While exploring the intertidal zone of our coastline, one of the most abundant creatures you are likely to find is the Periwinkle – a tidy little snail about the size of a grape. Periwinkle snails (or “Winkles” as they are called in Scotland) originated in northern Europe before populating the western Atlantic. Like many other non-native marine creatures, Periwinkles presumably arrived long ago in the ballasts of ships. Sailors would load the ship’s bilge with rocks, to which the Winkles were often attached.
Periwinkles are grazers and use their file-like radula (there’s a new crossword puzzle word!) to scrape algae from rocks and consume young shoots of aquatic grasses. Millions and millions of these snails have left large areas of rocky shoreline stripped of its traditional fuzzy green growth. Some say their grazing has rendered acres of marshland susceptible to erosion, resulting in a loss of coastal buffer.
These little Rhode Island sea snails are so well established, I doubt there is much that can be done about seriously controlling their population. However, you can play a small part. Periwinkles are edible and really easy to gather and prepare. Although not very filling in small quantities, periwinkles are quite tasty when boiled and dipped in melted garlic butter. With each one you nibble, you might just be saving a few blades of marsh grass!