Wild Coast Sussex

Wild Coast Sussex is a new and exciting project led by Sussex Wildlife Trust. To celebrate this project we decided to host a Q & A with Beth Chaplin, Wild Coast Sussex Administration and Communications Officer; and Ella Garrud, Wild Coast Sussex Communities & Wildlife Project Officer.

What is the Wild Coast Sussex project?

Greater pipefish copyright Paul Naylor Sussex Wildlife Trust

Wild Coast Sussex is a rare and exciting opportunity to work alongside partners with the shared aim to champion the rare and precious marine wildlife found locally, highlighting the extraordinary kelp forests, seahorses and rays once abundant in Sussex which could recover and thrive if given a second chance. Funded by a grant by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Sussex Wildlife Trust leads the 3- year partnership with Marine Conservation Society (MCS), Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) and Brighton SEA LIFE.


What do you hope to achieve?

Wild Coast Sussex will inspire and connect people to the Sussex coast and sea and build a healthier and sustainable future. We want to ensure that the beauty and importance of the coastal ecosystem is recognised and most importantly build connections with nature. Targeting communities all along the Sussex coast, we will work with primary schools, young people (aged 12-25) and commercial fishermen, as well as the wider community and general public and take them on a journey to make a positive difference to the crisis in the health of the sea. The activities will include a Wild Beach education programme for children, onsite and digital interpretation, a programme of citizen science surveys, fun new coastal activities and social events including beach cleans, a volunteer training programme, projects with young adults (aged 16-25) to develop local debate, action and opportunities for local marine conservation, and recycling of marine litter, including end of life fishing gear and ghost gear removed from the sea.

What marine life is rare and special in Sussex Seas?

There are a number of rare species and habitats in Sussex seas. These include the short snouted and long snouted seahorses which are nationally rare. They are protected by some of the Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in Sussex. It’s also illegal to kill, take or handle these animals, or to take flash photography of them as they are easily disturbed. So, if you are ever lucky enough to find a seahorse, leave it where it is. West Sussex used to have extensive kelp forests which have declined by over 96% since 1987. The remaining small amount of kelp that is left needs time and space to regenerate naturally. A new byelaw is has been passed by Parliament which excludes trawling from a large area of the Sussex coast year-round. It is thought that this damaging fishing method may be one reason why the kelp forests have struggled to grow back. With trawling banned from this area we hope to see the kelp start to recover. Read more about Help Our Kelp here.

All species and habitats in Sussex seas have intrinsic value and should be protected!

What is the strangest species that lives in Sussex seas?

Common cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis, Marie Bournonville, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Cuttlefish are a particularly weird creature we find off our coast. They are cephalopods, closely related to octopus and squid. They look very alien-like with a ‘w’ shaped pupil and arms and tentacles at the front of their faces. People are also often surprised to find that we have sharks living
in our seas!




What is the most interesting thing about cuttlefish? 

Cuttlefish have absolutely fascinating behaviour. They can change the colour and texture of their skin in a split second to perfectly match their surrounding habitat, using special cells called chromatophores. This provides incredible camouflage. They also communicate with other cuttlefish by flashing different colours and patterns on their skin. They can also release ink from an ink sac, essentially creating a smoke screen to confuse predators, enabling them to make an escape.

It’s great that Wild Coast Sussex will help to protect wonderful wildlife like the cuttlefish, but what will Wild Coast Sussex do for local people? 

Wild Coast Sussex’s learning and activities will encourage people to make positive lifestyle choices and change their behaviours to reduce negative impacts on the Sussex Coast and sea. We hope to empower people to share their experiences and influence others to protect our coast. Most importantly we’ll give people the opportunity to have fun and celebrate the wonderful human and natural heritage of Sussex and its coast and look to the future with hope and optimism.

How can they get involved?

Visit our website page for up to date information on Wild Coast Sussex and how to get in touch:

Sussex Flow Initiative

Sam Buckland, Project Officer for the Sussex Flow Initiative describes how natural flood management is being used to tackle the climate emergency and biodiversity decline.

