Survey reveals new UK sponge

Friday 12th August 2011

Unidentified sponge by Rob SprayUnidentified sponge taken by Rob Spray

Scientists taking part in the first ever survey of seaweed to span the length of the East Coast of England have discovered a variety of species new to the region, including a sponge never before seen in the UK, The Wildlife Trusts can reveal.

The Seaweed East survey involved a team of surveyors, including renowned marine biologists, seasearch divers, a botanist and a wild food expert, exploring 11 locations from Essex to Northumberland between 1 and 10 August. At each location they recorded, and collected samples of, every species of seaweed they found. The survey was coordinated by The Wildlife Trusts working in partnership with other organisations.

Whilst exploring this under-surveyed section of the UK’s coastline, the Seaweed East team discovered the unidentified purple sponge. It is not yet clear if the species, found during dives off East Runton in Norfolk, is new to science.

Joan Edwards, Head of Living Seas for The Wildlife Trusts, said:
“This survey has thrown up some important finds. Although the main objective was to survey seaweed, the team took advantage of being in a relatively unexplored environment to survey other species, resulting in the sponge discovery off Norfolk.

“The samples and results are still awaiting full analysis. We have no doubt that once this is done they’ll form a crucial part of our knowledge base around what’s living in the North Sea off the east coast of England.

“The survey has also revealed seaweed species that are new to the East Coast, such as the red seaweed Gastroclomium reflexum, or reflexed grape weed.”

A total of 131 species have been collected to date, including four non-native species to the UK. All seaweeds collected from both shore and dive surveys will be pressed and scanned, producing an East Coast collection that will be available to view online once complete.

The Wildlife Trusts helped fund and coordinate Seaweed East in conjunction with Seasearch, a volunteer organisation for divers to get involved with surveying the marine wildlife they encounter in the UK. Together with Shoresearch - The Wildlife Trusts’ volunteer run scheme which identifies and records animals, plants, and habitats along our shoreline - records are being gathered of the marine wildlife our seas support. This information could be used in future to help identify areas of special importance for marine life both above and below the surface.

To find out more about the marine life in the North Sea visit To sign The Wildlife Trusts Petition Fish and support Marine Protected Areas visit and for more information about The Wildlife Trusts’ Living Seas vision visit

Notes for editors:

1. Funding partners
The Wildlife Trusts, Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership, The Environment Agency, Durham Heritage Coast, Marine Conservation Society, Purling Transport

Seaweed East location itinerary:
Mon 1 Aug - Blackwater, Harwich, Essex
Tues 2 Aug – Orfordness, Sussex
Wed 3 Aug - West Runton, Norfolk
Thurs 4 Aug – Hunstanton, Norfolk
Fri 5 Aug- Gibraltar Point, Lincolnshire
Sat 6 Aug- Flamborough Head, Yorkshire
Sun 7 Aug- Boggle Hole, Yorkshire
Mon 8 Aug- Blackhall Rocks, Durham
Tues 9 Aug– Beadnell, Northumberland
Wed 10 Aug– Creswell, Northumberland

Seaweed East survey findings
Based on the current data Seaweed East has revealed:
- Seaweed species new to the East Coast, such as the red seaweed Gastroclomium reflexum, also known as ‘reflexed grape weed’
- Sponges found within the Durham Heritage Coast and Northumberland coastline appeared characteristically different in appearance to those found further south, due to higher levels of exposure, causing abrasion to the surface of the creatures
- In Yorkshire, high numbers of edible and velvet swimming crabs were found but lower numbers of fish than seen further south
- A purple sponge new to the UK was found during dives off East Runton in Norfolk.
- 131 species of seaweed have been found to date, with. All species will be scanned and pdfs of the collection made available online
- Four non-native species of seaweed were found
- Starlet sea anemones, which are a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species were seen along the Suffolk and Norfolk coastline
- An unidentified sea slug, new to Norfolk, was discovered