On our ocean voyage we’ve drifted through primordial kelp forests and stood atop Iron Age sea salt works on the Lizard Peninsula. The final part of our journey takes us further back in time as we marvel at the rare geology of the UK’s southernmost peninsula, where the Living Sea Therapy story began more than three million years ago.
Bound by the ocean on three sides and almost completely separated from the rest of Cornwall by the Helford River, the Lizard Peninsula is a geological anomaly, which records an ancient ocean. It’s no surprise that this rugged cape is prized by researchers and protected by extensive UK conservation legislation.
It has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, classified a Special Site of Scientific Interest (to conserve its wildlife and geology) and is a Marine Conservation Zone (where nationally important, rare or threatened habitats and species are protected). The Lizard has also been defined by Natural England as a National Character Area for its landscape, biodiversity and geodiversity.
Rocks and cliffs shelter picturesque fishing villages huddled into quaint coves and safe harbours. But this jagged coastline is littered with shipwrecks; earning it the nickname: ‘Graveyard of Ships.’ This headland is exposed to the elements, yet it is one of the warmest places in Britain. It’s clean air and waters are unpolluted by industry; and the land is sparsely populated, with an island community feel. However, the geology of this promontory, within its turquoise and cobalt waters, tells the story of the planet’s dramatic past, deep beneath the seafloor.
Rock stars from beneath the seabed
“The Lizard used to be separate from the UK,” says Mark Sullivan, Chairman of Living Sea Therapy“. A vast body of rock surged up and changed the landscape more than three million years ago, joining with Cornwall. There are only two other places in the world with the same geological profile, both of which are landlocked.”
The makeup of the Lizard has intrigued geologists for hundreds of years. Pioneering geological research in the last century shows that the Lizard is made up of ’ophiolite’ — a section of the Earth's oceanic crust that has been uplifted and exposed above sea level. Two of the rock stars in our geological story are the red snake skin-like ‘serpentine’ and the crystalline ‘gabbro’. According to the Geological Society of London (GSL), both are igneous rocks usually found beneath the seabed, but unusually, they can be found at a local cove just a few miles from where Living Sea Therapy resides.
“These unusual Lizard rocks were originally deep beneath the Earth’s surface, under the ocean, but were pushed up to the Earth’s surface as two continental plates collided,” says Natasha Smith, member of the GSL Geo-conservation Committee. “This boundary between the earth’s crust and the earth’s mantle typically lies seven km beneath the sea floor. Coverack is one of the few places in the world where it is seen at the earth’s surface.”
The GSL adds that Kynance Cove provides “one of the best and most famous exposures of the Lizard serpentine.” Coverack is just a few miles away from the Living Sea Therapy HQ and Kynance Cove is less than 15 miles southwest.
Gabbro was used by early settlers to make pottery. Remnants of Lizard clay works are still evident today, and gabbro clay pots have been found as far afield as Africa. Serpentine rock is also prevalent in Victorian architecture due to its dark appearance — it was said to be chosen by Queen Victoria who was in mourning for Prince Albert, as it replicated her mood.
We know the rocks in the waters around the Lizard yield more than 60 minerals (three times the number found in the Dead Sea), including magnesium, calcium, sodium, potassium and sulphur. A huge part of that mineral composition is due to rare rocks like serpentine and gabbro, which used to be buried deep beneath the ocean bed.
“The Lizard Peninsula is a unique geological landscape,“ says Mark. “Our salt is essentially comprised of dissolved rock compounds and, in our extraction process, we concentrate those minerals to high levels, yielding our pure and natural range of salt crystals.”