An undersea safari

02 August 2017 | Posted in Charlotte Owen , Marine
An undersea safari
cuckoo wrasse / Rob Goldsmith

By Charlotte Owen WildCall Officer

We all like to be beside the seaside: the smell of salt spray, the waves gently lapping on the shore and the soft sand between our toes. But take a dip beneath the surface and there is hidden world full of extraordinary sea creatures and magnificent marine landscapes. During this year’s National Marine Week (29 July to 13 August) we’re encouraging everyone, everywhere to celebrate the sea and discover the secrets that lie beneath the waves.

Here on the Sussex coast, we are lucky enough to have some very special marine sites including two of the first ever UK Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), chosen for their unique and nationally important marine wildlife.Kingmere MCZ, just 10km south-east of Littlehampton, is a vast sandstone reef covered in soft coral. Delicate fan worms live in the cracks between boulders, edible crabs shelter under the overhangs and black bream build their nests on the seabed, creating a moonscape of craters. The reserve stretches right across to the delightfully named Worthing Lumps, which represent the best underwater chalk cliffs in Sussex.Here you will find more coral, tube worms, sponges, anemones, whelks, blennies and catsharks.

The second of our MCZs follows a long strip of coastline from the eastern outskirts of Brighton towards Eastbourne. Beachy Head West protects some of the best examples of subtidal chalk gullies and ledges in the south east, an unusual feature in the British Isles. The chalk we see on land, most impressively at the iconic Seven Sisters, extends some 500 metres out to sea as a wave-cut platform full of cracks and crevices, packed with blue mussels and native oysters. The chalk surface is pitted with holes made by burrowing piddocks and cloaked in coral, sponges and sea squirts.Lobsters, spider crabs and hermit crabs patrol the rocks in search of food and there are forests of kelp in the shallower areas. Excitingly, both species of British seahorse can be found here, alongside other seemingly-tropical fish like the colourful cuckoo wrasse. Take a closer look on your next trip to the beach - you never know what you might find!

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