Meet Parpal Dumplin – North Norfolk’s very own purple sea sponge, photo Dawn Watson

Unique purple sea sponge named by local child after a decade spent nameless


Wednesday 14 April, 2021


A mysterious type of purple sponge was discovered 10 years ago during a survey funded by The Wildlife Trusts (in association with various partners) which took place during National Marine Week

In January this year, the Marine Conservation Society’s Agents of Change project invited children in the Norfolk area to name the purple sponge.  It has 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, Nick Acheson, President at Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists Society, Jenny Lumb, Teacher at The Coastal Federation, 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.” 

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."
 
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.” 
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