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Marine Life & Conservation

Diving with British Marine Life: The John Dory



Part 1 of a new series by our latest blogger Georgie Bull…

A few years ago, I attended a work experience placement at the London Aquarium. During a school session, the staff members gave the children a group of 20 photo cards and asked them to choose which ones they thought showed native species. The cards pictured the likes of corkwing wrasse, orca, basking sharks, cod, whiting, mackerel, and vibrant nudibranchs. Of these, colourful species were seldom selected. At the end of the activity, it was revealed that all the cards showed permanent or seasonal UK residents, which was met with shock from both the pupils and staff.

From this experience, and many more like it, I’ve come to realise just how underappreciated British marine life is.

Over the next six blogs, I will explore just a handful of the charismatic species encountered in the South West of England. I aim to introduce each species, describing my encounters with them before highlighting any relevant literature. There is still so much we don’t know about the species living on our doorstep.

In the build up to my first night dive at Chesil Cove last year, sighting reports circulated that john dory (Zeus faber) were seemingly everywhere. This species had been on my ‘to see’ list for quite some time so any likelihood of seeing one filled me with excitement. Halfway through the dive I noticed a faint, but frantic undulation centred around what looked like a large grumpy dinner plate. It was indeed a john dory. This individual was so full of expression that I found it hard not to fixate myself for the duration of the dive! This was the start of what became a frequent occurrence throughout the season.


As well as their false eyespot, elongate fins, and disc like body, john dory demonstrate distinctive behaviour in the water. Their movement is relatively slow, though their soft anal and dorsal fins (positioned behind their spined counterparts) move frantically to alter their position in the water. While small, their mouth is capable of rapid extension to draw in prey, and they’ll manoeuvre their bodies into all sorts of strange positions in the water to do so.

Zeus faber are often associated with warm water, but their distribution conflicts this idea, with their Northern range extending as far as Norway!

John dory are categorised as data deficient by the IUCN. The IUCN ranks species based on their population trends, and they are particularly famous for their ‘Red List’ which categorises endangered species. Sometimes insufficient information is available, and the organism is regarded as data deficient. As this is the case for the john dory, questions arise about how their population is coping with its value to the fishing industry.


It’s true that anglers and divers value john dory, but scientists have been finding out more about the species in recent years. One of their most distinctive features is the false eyespot. These spots are found in a variety of organisms from butterflies to lizards and are thought to divert predator attacks to less essential parts of the body (e.g. the tail) which may offer increased chance of escape. The role of eyespots in nature is understudied, but lab experiments in 2011 and 2013 showed that predators were inclined to attack eyespots spots more so than other areas of the body. This provided evidence in favour of eyespots acting as attack diversions.

On a different note, sound in the marine environment is receiving increased attention recently. Iconic footage captured by the BBC for Blue Planet 2 of reef noise, or hot topics like noise pollution from boat traffic are taking centre stage. But sound in the marine environment is used by individuals to communicate in a variety of different ways. John dory create sounds with sonic muscles that surround their swim bladder. Until 2018, this sound had only been recorded in air. A study recorded the species using baited remote underwater video (BRUV) footage and found that individuals would make the sound when predators were near. This caused predators to flee, suggesting the sound could serve as a territorial defence mechanism. As with all species, there are still many aspects to the life of john dory that we are only just beginning to understand.


Hear more from Georgie here:

Georgie is a Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology student at Plymouth University and an active diver in the South West of England. This year she will be completing the HSE Scuba qualification with the University in the hope that scuba will become part of her future career. She is particularly interested in native species and has a soft spot for elasmobranchs and molluscs.

Marine Life & Conservation

Meet Parpal Dumplin – Norfolk’s very own purple sea sponge named by local child



Ten years ago, in 2011, a new sponge species was identified in the North Norfolk chalk beds by Seasearch volunteer divers. In January 2021, the Marine Conservation Society’s Agents of Change project invited children in the Norfolk area to name the purple sponge.

Following lockdown, the judges thought that this would be an ideal time for school children to bond, while using their creativity – with no constraints. From home schooling children to entire classes, the panel of expert judges received a fantastic response with suggestions including Norfolk Purplish Plum and Purple Stone Sticker. All entries were carefully considered by a panel of experts, looking at the creativity, suitability and usability of each name.

It was unanimously agreed that the sponge should be named Parpal Dumplin. The winning name was suggested by nine-year-old Sylvie from Langham Village School, “because the sponge is purple and it looks like a dumpling”. The panel particularly liked that the spelling gives the sponge a strong connection to Norfolk.

The panel of experts deciding on the name included: Catherine Leigh, Education Adviser at Norfolk Coast Partnership, Annabel Hill, Senior Education Officer at Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Jenny Lumb, Teacher at The Coastal Federation, Nick Acheson, President at Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists Society and Claire Goodwin, Research Scientist at Huntsman Marine Science Centre and internationally renowned sponge specialist. At the meeting, the panel was supported by Seasearch East Coordinator, Dawn Watson, who recognised this sponge as special over a decade ago.

Claire Goodwin, internationally renowned sponge specialist, says: “Dawn and Rob invited me to join a Seasearch survey of the east coast, including the Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds. Dawn introduced me to a purple sponge she had noticed on the chalk reefs. We took samples, and believe it to be a species new to science, in a sub-genus of sponges known as Hymedesmia (Stylopus).”

We need to look at specimens deposited in museums to understand how many different Hymedesmia (Stylopus) species exist in the UK and how they differ from this new species. The Agents of Change naming project has given the sponge a common name that we can use until it has a scientific one.  I loved seeing all the creative suggestions.

Sponges help to keep seawater clean by filter feeding, consuming tiny particles of food that float by. There are over 11,000 different species globally and our purple one is ‘encrusting’, meaning it adopts the shape of whatever it covers. It lives in Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds Marine Conservation Zone, a precious area of local seabed that needs to be taken care of.

Jenny Lumb, Teacher at The Coastal Federation, said: “Naming the purple sponge has been a fun way for children to find out about the fascinating life hidden beneath the waves. It’s amazing to be given the chance to name a species that scientists and divers will use for years to come! The children are so fortunate to have the MCZ on their doorstep. They had a great time on the beach discovering some of the life there, collecting litter and finding out about this special coastal area. I am sure the children will continue to enjoy and care for the coastal environment into the future.”

Catherine Leigh, Education Adviser from the Norfolk Coast Partnership said: “It was a pleasure to help decide on the sponge’s name from so many fantastic suggestions submitted and I hope it will inspire people to find out more about all the incredible inhabitants of this Marine Conservation Zone on our Norfolk coastline.”

Hilary Cox, Agents of Change Norfolk Coordinator, said: “Parpal Dumplin is a great choice by the decision panel of specialists:  a local Norfolk name for this newly found species in North Norfolk’s Marine Conservation Zone.”

Annabel Hill, Senior Education and Engagement Officer at Norfolk Wildlife Trust said: “Wonderful to be involved in the process of naming a new species of sponge, found in Norfolk from a range of fantastic creative names suggested by local school children”.

You can find out more about the purple sponge, and the search for its name, by watching this animation: The seabed is a fun place to be!

For more information on the work of the Marine Conservation Society visit their website by clicking here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Save the Sharks, Save the Planet (Watch Video)



In 2020 Oyster Diving helped to train Toby Monteiro-Hourigan to become one of the youngest (12 years old) Master Scuba Divers ever. You can read his story here.

Toby has just completed this amazing ‘David Attenborough’ project video for his school on shark conservation. Please watch and share as it really is an eye opener in why we need to protect these incredible creatures.

Thanks to Toby and for letting us share this video.

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email

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