A new species of sea sponge (yet to be named) has been discovered off the coast of Norfolk - by amateur divers no less!
The divers were carrying out a survey on the world's longest underwater chalk reef (20 miles long) when the discovery was made. The Seaweed East survey explored eleven locations from Essex to Northumberland between 1st and 10th August 2011. Not one, but hundreds of bright purple sponges were present and the surveyers understandably presumed that they were a similar Mediterranean species and had migrated to Britain. But after being inspected in detail, the sponge was identified as a distinct species by Dr Claire Goodwin from National Museums Northern Ireland.
Many details about the new organism have yet to be found out, but we do know that it feeds on water particles and lives half a mile from the shore of Sheringham. It is also thought that the unusual colouring may be due to the increasingly polluted marine environment.
Kudos also goes to the divers, who in the course of their six month survey identified 250 different marine species. It is now hoped that at least a portion of the reef will become a Marine Protected Area or a protected reserve under European law (this has been opposed by local fishermen however).
It makes me even more eager to start those diving lessons!