Sea slug - Kat Sanders
Some species found within the North Sea provide habitats for others. Kelp forests and segarass beds can offer shelter and protection to juvenile fish, who can hide within their many fronds, avoiding detection by predators. Another example is the ross worm. Ross worms create extensive reefs which provide a habitat for other species to attach to or grow from. This fascinating animal builds protetctive tubes out of sand and shell. When many ross worms exist in the same area, these tubes glue together to form dense reefs that can extend several metres across and up to 60 cm in height. One well known example of this is located thirteen miles east of Great Yarmouth (Norfolk). This reef mosaic supports creatures such as seamats, starfish, a rainbow of multicoloured sea slugs, mysid and edible pink shrimps and a multitude of crabs.
Nudibranchs, commonly known as sea slugs, are often seen by divers when exploring the Norfolk and Suffolk marine environment. Almost all sea slugs have gills on their bodies, which provide a 'fluffy' looking appearance. Sea slugs are incredibly diverse and can live anywhere from the shore to depths of 80metres. They are a wide range of colours, either resembling the colouration of the habitat they live on, or are brightly coloured in an attempt to warn off predators.
Ross worm reef - Peter Tinsley
Stretching along the coastline from Norfolk to Dorset are several fascinating chalk reefs. By far one of the most famous is Cromer Reef, located just 200 metres from the Norfolk coast. Ranging from 0 – 20 metres in depth, Cromer is likely to be Europe’s largest chalk reef and is a playground for local SCUBA divers who enjoy navigating around the areas beautiful chalk architecture composed of boulders, stacks and arches.
Marine life is abundant here, including blue mussel beds, over 30 species of sea slug, harbour porpoises, grey and harbour seals, alongside occasional sightings of sunfish and basking sharks.The chalk habitat also hosts large communities of crustaceans, burrowing piddocks, sea squirts, anemones and sponges; in fact, the purple sponge found here is a species new to science and was only discovered in 2011. Shoaling fish are also a common sight and provide food for many seabirds, including common, little and Sandwich tern.
At Sheringham, gully ridges made of chalk are cloaked in a mosaic of live faunal turf, such as sponges, seamats and anemones and encrusting coralline algae. Buried within the sandy, gravelly sediment are peacock worms from which an elaborate feathery fan of tentacles stretch out into the water column to feed. Moving south into the waters off Suffolk we find colonies of sea firs, striped venus clams and heaths of burrowing brittlestars found within the sandy seabed. Hidden beneath the sandy seabed are the small eyes of flatfish, camouflaging against the seabed to avoid predation. Plaice are common in this region, easily recognised from other flatfish due to the presence of yellow-orange spots doted along the length of its body. The colour of the spots may differ from a white-yellow to orange red colour depending on the colour of the sediment in the region they are found. Those with white spots are often found in areas where the sediment contains bits of white shell of pebbles. Plaice feed on bottom-living animals, such as cockles and razor shells found within the sediment. They are a very important species of commercial fish.
Shipwrecks and Graveyards
The seabed surrounding North Norfolk is a graveyard to over 400 shipwrecks. Twelve miles off Blakeney Point at a depth of 20 metres lies the WWII submarine HMS Umpire, whose wreck supports a variety of life, including hornwrack, plumose and dahlia anemones, dead men’s fingers (a soft coral), sponges and lightbulb sea squirts. Crabs and lobsters scuttle through the wreck, whilst long-spined scorpion fish, poor-cod, ballan wrasse and bib swim between its remains. Smaller wrecks provide habitats for rock-loving species to develop within sandy region, acting essentially as habitat corridors, allowing species more typical of north, west and southern regions to develop.
Ship wreck encrusted with life - Tim Allsop