Wales’ unique coastal environment attracts a wealth of creatures. From vibrant corals to sparkling slugs and seahorses, our seas are far more tropical than we think!
Every single sea creature on this list needs a healthy marine environment to thrive.
Around 75% of Wales’ coastline and over 35% of our seas are Marine Protected Areas: these are areas of sea which provide much needed protection for vulnerable marine wildlife and the habitats which they use.
Here’s our top 10 spectacular finds:
10. Basking sharks
Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the world. They are gentle giants and are spotted slowly swimming, basking in the sun.
The species is still recovering from historical hunting but are now protected in the UK.
9. Common Octopus
The common octopus is the cleverest mollusc about! It’s a mollusc, meaning it’s in the same family as slugs and snails. They can be over a meter in length and appear grey-yellow-brown-green, according to their situation.
8. Stalked Jellyfish
The Stalked Jellyfish looks like a creature from another planet, let alone tropical seas! Each of the eight arms has approximately 45 tentacles, giving them a wart-like appearance.
These super sea slugs are called Nudibranchs. Their name relates to the position of their lungs, which are found on their back (the frilly bits!). Some species of nudibranch are able to photosynthesise like coral and others even have detachable organs – they’re not your standard slug!
The sunfish is the heaviest bony fish in the world and produces the most eggs of any vertebrate. They are summer visitors to our waters, attracted by the jellyfish which is their main source of food. Marine litter is a big threat, as they mistake plastic bags for food.
5. Blonde Ray
As the name suggests, the Blonde Ray is pale in colour and amazingly, along with a few other species of rays, it is often found in our waters. They can have a wingspan of up to five feet and weigh around 18kg, although most are smaller than this! They prefer deeper water so any sightings off shore are very special indeed.
4. Leatherback Turtle
When you think of leatherback turtles, images of exotic beaches come to mind, but the abundance of jellyfish around the coast of Wales provide a great source of food for these giants. They make the marathon journey across the Atlantic Ocean, following the warmer Gulf Stream, which brings them all the way to our shores. In fact, Wales holds the world record for the largest marine turtle: in 1988, a leatherback was found ashore; it measured 2.5 metres in length, 2.5 metres from flipper to flipper and weighed over 960kg!
3. Pink Sea-Fan
The Pink Sea-Fan is a soft coral and grows at an extremely slow pace – it can, however, live up to 50 years. They use their stinging tentacles to catch tiny, microscopic animals. This coral, like many others, is sensitive to changes in water temperature.
2. Angel Shark
The Angel Shark is one of the rarest sharks in the world and is critically endangered. Thought to be clinging on around the warmer waters of the Canary Islands, their discovery in our waters is very new and offers a glimmer of hope for their survival. These sharks are likely to be found around the sea floor where they feed on small fish and molluscs.
1. Long Snouted Seahorse
Our seas are even home to beautiful Long Snouted Seahorses. These secretive creatures have no teeth and hoover up their food, mainly tiny shrimps. They can be up to 15 cm in length, have a long snout and hide away in areas of seagrass – sometimes clinging on by their tail, depending on the strength of the tide!
Protecting our seas
Earlier this month, we contributed to the Welsh Assembly’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee’s report on Marine Protected Areas in Wales. We agree with the report’s findings which stated that the management of these precious marine areas needs to improve – simply designating areas with protection isn’t enough. It calls on the Welsh Government to provide staff and resources, to engage with the public further and conduct research, monitoring and enforcement.
With any changes that leaving the European Union will bring, there’s an opportunity for Wales to lead the way on marine protection. We’ll keep pushing for better protection for our wonderful coastal creatures and hope you join us too.