Lonely Planet Writer

Extraordinary range of sea life discovered off the coast of Cornwall

The bracing waters off the coast United Kingdom might not seem the most likely place to meet such a dizzying array of brightly coloured sea life, coral, and sea anemone. However, that is just what a team of divers discovered when they went exploring a treacherous rocky reef on the Lizard peninsula of Cornwall, in southwest England.

Henricia starfish
Henricia starfish photographed on ‘The Manacles’ reef. Image by: Matt Slater

In the evocatively-named reef called The Manacles, they found an incredible range of species, some of which were thought almost lost in Britain’s coastal waters. The search by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust involved thirteen experienced divers who set off from the Porthkerris Dive Centre for the marine conservation area.

Pink Seafan anemones off the coast of Cornwall
Pink Seafan anemones. Image by: Matt Slater

Marine Awareness Officer Matt Slater said: “Every surface of the reef is totally covered in colourful anemones, sponges, soft corals, such as pink sea fans, and dead man’s fingers, and fluffy coral like animals known as ‘hydroids’. This expedition has shown that the boundary of the conservation zone should really be extended further south to include these areas as they are just as valuable and rich in life as the reef which is currently protected.”

Crawfish on 'The Manacles'
Crawfish portrait. Image by: Gary Gubby

The range of sea life there was simply extraordinary with fish including pollack, corkwing wrasse and inquisitive cuckoo wrasse – each among the UK’s most brightly coloured species – all abundant. A very special type of rare sea fan anemone called Amphianthus dohrnii was also found, which itself grows on a soft coral called pink sea fan [also rare in British waters].

Members of the Seasearch diving team
Seasearch divers on the way out to ‘The Manacles’. Image by: by Dave Brown

There were kelp forests filled with young pollack and a wide variety of red seaweeds. Further out, the walls of rocks were covered with fluorescent jewel anemones. Most encouraging was the presence of crawfish, a spiny lobster which was virtually extinct in these coastal waters by the 1990s, but now appears to be making a comeback off Cornwall.

Marine biologist and film maker Thomas Daguerre said the Manacle was one of the most incredible dive sites he had ever seen. He and his diving buddy Andrew Ball now plan to make a film of the expedition and you can keep up to date with them on the Facebook group @Seasearch Cornwall.