This gallery displays fossil bivalve shells from our collection. They are from the Lower Cretaceous period and around 85 million years old. Bivalves first appeared in the fossil record around 500 million years ago. They are animals that belong to the mollusc group and have two hinged shells and 15,000 species still live in our seas today including clams, mussels and scallops.
Who did these unusual teeth belong to?
With the help of Sussex Wildlife Trust we compared some of our fossil animal teeth from 85 million years ago to jaws of animals that live in UK seas today.
Shark fossil teeth, Ptychodus sp.
Originally this ray-like shark would have used a battery of such teeth for crushing molluscs and crustaceans.
These teeth look quite similar to a tropical species of ray’s teeth – the Cow nosed ray, however these live in tropical shallow seas. The UK species of ray that we have chosen as an equivalent is the Thornback ray.
Thornback Ray, Raja clavate
Thornback rays are regularly seen by divers. They have flattened bodies covered in blotches of colour to help them camouflage into the sand or mud or gravel. They have a long thorned tail. The males are smaller than the females.
How to identify:
Flat bodies with yellow and brown patches on their backs. Long thorny tail and protruding eye sockets.
Found all around the UK coast.
Females can lay up to 150 egg cases every year. When the babies hatch, these cases are often washed up onto the beach.
Pipe fish jaw
These teeth would have belonged to a long-snouted slender fish, one of many similar bony fish that lived in the Chalk Seas of NW Europe.
Greater Pipefish, Syngnathus acus
The pipefish has a long, segmented body, about 45 cm long. It lives in seaweed and seagrass and feeds on small prawns and mysid shrimp.
How to identify:
Thin segmented body with a long snout and a hump just behind the eyes
Commonly seen around the southwest coast and welsh coastlines.
Just like seahorses, the males (not the females) look after the eggs in a brood pouch until they are ready to hatch.
…and finally we couldn’t resist adding our favourite sea creature which is protected in our Sussex Marine Conservation Zones…
Short-snouted seahorse, Hippocampus hippocampus
Seahorses prefer to live in seagrass and shallow estuaries.
How to identify:
Distinctive horse like head with snout and a curling tail which is uses for holding onto things
Has been recorded along the south and southwest coasts of the UK.
Seahorses usually mate for life and perform a courtship dance with their partner every morning. The male seahorses get pregnant and give birth to the young.
View more Monster Jaws from the Booth Museum’s in our Monster Jaw gallery
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.
Lobsters swam in our ancient warm Sussex seas around 100-85 million years ago. Lobsters are grouped within the Crustaceans which include crabs, shrimps, prawns and barnacles. They first evolved in the Cambrian period around 509 to 497 million years ago. Click the images to discover more.
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.
The Accidental Ecologist
Edward Thomas Booth was a wealthy Victorian man who was fascinated with British birds. He travelled across the UK to study and collect as many species of British birds as he could. Eventually, he built a private museum to house his huge collection of over 300 displays.
Today, this would be illegal and is quite rightly viewed as being incredibly cruel, however, this was a common pass time of the Victorian middle classes who were obsessed with collecting.
What can be gained from this?
Booth was the first in the world to display birds in their natural settings. The dioramas and his diary entries describe in incredible detail how the birds behaved and what habitats they thrived in.
Together with other Victorian collections, they have the potential to teach us what habitats were like in the past, and how populations of animals have changed over the past 150 years.
What we can find out about UK sea birds using Booth’s notes and dioramas? Find out below.
Explore more of Mr. Booth’s Seabirds in the galleries below. See if you can imagine how the birds were behaving and how they sounded to Booth when he was studying them 150 years ago.
What are Marine Conservation Zones?
Marine Conservation Zones are a type of Marine Protected Area of the British coasts. As part of a ‘blue belt‘, there aim is to protect our most vulnerable marine life and habitats from destructive human activity including trawling, pollution and leisure boating.
The zones act as nurseries for immature fish and other sea life. These rich areas of protected sea life should seed the surrounding areas with new stock increasing the fishing yield for fishermen in the open sea.
Find out more at http://www.sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/livingseas
Film produced by The Wildlife Trusts
What progress has been made?
We now have 91 marine conservation zones in and around 250 marine protected areas in the UK. The conservation zones aim to protect important marine environments from destructive human activity including trawling, pollution and leisure boating.
Over 24% of UK waters (12 nautical miles from the coast) were in protected areas in 2018. Globally, international bodies have called for 30% of all seas and oceans to be protected.
You can view the MCZs using the JNCC universal mapper
Sussex Marine Conservation Zones
In Sussex, we have 9 Marine Conservation Zones which cover around 22% of our local seas. Among these is Beachy Head West which was one of the first areas to be designated in the UK. It runs from Brighton Marina to Eastbourne and is a wonderful spot for Rockpooling (see our Rockpooling guide).
The chalky seabed is an important environment for a number of species, including, Native oysters (Ostrea edulis), Short-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus hippocampus) and Blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) beds.
What needs to be done?
The increase in MCZs being designated is a huge step towards protecting these marine habitats, however, there needs to be investment in the proper management of these sites. According to the Blue Foundation only 5% of MPA are protected from destructive activities like trawling they say:
At the moment trawls and dredges are banned in only 5% of the area of UK marine protected areas. Incredibly, there is more trawling inside protected areas than outside and fewer fish, according to a recent study. Most of what we have today are therefore paper parks.
