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Marine Life & Conservation

Summer of Surprises!

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summer

The summer season is now coming to an end here at Wembury Marine Centre, but what a year it’s been! This season we have opened our doors to almost 25,000 visitors, worked with 2500 school and college students and engaged with 2000 members of the public through our marine outreach programme.

Our regular Rockpool Safaris are a firm favourite for families and this season we have found some amazingly weird and wonderful species. Here is my top five for 2016:

St Piran’s hermit crab, Clibanarius erythropus

Back in August, one of our long term volunteers John Hepburn found what he thought to be a ‘normal’ Common hermit crab on one of our public rockpool safaris. Upon closer inspection he realised it looked a bit different, but being colour blind he couldn’t really tell. He took a few close up pictures and when we had a look on the computer back in the Centre, we realised this was no normal hermit crab! It turned out to be the St Piran’s Hermit Crab, Clibanarius erythropus, which hadn’t been recorded in Devon for more than 30 years! St Piran’s hermit crabs are different to the Common hermit crab, Pagurus bernhardus, in that they have distinctly red legs and claws and red eye stalks with black and white eyes. It is thought that the hermit crabs (along with the dog whelk shells they often live in) were heavily affected by the Torrey Canyon oil spill back in the late 60s, which wiped out much of their population. Our find made the national news and we have since found quite a few more individuals. Let’s hope they have made a comeback and are here to stay!

Giant goby, Gobius cobitis

In the UK, the giant goby is usually only found along the coast of south-west England between Wembury and the Isles of Scilly, and in the Channel Islands. This large goby, reaching a maximum length of 27cm, is quite a rare find in Britain because here they are on the northern edge of their natural range, although climate change may see them move further north in the future. These large intertidal fish are usually found in sheltered rockpools higher up on the shore. Given their rarity and the fact that they are vulnerable to human disturbance and trampling, giant gobies are now a protected species and you must have a licence to handle them! They can be easily confused with other goby species, so as soon as we’d taken a picture of this one in our tub and realised it might be a Giant goby, we put it straight back where we found it, as we do with all our creatures on our rockpool safaris!

summer

Giant goby. Credit: Devon Wildlife Trust

Common lobster, Homarus gammarus

Again it was volunteer John who found the first Common lobster ever to be spotted on a Wembury rockpool safari! Trying out his new weighted camera, he left it in our favourite large rockpool for the duration of our safari and when he got home and looked over the footage, he found the young lobster excavating a burrow! Common lobsters are very rare to find in rockpools, usually preferring the relative safety of deeper waters. They can grow to a maximum size of 75cm but the one we found was probably about 25cm max. Common lobsters have been over exploited commercially in British waters and their numbers greatly reduced. Our Mr lobster (we don’t actually know if he’s male or female!) has been seen poking his claws out numerous times throughout the season and was still there today on our penultimate rockpool safari of the year, so let’s hope he’s found himself a safe haven! PS: interesting fact about lobsters – they don’t ever slow down, weaken or lose fertility with age as they have a special enzyme which repairs DNA sequences. So theoretically, they could live forever if it wasn’t for fishing, disease or being preyed upon!

summer

Common Lobster. Credit: John Hepburn

Stalked jellyfish, Lucernariopsis campanulata

These tiny upside-down jellyfish are extremely hard to spot and so often completely missed when rockpooling. Stalked jellyfish usually attach themselves to the ends of fronds of seaweed or seagrass and float around in the water catching bits of plankton. The one we found had attached itself to a beautiful piece of sea lettuce. This species in particular can grow up to 5cm tall but is usually found much smaller and its colour varies from a uniform red to green to brown.  It has eight arms with about 45 tentacles on each arm and is an absolute delight to find when you’re least expecting it!

Bloody henry starfish, Henricia oculata

It wouldn’t be right to talk about rockpooling at Wembury without including at least one species of starfish! The small Cushion stars are very common here; almost every rock you turn over on the mid shore will have one stuck to its underneath, but they never fail to evoke the wow factor, from little ones right up to grandparents. The much larger Spiny starfish are fairly common here too and one of my absolute favourite finds on a rockpool safari. But one species we weren’t expecting to find was the Bloody henry starfish! Arguably one of the most striking and beautiful of all of the UK’s starfish, it gets its name from its deep red, pink or purple colouring. Usually preferring deeper water, this species would be much more likely to be spotted by a diver rather than a young rock pooler, but our ‘extreme rockpool safari’ on a brilliant low spring tide back in April saw us rambling further out on to the rocky reef than we’d usually go, and our efforts were repaid with a young girl and her family discovering this treasure!

All in all it was a wonderful summer of surprises for us here at Wembury Marine Centre.  If you’d like to see more of the weird and wonderful marine life we’ve found this year then head to our Facebook page: www.faceboom.com/wemburymarine.

Coral Smith lives in South Devon in the UK and works as Marine Education Officer for Devon Wildlife Trust. Based at Wembury Marine Centre near Plymouth, Coral’s work involves promoting marine conservation through schools education, public outreach and community involvement.

Marine Life & Conservation

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

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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! http://youtu.be/A_LUb8OSfn0

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)

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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 www.oysterdiving.com 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 john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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