As a Marine Biology student I find it upsetting when you come across people who don’t realise how much Britain has to offer from its seas, and I don’t just mean a tasty fish to go with chips. Tourists spend nearly $5 billion in a year to see the great barrier reef, many travel thousands of miles from Britain to see the wonders of the marine world without realising we have stunning creatures right on our doorstep. Just because our waters are a bit colder doesn’t mean our wildlife is any less rich than that of the major tourist spots. Below is a small snap-shot of what British water have to offer.
The second largest fish in Britain is found right on our coast line, the majestic Basking Shark Cetorhinus maximus this incredible creature prowls our shores feeding right on the surface and is visible from beaches. But do not fear, this is the safest shark you could come across as it has no teeth but feeds on zooplankton, similarly to baleen whales. Yet if you stumbled across this giant whilst swimming I’m sure you would still feel a few flickers of dread at its huge mouth gaping wide open.
For the thrill seekers out there look no further than the Lion’s Mane jellyfish Cyanea capillata it’s stinging tentacles stretch over three metres in length, meaning that you can be caught in them before you even see the jellyfish. Worryingly even if the tentacles are broken off they still keep their sting, Australia can keep its gory shark attacks we have a silent and almost invisible assailant.
Perhaps the colours of the tropical coral reefs appeal to you more? Well Britain has its own fair share of bright flashy swimmers. The easiest to find, due to its friendly and curious nature, is the Cuckoo wrasse Labrus mixtus. It is very easy to sex this species as well, pink for the girls and blue for the boys. In fact all individuals start life as girls and some in later life will become male, depending on the proportion of the sexes in the population.
Very few people like the common garden slug but I’m sure you couldn’t object to seeing a nudibranch in particular the Coryphella browni which looks almost like a cross between a slug and a hedgehog. It’s a bit of a recycler too, when it eats the stinging cells of other animals it actually uses the toxins to make its own stinging cells to protect it against predators.
Let’s finish now with some of the world’s most charismatic creatures, dolphins. Mainly due to the media and folk law these mammals are loved by almost everyone, billions are spent every year by tourists just to get a glimpse of them. Britain has its own fair share of these animals with five species of dolphins regularly seen in our waters, the Bottle-nosed Dolphin Tursiops truncatus, the Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis, the Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba, the Atlantic White-sided Dolphin Lagenorhynchus acutus, and the White-beaked Dolphin Lagenorhynchus albirostris. Don’t be fooled that dolphins are an exotic animal, we have them here in Britain too.
This is just a small snapshot of the wonders in our waters, we have the scary, the thrilling, the colourful, the unusual and the famous so why do we dream of far off distant reefs when our own are so impressive. Don’t put Britain down, our seas are just as spectacular as any tropics, you only need to brave the cool waters to witness them for yourself.