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Duration: 30 minutes

Naturalist Mike Dilger explores Europe's longest chalk reef off the Norfolk coast. The North Sea may have a reputation as grey and murky, but this rare and important marine habitat lies within easy reach of the beaches of North Norfolk. Large areas of the North Sea remain undiscovered and the full extent of the reef was only revealed last year when local divers mapped its 20-mile length. This makes it the longest in Europe, maybe the world. A colourful underwater world complete with valleys and arches and teeming with life, it's got marine experts very excited. Proposals put forward to the Government would make the reef part of a new marine conservation zone. But some conservationists say the plans don't go far enough to safeguard its future.

Last on

Mon 10 Oct 2011 19:30 BBC One Cambridgeshire, East only

  • Norfolk's coastal reef

    Naturalist Mike Dilger goes underwater to explore Europe's longest chalk reef off the north Norfolk coast.

    The full extent of this rare habitat was only discovered in 2010 when local divers mapped its 20-mile length.

    A brand new species of sea creature has also been discovered on the chalk reef.

    The purple sponge was initially thought to be a Mediterranean species, but it has now been identified and has never been recorded before anywhere in the world.

    It looks like purple slime but it is actually a creature that feeds on small particles in the water.

    The find has established the international importance of this fragile eco-system.

    Dr Claire Goodwin from the National Museums Northern Ireland identified the sponge.

    "It is quite an unusual habitat because it is chalk. Potentially there are sponges you wouldn’t get in other areas. So it could have quite a few interesting species there."

    But the reef has found itself at the centre of a row between the local fishing community and conservationists.

    Proposals put forward to the government would make the reef part of a new marine conservation zone.

    But some conservationists say the proposals don’t go far enough.

    Rob Spray who runs Seasearch East which has been mapping the reef and its wildlife, is one of the conservationists arguing for the creation of a reference zone, an area on the reef where no fishing or other industrial activity would be allowed.

    "Despite the importance of the area to the resident eco-system and the local fisheries there is no area set aside to allow the chalk to achieve an undisturbed state.

    "Despite evidence from highly protected no take zones around the world, and the disappointingly small sizes suggested, it was not possible to identify such a zone for the north Norfolk chalk reef.”

    This has been opposed by local fishermen who argue it would damage their industry.

    Cromer fisherman John Davies catches crabs on the reef.

    "The chalk and flint sea bed is why we are here. That’s where we get the majority of our living from.

    "We’ve still got a reasonably buoyant fishery. And they’re trying to take it away. It’s not a bad thing but why do they want it right in the middle of our grounds where we fish."

    It’s hoped the government will make its final decision next year.

    The programme is rich with colourful underwater footage – bright purple sea slugs, vibrant orange anemones, small crabs that camouflage themselves by sticking seaweed to their shells and more.

    It’s hard to believe that this isn't the Red Sea. Yet it is all just a stone's throw from the windswept beaches of Norfolk.

  • MARINE LIFE

    MARINE LIFE

    A pair of squat lobsters photographed underwater in the marine habitat of Norfolk's chalk reef.

    Photo c/o Rob Spray.

  • UNDERWATER WONDERS

    UNDERWATER WONDERS

    Spectacular marine life on Norfolk's coastal chalk reef.

    Photo c/o Rob Spray.

  • THE REEF HABITAT

    THE REEF HABITAT

    Marine life is abundant on the Norfolk chalk reef.

    Photo c/o Rob Spray.

  • MIKE DILGER

    MIKE DILGER

    Naturalist Mike Dilger photographed during the making of Britain's Great Reef.

    Photo c/o Rob Spray.

  • Chalk reef protection plan

    Chalk reef protection plan

    Proposals to protect Europe's longest chalk reef have been criticised for not going far enough to safeguard its future.

    A new Marine Conservation Zone has been put forward to the government and would include a 20-mile long reef off the Norfolk coast.

    In summer 2011, a species of purple sponge which is new to science was discovered there.

    BBC News: Chalk reef protection plan 'not enough'

Credits

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Mike Dilger

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