Increasing water storage to reduce flooding © Sussex Flow Initiative

The Sussex Flow Initiative started in 2012 as a Natural Flood Management project supported by Sussex Wildlife Trust, the Woodland Trust, the Environment Agency and Lewes District Council. The project works across the ‘catchment scale’, in other words, over the area of land where water collects and feeds into ponds, lakes and rivers. The project involves communities and landowners in the Ouse catchment, an area of 672 km2 and over 122 km of watercourses. The scheme is creating and enhancing natural features that slow and store water within the landscape, which reduces flood risk to communities downstream. The impact of the project extends far beyond the catchment boundary and flood management. A healthy landscape and river network are vital for human health and wellbeing, providing a range of benefits such as clean water and air, and increased biodiversity.

Volunteers planting trees to slow surface water © Sussex Flow Initiative
Volunteers planting trees to slow surface water © Sussex Flow Initiative

In most cases, natural flood management focuses on reversing past activities (such as drainage) and restoring the ability of the land to slow and store water. As a result, water is once again allowed to seep into soils and drain slowly into surface waters. Water also moves deeper into the soil, helping to top up the store of groundwater and resulting in a steadier supply of water. Trees can also help to control floodwater because of their importance in the water cycle. They intercept rainfall, take up water from the soil, slow down surface run-off and floodwater and help water to move deeper into the soil and groundwater. These processes hold water on land and reduce the amount and speed of water flowing into streams and rivers. Tree planting has added benefits such as providing important habitat and food for a range of birds, bats and insects, as well as storing carbon. With the help of local volunteers, our project has planted over 60,100 trees. We have established more than 9 kilometres of new hedgerow and 8.5 hectares of woodland (equivalent to the area of 10 football pitches), including over 4 hectares of floodplain woodland and 450 rare black poplars.


Within the stream and river channels, we have been restoring meanders, bankside vegetation and in-channel wood. These are all lost natural features that slow water and make for a dynamic and healthy ecosystem. Our project has created nearly 5 million litres of new, seasonal water storage, including flood storage ponds, wader scrapes and meadow washlands. An incredibly important part of the project is to increase the skills, knowledge and understanding of natural flood management and empower people to take positive action.

One such way is through using large woody debris, creating ‘leaky’ wood dams that imitate those that built by an important animal that has been missing from our waterways for 400 years; the beaver. Leaky dams are a natural component of streams, forming clusters of dams, slowing the water’s speed, trapping sediment and pollutants, and creating a range of different stream habitats that are important for fish and invertebrates. The presence of woody debris can also help to make the landscape more resilient to drought by encouraging the formation of small pools and helping to restore the natural movement of water. Through contractor training days and volunteer tasks, our project has installed over 270 leaky dams across the Ouse catchment. Hopefully we will see the return of beavers to Sussex catchments in the future, and with it the biodiversity and the flood management that they deliver through coppicing and dam creation.

Our project is using natural features to slow and store water in the landscape. These measures are cheap, collaborative and easy to implement, as well as delivering many other multiple benefits to society. We know that multiple actions taken now can provide positive natural flood management and natural capital benefits long into the future.

Brighton Dolphin Project Drawing Competition Winners

Brighton Dolphin Project & Royal Pavilion & Museums launched a drawing competition to celebrate the launch of the OceanBlues website and National Marine Week.  

The competition was to draw any of our six Sussex marine mammals. We had lots of fantastic entries but our two winners were:

Up to 6 years: Austin Kempton aged 6, from Hove 
Seal on a rock above the sea by Austin Kempton aged 6
7-12 years: Arlo Kempton from Hove 
Seal on a sandy beach by the salty sea, by Arlo Kempton aged 9
Well done guys!

Climate and Corals

The rainforests of the oceans 

Coral reefs have been described as the ‘rainforests of the oceans’.[i] Like the rainforest, reefs are full of life, yet they manage to thrive on very little. Full of colour and movement, reefs are home to around a quarter of marine life. They are important places for fish to feed and breed. Crabs, sea slugs and other molluscs shelter in their rocky architecture.[ii] Although vital to our oceans, corals are highly threatened by humans. Climate change means that warm water corals are at very high risk of severe damage by the end of the century.[iii]


What are corals? 

Corals may look like stony outcrops, but in fact they are alive. Small animals called polyps produce a chalk-like substance (calcium carbonate) which forms the reef around them. The polyps use tentacles to catch food from the water. Algae (simple plants) live alongside the polyps and help them to harvest food. Where the sea is shallow, light passes through the water and stimulates the algae, making the reef highly productive.  The algae are also responsible for giving corals their colour.


