Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Marine Treasures of Lyme Bay

Could this really be the Year of the Sponge?

My crazy fantasy at about a Budleigh Sponge Day may not have been so crazy after all.

I've just read Simon Barnes' piece entitled Unexplored wilderness at the end of the pier in The Times at reflecting on the wonderful hidden world of the Cromer Shoal Chalk Reef off the coast of NE Norfolk. Among other strange and beautiful secrets the Reef has yielded "a species of purple sponge new to science."

That "new to science" phrase struck a chord, still reeling as I am from having written 70,000 words about Victorian spongiologist Henry Carter FRS (1813-95) as part of my own exploration of 19th century science, a world previously foreign to me.

"New to science" was the excited and triumphant clarion-call favoured by Victorian botanists, zoologists, geologists and all our other worthy ancestors who believed they were making the world a better place with the extraordinary finds that they were making all over the planet.












Examining a 'haul' on board the Challenger

Image from F. Whymper The Sea: Its stirring Story of Adventure, Peril & Heroism London 1880

Finds which ranged from the dredged-up hauls on HMS Challenger, yielding over 4,000 marine species "new to science" between 1873 and 1876 to the rare and exotic plants that they found in the jungles of South America. Very often the finds made by these brave or obsessed explorers were followed by death from disease or shipwreck. 

Above: The sponge Clathrina Coriacea (Montagu, 1818). Henry Carter wrote of  its “chaste and exquisite network”
Image credit: Fiona Crouch

Henry Carter, the town's most celebrated scientist born in Budleigh Salterton, found 17 different species of sponge growing on the coast here following his retirement in 1862 and was often moved by their beauty.


A relatively undisturbed boulder reef in Lyme Bay, rich in branching sponges and large Phallusia tunicates (sea squirts).
Image credit: Colin Munro
Our town looks out on to Britain’s largest inshore marine protected area (MPA) and it's only right that an event arranged jointly by the Otter Valley Association and Fairlynch Museum will take place in Carter's bicentenary year. The talk 'The Marine Treasures of Lyme Bay' will touch upon everything from the geology of Lyme Bay through the corals and sponges to fish and fishing and the campaign for a closed area to protect the sponge and coral habitats.

Devon Wildlife Trust has been working to protect the reefs in Lyme Bay since the 1990s with the result that this part of the county's coast is probably the best understood area of seabed in the UK. 

Dense beds of mature pink seafans (Eunicella verrucosa), some almost a metre across, growing on pristine reef in Lyme Bay.
Image credit: Colin Munro

Speaker Dominic Flint has been Sustainable Fisheries Officer at Exeter-based Devon Wildlife Trust for almost two years. Before that he was Seagrass Officer for Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust and Fisheries Observer with Marine Resources & Fisheries Consultants (MRAG) Ltd.  He studied Microbiology at Bristol University before going on to further studies at Warwick and Nottingham Universities, gaining a Diploma in Marine Biology and an MSc in Applied Marine Science at the University of Plymouth.  He has been a SCUBA diver since the early 1980s, and has over 25 years of diving experience around the world and especially in Devon and the South West.

Last year saw the fiftieth birthday of Devon Wildlife Trust. In 1962 Lady’s Wood, near South Brent, became DWT’s first nature reserve, but many others have followed since. Today DWT manages 45
nature reserves for wildlife and people, protecting rare species that are at risk of vanishing. The Trust
advises landowners on better managing their land for the benefit of wildlife. It stands up for Devon's environment by lobbying decision makers and campaigning to give a powerful voice to wildlife under threat, working throughout the county to conserve wildlife in urban areas and the countryside, on the coast and in the sea.

Click on  to read more. It sounds like a really worthy cause. Donations will be most welcome.
Monday 18 February 2013 2.30 pm Peter Hall, Budleigh Salterton. Admission £3.00. Otter Valley Association members and Friends of Fairlynch benefit from a reduced £1.50 admission charge to the talks.  Please note the change of speaker for this event.












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