With mounting anticipation, I kicked my flippers and glided towards a cluster of rocks by the low tide mark. The excitement was fuelled by the knowledge that this section of the shore by Elie in the East Neuk of Fife had previously delivered wondrous marine life encounters – but would it do so this time?

The rocks came into view, the water was thick with soup-like plankton, which impaired visibility, but it was good enough to enable a thorough investigation of the area. A mysid shrimp flickered into view, a small crustacean about a centimetre long, with a distinctive hump-back profile. These shrimps are the bread and butter for many of the larger creatures here, a vital part of the food chain.

I tried to photograph the shrimp, but the camera auto-focus had difficulty in honing onto such a small beast, so I gave up and resumed my scrabbling around by the rocks. A movement – and then a pair of long claws materialised by a rock cleft – a spiny squat lobster! I’ve snorkelled this section of coast many times previously, yet this was a creature I had never seen before. The sea is an Aladdin’s Cave of natural treasures and now it was revealing another one of its magical secrets.

With rhythmic movements of my hands, I steadied my body against the gentle surge of the sea and watched spellbound as this fascinating crustacean crawled onto a patch of sand, where it began to feed. Using its long pincers, it scooped sand into its mouth where it gleaned algae, detritus, and other food items before spitting-out the remaining sand grains.

The spiny squat lobster is a most attractive creature, with a flattened body about 3cm long, and claws that are the same length again. The abdomen was intricately patterned with kingfisher-blue stripes, whilst the tips of the legs and claws were tinged with red. Despite the vibrant colouration, the creature blended superbly with the environment, and it seemed that the blue stripes mimicked the patterns of light that rippled across the seabed.

Another similar animal appeared, which was greener in colour, and which I identified as a common squat lobster, a different species.  Witnessing two types of squat lobster over a short period was a real nature jackpot, and I watched enthralled as the animals went about their business.

I moved on towards another group of rocks where I glimpsed a pair of red antennae poking out from a shallow crevice. It was a lobster, a much larger creature altogether, and which is such an important quarry for creel fishermen.  It was spooked by my approach, so it emerged from its shelter and scuttled over the seabed to find a deeper hole to seek refuge.

In this marine heaven, pearly coloured sea squirts adorned rocks and hermit crabs side-stepped comically over the seabed. My mind buzzed with happiness at the vibrancy of life that unfurled before me, and which acted as a telling reminder of the importance of protecting our precious oceans.