Where can we find corals? 

Corals occur in warm tropical waters where the temperature is between 18 and 30 oC.  For example, the Great Barrier Reef runs for 1600 miles along the north-eastern coast of Australia.  Corals are also found in the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, East Africa and around the Caribbean, Mexico and Florida.


What are cold water corals? 

In contrast to the warm water reefs, cold water corals grow slowly in the deeper, darker waters off north and west Scotland, the west of Ireland and the south-west coast of England. Cold water corals can be found as far north as Alaska. Fishing boats dragging equipment along the sea-bed (known as trawling) can smash coral to pieces and so has been banned in some of these areas.


What does climate change mean for coral? 

Climate change is a major threat to corals. This is because it poses two very significant risks: rising temperatures and ocean acidification, both of which can cause coral reefs to weaken and die.



Left: A scientist studies corals in the Virgin Islands National Park, photo: NS CC BY 2.0


What causes coral bleaching?

High temperatures are major cause of coral bleaching, when the coral loses its colour and turns white. Although the coral is still alive, it has lost its algae and may eventually starve. Bleaching can happen when the water temperature is 1oC above its normal maximum.[iv] Such high temperatures are likely to be more common, more extreme and longer lasting as a result of climate change. Several global-scale bleaching events have already happened, including one in 2016 which damaged large stretches of the Great Barrier Reef.[v]

If temperatures rise by 1.5 oC as a result of climate change, warm water corals will be at very high risk of severe and irreversible damage.[vi] Currently, we are on course for temperatures to increase by nearly double that amount.  Even if countries around the world meet their current pledges under the Paris Agreement on climate change, then temperatures could be 2.8 oC higher by 2100.[vii]

What causes ocean acidification?

Burning fossil fuels to build and heat our homes, to travel and to power factories releases carbon dioxide, a colourless gas, to the atmosphere (see The Climate Change Challenge). About 30% of this gas is taken up by the oceans where it dissolves and breaks apart, making the water less alkaline.[viii] As a result it is harder for coral to build its chalky skeleton and the risk of bleaching increases.[ix]



What other threats do corals face? 

Corals are threatened by over-fishing and by fishing in damaging ways. These include trawling, dynamiting reefs with explosives, or poisoning the water to make the fish easier to catch. A second problem is that rivers and heavy rain wash soil off the land into the sea. The soil smothers sea-life and releases nutrients (such as nitrogen and phosphorus) as well as metals, plastics, pesticides and other chemicals into the water. The nutrients stimulate the growth of algae (simple plants and seaweeds) in the sea. Sometimes the algae grow so vigorously that they form large mats, known as algal blooms, that block out the light and reduce the amount of oxygen in the water, causing dead zones. Tourism and shipping cause problems for reefs if they are badly managed. For example, if people collect or damage coral, if sun-screen gets into the water, or if boats pump oil and waste into the sea.


What can be done to protect coral reefs? 

Countries around the world have been taking steps to protect reefs from fishing, pollution and other types of damage. This includes setting up marine protected areas (also known as marine conservation zones). These are parts of the sea where damaging activities are either limited or banned altogether. International bodies have called for 30% of the sea to be protected globally, although only around 2.5% to 5% is well protected currently.[x]

As a consumer, you can choose to eat fish and sea-food that has been caught in a sustainable way and to avoid fish (such as the orange roughy) that comes from cold-water coral reefs.  You can also help by avoiding sunscreen containing oxybenzone.

While these measures will help, coral reefs will be in danger unless major steps are taken to cut back the fossil fuels that cause climate change.

[Crustaceans tba]

[i] Coral Reefs: Canaries of the Sea, Rainforests of the Oceans P K Swart, Nature Education Knowledge, 2013, 4(3):5.

[ii] As above.

[iii] Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 oC – Summary for Policymakers, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2018, p. 11.

[iv] Ocean Life Smithsonian.

[v] Global warming and recurrent mass bleaching of corals Terry Hughes, et al, Nature, 2017, 543, pp.373–377.

[vi] Compared to the pre-industrial period. Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 oC – Summary for Policymakers, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2018, pp. 4 & 11.

[vii] Range 2.3 oC to 3.5 oC, CAT Warming Projections: Global Temperature Increase by 2100  Climate Action Tracker December 2019 update.

