried to find a way to shore, but they tragically failed to do so. Their bodies were found in the following day. Source here  (Guardian).

But I suppose tides will always result in such tragic accidents on occasions. Here I now focus on other intertidal death stories of stranger, and more macabre natures.

Murder by Tide

The story, a Tragedy of the Tides,  in the collection Earth’s Enigmas; a Volume of Stories, by Charles G D Roberts, published in 1896, tells how a young colonial couple were kidnapped by native American Indians in what is now Canada. They were taken on a long forced walk, and by canoe, for two day before being executed. The were so by being staked out,  standing,  in a muddy creek at low tide and drowned as the tide came in. The man was positioned lower in the intertidal zone so that the woman would witness his death before drowning herself. The couple were reported as missing from city of Halifax on the afternoon of September 18th, 1749. The story reports that the Indians were waiting by the creek to watch the tide rise, but were disturbed by other colonists and made off. Attempts were made to save the couple by freeing them – but to no avail. The creek in the story is named as the Tantramar, which is near Halifax, Nova Scotia.  The full text of the story is on line at  https://www.gutenberg.org/files/20231/20231-h/20231-h.htm#A_Tragedy_of_the_Tides

Unholy Burial by Tides

In the period of terrible witch trials in Scotland, in 1704 at Torryburn on the south west Fife coast, a woman Lilias Adie confessed to being a witch and having sex with the devil after a long period of incarcerations and interrogation. But she died, probably as suicide, in prison before she could be finally tried, sentenced and burned.  The disposal of her body was a problem to the church and authorities given her probable suicide and her supposed crime of witchcraft. So she was buried in the muddy intertidal area of Torryburn Bay, and a large flat sandstone slab lain over her resting place, in the hope this would stop the devil bringing her back from the dead. A series of folk songs by Heal & Harrow, harpist Rachel Newton and the fiddler Lauren MacColl, have now been created about the Scottish witch trials, including one about Lilias Adie.

The Duplicitous Royalist Ferryman!

Another Severn Estuary tale is of a ferryman loyal to King Charles I in the English Civil War who carried a group of Royalist soldiers across the estuary near Aust. He was then forced ‘at sword point’ to also ferry a group of pursuing rebel soldiers across the water. At low tide the estuary does look like it is possible to walk across many of the sand banks and rocky areas to and from the shore. So he landed the soldiers on an area called ‘The English Stones’, assuring them that they could from there walk the rest of the way, but this was not in fact true, as even at the lowest tides the Stones are cut off from the bank by a deep channel with fast currents called The English Lake. The soldiers were all drowned by the rising tide. The English Stones now support part of the Second Severn Road Crossing.

Traces of individual wave edges, made by the waves themselves on hard sand; on an ebbing tide. Lovely delicate, intricate patterns. Tenby, Pembrokeshire, UK: Nov 13 2021

A falling tide on the hard sand of Tenby Norrth beach allows each wave to leave a trace of its own margin, made by a little outline trace of sand. Many of these lines interweave as following waves partially cover them. I love the delicate patterns this creates. I left my feet in a few of the images to give an idea of scale. Other marks give that away too! Of course, a rising tide washes all but the highest wave margins away.

A visit to Lydia Halcrow’s PhD with Practice Exhibition: Matter Maps (study area: the Taw Estuary, Devon, UK). Bath Spa University; 19 10 2021.

Lydia’s art practice for her PhD was an in-depth engagement with a tidal landscape known to her as a child, adult and parent: the Taw Estuary, Devon, UK. The art works explore various aspects of time, materiality, family, memory, climate crisis, and the agencies of collected material and weathering and tidal processes. Lydia’s uses of range of body and material/process practices to create these lovely, often fragile, works. Artist website here.