Site 14: Shells of the Muddy Banks and Cobble Beaches
I have seen
A curious child, who dwelt upon a tract
Of inland ground, applying to his ear
The Convolutions of a smooth-lipped shell
To which, in silence hushed, his very soul
Listened intensely; and his countenance soon
Brightened with joy, for from within were heard
Murmurings, whereby the monitor expressed
Mysterious union with its native sea.
Williams Wordsworth - "The Excursion" Book IV
This beach has become progressively sandier since the early days of the Land of Fires trail. However, a significant amount of muddy patches and collections of shells still lines the shore. In the muddy areas, large numbers of the eastern mud snail (Ilynassa obsoleta) feeds on macroalgae, such as sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca).
Another common sight is collections of littered shells from various mollusk species native to this area. Some of the shells you will find here include the quahog (Mercenaria mercenaria), the slipper shell (Crepidula fornicata), American oysters (Crassostrea virginica), the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis), and Atlantic bay scallops (Argopecten irradians). Small stands of salt marsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) help to protect this beach from erosion. The patches of this grass grow in muddy areas, sitting very low in the water, held in place by their mutualistic relationship with the bissell threads of ribbed mussels (Geukensia demissa).
The sandy portions above the high water mark make ideal nesting grounds for the locally-endangered diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin), a species of turtle that is native to brackish coastal areas of the eastern and southern United States. During the months of June and July, females leave the water to come on shore and bury nests of about 5-10 eggs. A significant, established population of terrapins is known to nest in Hundred Acre Cove in Barrington, RI. The Barrington population has been studied and protected for 25 years. Thanks to a partnership with researchers at the University of Rhode Island, the population at Rocky Hill is now being monitored as well. A common sight along this beach in the early summer are disturbed nests that have been uncovered by predators. In future, intact nests will be protected from predators by exclusion devices to give hatchlings a better chance of surviving to the next year.
Land of Fires - Site 14