Julie Hatcher fell in love with Kimmeridge a long time ago. She was studying marine biology at the time but was imagining her career would take her somewhere like South America; ‘Dolphins were my thing,’ she says. It was while volunteering at Kimmeridge, during her first year at uni, that she realised she didn’t need to go overseas to get a job caring for exciting marine life. It was right there, under her nose.
Julie’s stunning photographs of Yellow fringed Nudibranchs, iridescent Cuckoo Wrasse and Jewel Anemones prove that Purbeck’s Marine Conservation Zone can keep a marine biologist occupied for a lifetime. She has been the head warden at the Marine Centre in Kimmeridge since 2004. Julie loves surprising and enthusing other people about marine life and she’s very good at it! 30 people turned up for one of her famous rockpool rambles during half term week.
‘There’s a perception that our seas are barren, grey and cold,’ Julie tells me. ‘Well, they can be grey and cold, but they are certainly not barren!’ They are full of colourful animals, pink plants and some of the strangest life-forms you’re likely to see. Purbeck is a World Heritage Site, thanks to its geology, but unusual tidal patterns and proximity to the vibrant waters of the south-west, create a unique marine mix. Julie thinks it’s more interesting than a tropical coral reef. ‘Coral reefs are contained spaces. Around Purbeck, there’s life everywhere,’ she tells me.
Purbeck’s remarkable geology extends out to sea. What we can’t see, are the cliffs and ancient river channels from when sea levels were lower. Many of these micro-habitats are yet to be fully explored: they provide different landscapes for vibrant communities of wildlife. In fact, there is still so much we don’t know about what lives around our coastline and Julie reminds me how important all of it is to us. Without it - for a start - we wouldn’t have that miraculous balance of oxygen in our atmosphere that keeps us alive.
Purbeck’s beaches and coves are also reminders of how interconnected we are with the rest of the world. Many are Atlantic facing, so prevailing winds and currents encourage litter to snag here. Most of the rubbish that washes ashore wasn’t dumped here – it comes from across the ocean – but there’s a long, forensic tail to it. It includes bead-like plastic nurdles, the raw material for all our plastic goods. Even the recycled stuff. Julie and her husband have even traced lost fishing gear back to specific boats in North America. Some items may have drifted for over 18 months – they wash up with exotic creatures attached, which tell Julie a lot about the item’s origin and route.
Julie never tires of Kimmeridge because there’s always something new to find. A new species might move in from down the coast, or she might discover something that hasn’t been seen for 10 or 20 years. Even on her days off, she goes diving and photographing the underwater world. And she has realized her original dream: she studies dolphins, as a volunteer for the MARINElife charity.
‘Purbeck is amazing. I feel very connected to this place,’ she says. ‘Every day, I feel privileged to work here.’