[viii] Sustainable Development Goals: Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources, United Nations, Facts & Figures.

[ix] Ocean acidification affects coral growth by reducing skeletal density, Nathaniel Mollica et al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America, 2018, 115(8): 1754–1759.

[x] Atlas of Marine Protected Areas Marine Conservation Institute.

The Experiment

Making a Ocean acidification (pH) indicator

This experiment uses the natural properties of the humble red cabbage as a magic pH indicator. You can use it to test out the acidity of seawater (or any liquids) at home!

The magic of red cabbage 

Red cabbage contains pigments called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are a group of pigments that change colour based on the pH of their environment, so using the juice of red cabbage we can transform the colour of any liquid based on its pH! Let’s get stuck in!

This experiment requires adult supervision

Written by Juliet Maxted, Zoology graduate & Booth Museum volunteer 

Find out more in Climate Conversations  a Royal Pavilion & Museums blog series on Climate Change and what we can do about it.

The Science

What is ocean acidification? 

Ocean acidification reduces the amount of carbonate in the sea, affecting organisms whose bodies are made of calcium carbonate (like animals with shells and hard exoskeletons). This includes, Molluscs (sea snails, mussels, octopus) ,Echinoderms (star fish and sea urchins), Crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, plankton and krill) and Corals.

common lobster©Paul NaylorSussex Wildlife Trust.JPG

If there isn’t enough carbonate these organisms won’t be able to form properly, which could be really bad news. This is already happening to the Dungeness crab in the Pacific Ocean. Not only are all these animals important in their own right, they are vital in maintaining a healthy ocean ecosystem. Corals create homes for 1 million marine species, and the other organisms (especially krill, plankton and molluscs) make up the base of the marine food web, supporting all life above them, right up to enormous whales.

Ocean chemistry 

Let’s break down the chemistry of ocean acidification. pH is measured on spectrum. The lower values (0-6) are acidic, 7 is neutral, and high values (8-12) are alkaline. Seawater currently has a pH of 8.1 making it slightly alkaline. As more carbon is stored in the sea, the pH drops, shifting it towards pH neutrality. When carbon dioxide enters the water, it bonds with water to create carbonic acid. This carbonic acid bonds with carbonate in the water creating bicarbonate. This is what makes the water more acidic and is how levels of naturally-occurring carbonate begin to fall, which is where the problems start.

In our experiment we will create a magic pH indicator which you can use to test the acidity of seawater (or any liquid at home) using the humble red cabbage. So let’s get stuck in!

Written by Juliet Maxted, Zoology graduate and Booth Museum volunteer

Find out more in Climate Conversations  a Royal Pavilion & Museums blog series on Climate Change and what we can do about it.

5 top tips to help save our oceans

1. Knowledge is power

Searching along the rock pools

Learn and share as much as you can about local marine life. The more you and others know, the more you can fight to protect Our Living Coast, Sussex seas and the ocean.

Explore your local habitats as much as you can. Check out our guide to rock pooling

Read excellent user-friendly guides like The Diver’s Guide to Marine Life of Britain & Ireland. There are also more specific guides including guides to sponges and anemones here.

2. Support a marine life charity

short-snouted seahorse©Paul NaylorSussex Wildlife Trust.jpg

Marine charities do an incredible amount of work in trying to help save our seas. They need your help you can help in so many different ways, by collecting data, volunteering your time or by becoming a member.

Sussex Wildlife Trust

Marine Conservation Society

Brighton Dolphin Project

3. Collect data

Turning over stones, Chitons hidden underneath

The collective effort of volunteers gathering data led to the establishment of Marine Conservation Zones which have been set up to protect our most vulnerable marine life.

You don’t have to be an expert!

IRecord is a great app to help you ID and record your finds

Send your data to Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre

Join a marine life monitoring programme like Sussex Shoresearch or if you’re a diver Seasearch – anyone can join in!

4. Combating the climate crisis 


As the seas and the atmosphere warm up, there are big risks to the oceans including melting of polar ice sheets, ocean acidification, loss of habitats including coral reefs and mangroves and rises in sea levels.

