Mundesley-on-Sea Parish Council News

Agents of Change

Unique purple sponge needs name on North Norfolk’s chalk reef

Almost ten years after a completely new species of sponge was identified on the North Norfolk chalk reef, it still doesn’t have an official name.

Press Release, xx January 2021

The Marine Conservation Society’s Agents of Change project is calling on local children to use their creativity to come up with a catchy name for a so far anonymous purple sponge found on North Norfolk’s chalk reef.

The sponge was recognised as special by volunteer Seasearch divers more than ten years ago.

Purple is an unusual colour in the marine environment, especially in the world of sponges where most are orange or yellow. Sponges may be simple animals, but a single species can be different colours and shapes, which can make identification tricky! Many sponges can only be identified using a microscope.

Sponge expert, Dr Claire Goodwin, then at National Museums Northern Ireland confirmed the sponge was new to science and part of the Hymedesmiidae family during a seaweed survey just off Sheringham and West Runton in 2011.

Sponges help to keep our seawater clean by filter feeding, consuming tiny particles of food that float by. There are over 11,000 different species globally and our purple one is ‘encrusting’, meaning it adopts the shape of whatever it covers. It lives in Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds Marine Conservation Zone, a precious area of local seabed that needs to be taken care of.

Every documented living thing on Earth has a ‘scientific name’ and many have ‘common names’. Scientific names show where a species sits on the tree of life and usually use words of Latin or Greek origin. When a new species is discovered, it has to be described, classified and accepted by the scientific community to gain its own, unique scientific name. This lengthy and costly process hasn’t happened yet for this special purple Norfolk resident.

In the meantime, the Agents of Change project wants to help the researchers by finding an inspiring ‘common name’ for this unusual animal, with assistance from local youngsters. Common names are the ones used every day for animals and plants. For example, the Edible crab, scientific name Cancer pagurus, lives all around Britain. Edible crabs caught locally are famously known as Cromer crabs. Because the purple sponge is unique to Norfolk, the winning common name may always be the first choice for everyone who ever discusses it!

The best name will be chosen carefully by an expert and interested panel. All the creative and colourful suggestions will compete to give this new underwater animal an identity it can be proud of… In truth, sponges are actually quite modest creatures so we can be proud on its behalf!

Schools, or home schooling parents, should register their interest by emailing Agents of Change Norfolk Coordinator Hilary Cox at hilary.cox22@gmail.com by 28th February 2021.

You can find out more about the purple sponge, and the search for its name, by watching this charming animation. The seabed is a fun place to be! http://youtu.be/A_LUb8OSfn0

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Notes to Editors

The Agents of Change project is led by the Marine Conservation Society, with Fauna and Flora International, the New Economics Foundation and the Thames Estuary Partnership and is part of the Marine CoLABoration.

The Agents of Change project is working to increase community awareness and support for their local Marine Conservation Zone and sea. The Agents of Change project is hosting an Education Programme in Norfolk around the Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds MCZ.

The Agents of Change project is funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the Norfolk Education Programme is supported by Seafarers UK, the Wash and North Norfolk Marine Partnership and the Norfolk Coast Partnership.

Seasearch is a project for volunteer scuba divers and snorkellers who have an interest in what they’re seeing under water, want to learn more and want to help protect the marine environment around the coasts of Britain and Ireland. The Seasearch programme is delivered by Regional Coordinators and the Coordinator for East Anglia is Dawn Watson. Contact dawn@1townhouses.co.uk or find out more at www.seasearch.org.uk.