Like so many of the weirdly wonderful creatures that wash up on our shores, violet sea snails are both mesmerizingly beautiful and completely alien to us. A purple snail that floats shell-down underwater on the surface of the sea? It’s like the world has turned upside-down and they are surfing on the edge of the sky! They build a ‘bubble raft’ out of thick mucus, which allows them to float around the sea and bump into food.

Several people have found them now, with a handful on Town Beach on St Mary’s, the odd one or two at Watermill and some on the beaches around Tresco and St Martin’s, too. As more people hear about them, more people are looking and finding them - estimates suggest over 60 have washed up on Scilly and more have been found scattered on beaches across the UK's west coast.

The first finders were Samaya and Scott Reid from Scilly Rockpool Safaris, whose photos have been shared far and wide around the internet, capturing the imaginations of thousands of people. They've now featured on local, regional and even national BBC News (see here for BBC Cornwall, here for ITV West Region, here for CBBC Newsround and here to listen to Communications Manager Lucy McRobert talking about them on BBC Radio Cornwall).  

The most eagle-eyed beachcombers might find one or two some years, but it’s unusual to see so many and experts think that they may have first stranded a few days ago. Other unusual recent findings have included by-the-wind sailor and Portuguese man o’war (both species of hydrozoans that the violet sea snails eat!), and even more unusually a coconut complete with a Columbus crab from the Caribbean or America. The crab literally fell out of the coconut, which was collected off St Martin’s by local naturalist Kris Webb when he was out kayaking (read his story here). Coconut and crab were set back in the ocean to continue their journey together! 

Why are these animals appearing? There could be lots of reasons, although there are suggestive links to climate change and shifting sea currents. The sightings aren’t unique and we must be careful not to jump too fast and make assumptions – there could be other factors at play, for example more people beachcombing and correctly identifying/reporting sightings – but overall, there do seem to be an increase in sightings like this, which might suggest longer-term climatic factors.

The seas around Scilly seem very abundant at the moment. A pelagic trip on Tuesday saw hundreds of jellyfish, over a hundred common dolphin, sunfish and even two or three fin whales! It’s a marvellous time to be out exploring our oceans, but we must be mindful that they’re still under huge pressures.