Sponge confirmed as new to science

Monday 10 October, 2011

A mysterious type of purple sponge discovered this summer off the Norfolk coast has been confirmed as a species entirely new to science.
The survey, which was funded by The Wildlife Trusts (in association with various partners) and took place in their August National Marine Week, recorded 352 different species of marine wildlife along the East Coast from Essex to Northumberland. 126 of these were seaweeds, several of which were previously unrecorded along the East Coast, including Reflexed Grape Weed.

One sponge species baffled experts during the survey and has now been identified as a species entirely new to science. However, the purple Hymedesmia sponge found off the Norfolk coast at East Runton, is yet to be formally named. This colourful animal was identified by sponge expert Dr Claire Goodwin of the National Museums of Northern Ireland, who confirmed that this is an encrusting sponge which adopts the shape of whatever it grows on – typically flint-like cobbles.

More than 20 people took part in the survey across 7 coastal counties (The Blackwater Estuary in Essex, Orford Ness in Suffolk, Sheringham and Hunstanton in Norfolk, Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire, Flamborough Head and Robin Hoods Bay in Yorkshire, Seaham in Durham and Creswell in Northumberland). The data gathered has significantly increased our records of wildlife along the East Coast and will contribute towards its future protection.

Kirsten Smith, Living Seas Manager for the North Sea Wildlife Trusts said: “This survey has thrown up some important finds, including new exciting species. These results will help us to understand more about our marine environment and help us to identify key areas in need of protection.

The purple Hymedesmia sponge was found within a draft Marine Conservation Zone off the Norfolk coast. We urge the Government to designate sites such as this during 2012 to ensure our marine wildlife is protected for future generations.”

A documentary featuring the team’s exploration of the East Coast and the new sponge was shown on BBC1 (East) at 7.30pm on Monday 10 October.

If people would like to help ensure the adequate future protection of important marine areas, such as the chalk reefs off the North Norfolk coast, they can sign up to The Wildlife Trusts Petition Fish campaign online at: www.wildlifetrusts.org/petitionfish

Photo: The purple Hymedesmia sponge (Simon Parker)


Seaweed Survey Supporters

The Wildlife Trust's North Sea Wildlife Project
Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership
Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service
The Environment Agency
Durham Heritage Coast
Essex Wildlife Trust
Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust
The National Trust – Orford Ness
Marine Conservation Society
Norfolk Wildlife Trust
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust
Northumberland Wildlife Trust
Durham Wildlife Trust
Hull University
Yorkshire Naturalists Union
Dove Marine Laboratories
Purling Transport

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