The sea lies at our feet, but how much do we really know and appreciate what goes on beneath its murky green-grey waters? Our Biosphere Region extends 2 nautical miles out in to the English Channel, to include little-known areas of chalk rock on the seabed, that mirror the rich diversity of life found on the neighbouring chalk of the South Downs on land. In fact the chalk reef that follows the Undercliff coast path from Brighton Marina as far as Newhaven and beyond has been recognised as one of the very first new ‘Marine Conservation Zones’ (MCZs) in England. This MCZ of ‘Beachy Head West’ is in fact one of the best chalk reefs in all of Europe, its crevices hosting a wide array of life including rare sea horses – an animal you might expect to find in more exotic tropical waters! lend your support by responding to the Government’s current consultation (which ends on the 24th April!) on creating a second round of new MCZs, including 3 more sites off the Sussex coast. The seas around Sussex really are teaming with life. As you look out to sea you might be lucky enough to see a dolphin, but under the surface the English Channel is home to a wealth of nature. The coastline of chalk cliffs in the east of our Biosphere becomes shingle beaches in the west, themselves including internationally rare vegetated shingle patches. The chalk forms wave-cut gullies that run out to sea, as well as rocky outcrops just out to sea to the west. The chalk gullies are covered in seaweed and inhabited by Mussels, Crabs and fish, including rare Short-snouted seahorses that wrap their tails around the seaweed to stay put. Further west along the Sussex coast, the seabed is made up of gravel, sand and rock – a seemingly mundane habitat that forms an important feeding ground for flatfish like Plaice and Sole and breeding ground for Skates and Rays lay their eggs and hunt here. Old shipwrecks meanwhile create artificial reefs where Conger eels, Lobsters and shoals of fish reside.
- Utopia Just south-east of Selsey Bill, this site is an important Tope shark pupping ground. Soft and fragile sponges and corals such as Dead man’s fingers and White-striped anemones grow on the rocky outcrops and boulders scattered in the zone.
- Offshore Overfalls About ten miles south ofBognorRegis, and almost 600 km2 in size, the seabed here has a mix of habitats. Sandstone reefs provide shelter for Crabs, Lobsters and Shrimp, while the Overfalls - the zone’s namesake - is an unusual area where sand and gravel form waves across the seabed. The waves are important hunting and breeding ground for flatfish, Skates and Rays.
- Offshore Brighton Almost at the median line with France, and over 850 km2 in area, this deep water site is less affected by wind and wave activity. Because of this the deep rocky habitats are easilycolonised and have high species diversity. Here, Ross worms form biogenic reefs. The individual worms use sand and fine gravel to build tubes in which they live. Large congregations of the worms create complex structures on the seabed. In amongst the tubes smaller Crabs, Lobsters and fish make their home.