A world of beauty underneath the sea

RICHARD BATSON It is a crab's eye view of a magical underwater world brimming with strange and fascinating creatures. But this is not an exotic coral reef in the crystal clear, sun-warmed seas of the tropics.

RICHARD BATSON

It is a crab's eye view of a magical underwater world brimming with strange and fascinating creatures.

But this is not an exotic coral reef in the crystal clear, sun-warmed seas of the tropics.

This real life aquarium is set amid the sunken hulks of shipwrecks off the North Norfolk coast.

To most locals and holidaymakers peering out from the scenic shoreline the sea is a flat, dull expanse, dotted with the occasional fishing or pleasure boat.

But under the surface lie scores of ships whose journeys ended abruptly through warfare and accident. Navy ships, merchant vessels, submarines and older wooden craft rusting and rotting on the seabed now have different “crews” - of crustaceans, fish, sea urchins and anemones using the old hulls as hideaways and anchorages.

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While it is an amazing unseen world to the layman, it is a familiar sight to the many hobby divers who use their pastime to explore the wrecks and record the wildlife there - but which can also throw up surprises.

Helen Nott from the North Norfolk Divers said: “You never know what you are going to see - even if you have dived the same wreck 30 or 40 times.”

Her biggest shock came in a natural chalk gully when she stumbled across a conger eel - sharp-teethed beasts, which can grow up to 2m, and feast on crabs and lobsters, but thankfully not divers.

More fun is swimming among prawns which cling on to passing divers and clean their hands.

Some of the most colourful were cork-wing wrasse, whose males had red faces and blue stripes and are very much “modern men” who build the family nest with mouthfuls of seaweed then babysit the eggs.

There are scores of wrecks along the coast within reach of the diving club's Weybourne beach base. Some are 30m deep, others more typically 10-25m down.

Two of the most popular wrecks for diving are the Rosalea, a 1914 steamship torpedoed by a Germany U-boat, and the sunken coal ship Vera.

Other creatures which had set up home there are delicate spider crabs, shoals of busy bib fish, pretty sea anemones, purple starfish called Blood Henry, and pipe fish which are straightened out seahorses.

The 30-strong diving club whose members range from 18 to 75 is recording the wildlife for an ongoing Sea Search survey database to help build up a clearer picture of what is happening in the hidden world beneath Norfolk's seas.

For more information contact Ms Nott on 01328 830238 or visit www.northnorfolk.ukdiver.com

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