Not all is lost…

Find out as much as you can about the climate crisis and what Brighton & Hove city council are doing in response to it

Projects like Help our Kelp  are being set up to  combat the climate crisis.  Writing to your local MP to help this project one of the most effective actions you can take.

 Climate Conversations is a Royal Pavilion & Museums blog series on Climate Change and what we can do about it.

5. Clean up our beaches

Some Final Brighton Clichés – Litter by Barney Livingston.

Globally, over 80% of the yearly input comes from land-based sources, such as plastic packaging and bottles. Learn how to reduce waste as much you can and help to clean up Brighton & Hove by following the links below.

#StreetsAhead – find out more about the campaign to clean up Brighton & Hove’s neighbourhoods, streets and beaches

Read Brighton & Hove food partnerships top tips for reducing plastic waste

Volunteer with the Tidy Up Scheme – tackle litter and graffiti with council support

Reduce, reuse & recycle plastics – advice from Brighton & Hove City Council on how to minimise your plastic use and dispose of plastics safely

Brighton & Hove Beach clean – join or organise a beach clean

Brighton Dolphin Project

Many of us walk along Brighton seafront gazing out at the beautiful ocean, but what actually lives beneath the waves? 

From the surface, the answer may appear to be ‘not much’ but as this video shows, looks can be deceiving…

This  pod of bottlenose dolphins was seen just a mile off Shoreham Port by Brighton Fish Sales on 26/05/2020 (courtesy of Brighton Dolphin Project), and it’s not only bottlenose dolphins that visit Sussex seas…

We are lucky enough to have six species of marine mammal living in Sussex!  They include: bottlenose, white-beaked and common dolphins, harbour porpoises, grey seals and harbour seals.

That’s where Brighton Dolphin Project come in.  The Sussex coastline is the most poorly researched area for marine mammals. Their mission is to tell the world about the dolphins of Sussex, research these wonderful cetaceans and find out just how many are Brighton residents.

White-Beaked dolphin illustration, copyright Brighton Dolphin Project

To find out where the dolphins are, and how they are behaving, Brighton Dolphin Project needs people to get involved and send in their sightings as part of a huge citizen science project.

“we ask people to report any sightings and tell us about their experience. To date we have over 200 sightings of marine mammals recorded and these are only the sightings that have been sent into us!”

The future for Brighton Dolphin Project

The future is looking bright for Brighton Dolphin Project. The project is growing larger and they are in the process of moving into exciting new premises at Shoreham Port. They are hoping to gather more data too – the more data they have, the more likely they are to be able to protect dolphins in Sussex.

Take action!

You can help Brighton Dolphin Project by…

  • Keeping your eyes peeled for any marine mammals in Sussex. Use their Research Leaflet  to help you collect data and aid your spotting
  • Following them on Instagram @brightondolphinproject
  • Making sure you take your litter with you when you visit beaches so our marine life doesn’t get tangled up
  • Entering their drawing competition (closing 28/08/2020)

Seabird spyglass viewer

Use our spyglass viewer to take a closer look at Mr. Booth’s seabird cases. The displays were made to reflect exactly what Booth had seen and noted when watching then in the field. Can you see what he described?


In his diary notes, Booth appears to be both fascinated and disgusted by Gannets, one of the UKs most distinctive looking sea birds.

“While they are in their infancy they are the most peevish little wretches, snapping, quarreling and fighting with the utmost ferocity. Though the personal injury that they inflict on one another is generally small, their battles are not unfrequently attended with fatal results, as one or perhaps both of the combatants lose their balance, and, falling from their ledge, are dashed to pieces on the rocks below…” – Mr. Edward Thomas Booth.

Click on the + and buttons to zoom in and out of the display in the spyglass viewer.

Can you see the gannets squawking and squabbling at each other as described in Booth’s diary?

Gannet – (Mature and Nestlings) Case 153. 

Common tern Case 197

When viewing Common terns in the field, Booth noted that at breeding stations birds at every stage are seen together. And, even though he noted their decline, still decided to take one of each for his collection.

Are Common terns in decline today?

“During fine still weather, early in May, the first arrivals of these birds may be looked for. Their breeding-stations, which are still (though rapidly decreasing) numerous in many parts of great Britain, present a most animated appearance by the beginning of July. Young birds of every age and stage may then be seen together with the old ones, busily attending to their wants; the whole group affording a sight…”

Marine creatures

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