- Habitats explorer
MARINE HABITATS Loch Carron Credit - Paul Naylor
We all like to be beside the sea; the smell of salt spray, the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore, the soft sand between our toes … But take a dip beneath the surface of the UK’s seas and there’s so much more to see than first meets the eye. Seals weave in and out of sunlit kelp forests, cuttlefish flash all the colours of the rainbow, starfish graze along the muddy seabed and sharks zip through the open waters.
Not just water
Many people consider the sea simply as a huge expanse of water – vast, deep and maybe a little scary. But a huge variety of habitats can be found here. Close to shore, rocky reefs create rockpools that teem with anemones and starfish, while further out to sea, deep-water corals provide nursery sites for many of our commercial fishes such as cod and crab.
Kelp forests support numerous species from tiny plankton to large fish, and living reefs (made entirely of organisms like mussels or tubeworms) provide food and shelter for marine wildlife. In the shallows, seahorses and bass hide among underwater meadows of seagrass.
Deep-sea mud plains may look barren and lifeless, but they are home to all kinds of sea life like bristleworms, spider crabs and lobsters. Shallow mudflats are a feeding ground for waterbirds at low tide, and sand and gravel beds are important for crustaceans like shrimps, and for spawning fish, which burrow into the seabed for protection.
Seas are under threat
As a result of its richness, our marine environment is under threat. Overexploitation of fish stocks is causing the decline of many once-familiar species. Pollution from sewage discharge, oil spills and nutrient run-off is extremely toxic to sea life, while physical disturbance from dredging, mobile fishing gear, boat anchoring and coastal development are also taking their toll on marine habitats.
How we’re helping
The Wildlife Trusts are working with fishermen, researchers, politicians and local people towards a vision of Living Seas where marine wildlife thrives. This work has recently had a massive boost with the passing of the Marine and Coastal Access Act, promising sustainable development of the UK's marine environment and the establishment of Marine Conservation Zones to protect special areas of the sea.
You can help too: volunteer with your local Wildlife Trust and you can be involved in everything from recording marine wildlife sightings to cleaning beaches.
Typical marine wildlife
Bristleworm, great spider crab, common shore crab, squat lobster, common lobster, common mussel, horse mussel, honeycomb tubeworm, ross tubeworm, seagrass, sugar kelp, tangle weed, blue-ray limpet, common limpet, edible periwinkle, dog whelk, common oyster, common cockle, razor shell, common jellyfish, beadlet anemone, snake-locks anemone, lugworm, common cuttlefish, brown shrimp, common starfish, common brittlestar, edible sea-urchin, sea potato, cod, bass, black bream, haddock, grey seal, common seal, bottle-nosed dolphin, harbour porpoise, basking shark, lesser spotted dogfish, tompot blenny, rock goby, plaice, sunfish, mackerel.