Sea Fans and Corals

Image above by Keith Hiscock

Pink sea fan Eunicella verrucosa - Internationally vulnerable and nationally scarce

An attractive species, Devon, especially off Plymouth, is a national stronghold for this predominantly south-western sea fan, a type of coral. It grows on large boulders, upward facing bedrock and shipwreck plates at depths usually greater than 15 m. The sea fan supports several other species that settle either only or mainly on it, including rare and scarce ones. Populations are currently thriving off south Devon, but those along the North Devon mainland coast remain low and are probably not increasing. Populations within the Marine Nature Reserve off Lundy island remain lower than in the 1960s to mid-80s. Here the species was badly affected by collection in the 1960s and by disease in the early 2000s. Recovery around the island seems very slow but up-to-date information is needed. This slow-growing, long-lived, fragile species is very vulnerable to physical damage by divers but is particularly threatened by mobile fishing gear, as used by scallop dredgers.

Image above by Mike Deaton
Sunset Cup Coral Leptopsammia pruvoti - Nationally rare

In Great Britain this attractive soft coral is known only from seven places: these include the seas around Lundy and off Plymouth. It prefers to live on shaded bedrock or stable boulders and is usually found in overhangs or gullies 10-40 m deep. Currently it is thriving on the Plymouth Sound Dropoff (2nm south of the breakwater). However, numbers continue to be greatly reduced at Lundy (to about 30% of population levels in the 1980s), although up-to-date information is needed. The reasons for the species’ decline at Lundy are unknown, but it seems likely that it is vulnerable to subtle environmental changes affecting either recruitment or the growth of other marine life competing for space on the rocky surfaces it lives on. Further research is required.

Further sources of information:

Marine Biological Association

The Marine Life Information Network