Marine creatures

Explore our fossils to see what animals lived in our seas around 100 million years ago.

A century of change

Marine and coastal life has changed dramatically over the past century. But how do we know this? And why is this useful to us now? Pieces of this puzzle can be put together through delving into our natural history collections from the past 100 years.

Mr. Booth’s (Sea)birds

Mr. Booth's (Sea)birds
The Accidental Ecologist Edward Thomas Booth was a wealthy Victorian man who was fascinated with British birds. He travelled across ...
Read More

Why keep 100 year old seaweed? 

Why keep 100 year old seaweed? 
Plants form part of the immense natural history collections at the Booth Museum of Natural History, included in these are ...
Read More

Ray-finned fish

Ray-finned fish (Actinopterygii) evolved over 400 million years ago and are so-called because their fins have a web of skin between several spines. Today, they are the most diverse group of vertebrates with more than 30,000 species which is around half of all living vertebrates on Earth.

The specimens in this gallery are around 85 million years old. By this time, evolution had produced many sorts of fish, types like these being similar in many ways to modern fish.  Many specimens of these species have been  found which tell us that they probably swam in large schools.

Sea stars, lilies and urchins

Middle Chalk, Lewes. These strange animals probably lived in large groups, almost resembling beds of seaweed. Living examples, although confined to the deeper seafloors, are very similar.

Sea stars, sea lilies and sea urchins are all Echinoderms. The name Echinoderm comes from the Greek word meaning ‘spiny skin’. They first appeared in the fossil record in the early Cambrian period around 542-488 million years ago. The fossils in this gallery are between 100 – 85 million years old.

 

Marine fossils

Sussex covered by an ancient sea

Did you know that 100 million years ago the whole of the UK was covered by a warm ocean? Only the tops of the Scottish mountains would have poked above sea-level.

How do we know this? What lived in this warm shallow sea covering Sussex? How does it compare to now? We can use the Booth Museum’s important collection of fossils from the Cretaceous period to find out more.

Marine creatures

Marine creatures
Explore our fossils to see what animals lived in our seas around 100 million years ...
Read More

Sussex: an ancient sea bed

Sussex: an ancient sea bed
How do we know that Sussex was covered by a warm sea? The answer lies ...
Read More

 

 

 

Sussex: an ancient sea bed

A panoramic view of all seven sisters from the Beachy Head cliffs near Birling Gap, looking back towards the River Cuckmere and Seaford Head in the background. By Diliff – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

How do we know that Sussex was covered by a warm sea? The answer lies in the familiar white cliffs of the South Coast – Beachy Head, The Seven Sisters and Dover. These cliffs are all made of a rather special rock. Chalk.

But what is chalk?

When you hold a small piece of chalk in your hand from a walk along the South Downs, you are holding the remains of millions upon millions of microscopic marine plants called algae.

Emiliania huxleyi – single-celled marine phytoplankton that produce calcium carbonate scales (coccoliths). A scanning electron micrograph of a single coccolithophore cell. Alison R. Taylor (University of North Carolina Wilmington Microscopy Facility) CC BY 2.5

These marine plants thrived a in a warm sea that was 200 to 300 metres deep and covered the whole of the South Downs and most of the UK. The only part of the UK you would have been able to see 100 millions years ago would have been the highest peaks of the Scottish mountain range.  

The cell walls of these plants were strengthened with a skeleton made of hard plates of calcium carbonate which, after the death of the algae, slowly sank and built up on the sea floor. Layers upon layers of these skeletons built up to form what is now the South Downs and the famous chalk cliffs.  

Discover the animals that lived in the seas 100 million years ago in our fossil galleries. 

Unique chalk habitats 

The chalk has created rare habitats including chalk reefs which are home to an abundance of wildlife.T he Beachy Head West Marine Conservation Zone, which runs from Brighton Marina to Beachy Head, is a wonderful chalk reef. It is home to threatened species including blue mussel beds and short-snouted seahorses.  Read our Rockpooling guide to find out more about what you can spot in Beachy Head West rockpools.

chalk reef film from Sussex Wildlife Trust on Vimeo.