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More worm reefs

Geoff Read g.read at niwa.cri.nz
Fri Oct 19 15:55:37 EST 2001

Forwarded to me privately:

Oceansp at ce No. 373, Thursday, October 18, 2001

2. European News

2a. The Great Dorset Worm Reef Southampton, U.K.  

-- Divers working on scientific studies have found the U.K.'s largest reef - 
built by sea-dwelling worms, just off the Dorset coast.  Dr. Ken Collins 
was stunned when divers working with him found the reef, covering an 
area of around a square mile, during a search for rare seaweed.  He 
estimates that the reef would have lain undisturbed for thousands of 

The reef is not made from coral but from the tubes these tiny worms build 
from sand and shell fragments.  Ross worms (Sabellaria spinulosa) live in 
tubes about the thickness and length of a pencil, which protects their soft 
bodies from being eaten by fish and other animals.  They settle on other 
worm tubes, building large mounds that eventually transform a flat sandy 
gravelly seabed into an extensive reef.  Collins said, "The reefs consist of 
patchy mounds of intertwined worm tubes about half a meter high or 
sometimes as a continuous crust.  Gaps between the tubes and crevices 
are providing shelter for small crabs, mollusks, and fish.  The mounds 
themselves provide a habitat for organisms that you would normally 
expect on rocks, such as anemones, hydroids, and bryozoans."  

The discovery, near the Isle of Purbeck, was made during a survey of 
the seabed. Divers from Southampton Oceanography Centre and the 
Marine Conservation Society were helping Collins map the distribution of 
maerl, a rare calcareous seaweed that is often mistaken for pink coral.  It 
occurs in a distinct band some 2 kilometers offshore from Swanage.  It 
was here, at depths of 25 meters, that the living reef was found.  More at 

Geoff Read <g.read at niwa.cri.nz>

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