If we dramatically increase levels of protection for these places, we would have a world class network that would deliver the clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas the government aspires to. The science also says, that fisheries are better off if fishing is kept outside protected areas, because protected stocks replenish them.
Marine Conservation Zones were established through a huge army of volunteers collecting data from our shores and in the seas.
- Join the Sussex Seasearch project for volunteer Scuba divers
- Volunteer on a Sussex Shoreseach intertidal survey
Join a wildlife charity!
Wildlife charities like Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Marine Conservation Society do a tremendous amount of work to help protect our seas but they need your help to keep running.
- Become a Friend of Marine Conservation Zones with Sussex Wildlife Trust
Written by Grace Brindle, Collections Assistant, Booth Museum of Natural History
Written by Lynn Beun, Leader, RSPB Brighton & District Local Group
Living in this area we are very lucky, and can walk along the seashore, so I like to look at birds as I get some exercise and enjoy the seafront. You never quite know what you are going to see so keep looking carefully. The Undercliff walk near Brighton Marina is a good place to go, as is Shoreham.
A colourful bird that catches the eye with its black and white plumage and orange- red bill is the Oystercatcher, which I see near Brighton Marina and at Shoreham. You often see them fly off, with their piping cry as people or dogs draw near.
The oystercatcher is really misnamed as as it actually eats cockles! It also eats marine worms and other shellfish, prising them from rocks and seaweed with its long beak.
If you watch this film and are sharp eyed you will notice that there is a puffin in this film, which was made in a different part of the UK. Sadly, there are no puffins in the Brighton area and you would have to travel to specific island locations like the Alderney in the Farne Islands in the north of England, Scotland and South Stack in Wales to see these birds. Puffins nest in burrows.
A bird that is common and which I enjoy seeing is the Cormorant. This large diving bird can be seen sitting close to boats near Brighton Marina, at Seaford Head and in Shoreham. After fishing and eating it spreads it’s wings out. Scientists have debated the reasons for why it spreads it’s wings out. The most common reason given is that it spreads its wings to dry them. However, some believe it may be to help them swallow and digest the fish it catches. I believe it might be a bit of both, after watching a cormorant swallowing what appeared to be an impossibly large fish!
The juvenile cormorants have cream coloured fronts which, I always think makes them look a bit like penguins! But that is just my fancy.
Unless you look closely you may miss one little bird which is called the turnstone. This busy little bird has chestnut brown wings and a white front with orange-red legs. It blends in well with the pebbly beach itself and can be seen scurrying along the water’s edge along the undercliff near Brighton Marina, near Hove lagoon and in Shoreham when the tide is low. They avoid the most heavily disturbed beaches. .It is very aptly named, as it turns the stones over looking for tasty insects to eat. Watch them doing just that in the video below.
When walking along and watching gulls whirl around you need to remember – there is no such thing as a seagull! (Unless you are a football supporter of course!) Why do I say this? That is because there are many different types of gulls and herring gulls are the ones we see most frequently in this area.
They are very large and have a yellow beak with a red spot on it. These are the ones we tend to think of as “seagulls”. Some love them and some loathe them! Herring gulls used to go out to sea but in urban seaside areas now stay around the town because they have learned that there is a good food supply from humans and adapted their behaviour accordingly. I noticed during the lockdown when people did not have food for them to snatch, they had reverted to their natural behaviour. They were dropping shells to crack them open. I also had a crab claw drop on my head whilst out walking only to look down at a herring gull that landed and was waiting his snack!
But, there is a rather special gull called the Fulmar which is related to the albatross that nests on small ledges on the cliffs along the coast between the undercliff. This gull feeds in flocks out at sea following the fishing fleets and will not steal your chips! They fly differently to herring gulls – they do not flap their wings but have what is sometimes described as a “stiff winged” flight. They fly with their wings flat. Brighton’s version of an albatross. You can see them close to Brighton all year round. People should not get too close to them though because Fulmars possess an unusual gland on their beak which secretes a foul-smelling oil. If the bird is disturbed on the nest it will squirt this at an intruder. You will notice in this picture the oil gland which gives the beak an unusual shape.
A bird less frequently seen in this area is the delightful Common Tern. These delightful silvery-grey and white birds have long tails which have earned them the nickname of “sea swallow”. They have a graceful flight and frequently hover over water before plunging down for a fish. This tern may be seen most frequently inland, in places like reservoirs as it nests in shingle and on specially made “tern rafts” where it is protected from predators. They nest at Ardingly and Arlington reservoirs in Sussex. However, keep a look out as the common tern does pass our area through on its migration routes, and in Sussex can be seen at locations between Rye Harbour and Pagham. Common terns migrate to Africa and winter in locations such as Senegal, Gambia and Ghana, returning in the spring.
And so we end our walk along the seashore and catch the bus home. These are just a small selection of our coastal birds. What will you see today?
Impact on our oceans
Climate change is a major threat to life in the oceans. The oceans are vast, covering over 70% of the world’s surface, and the effects of climate change will be large and long-lasting. Even if we were stop all greenhouse gas emissions now, sea-levels would continue to rise for centuries to come.
The oceans are a gigantic store of heat and carbon. They have absorbed more than 90% of the additional heat and 30% of the extra carbon dioxide caused by human activities. 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.
On this page we will look at some of the ways Climate Change is affecting our life in our seas and what projects are underway to try to help in this critical decade. This page will be updated with new blogs over the coming months.
Written by Dr Diana Wilkins, former Climate Scientist and Volunteer for the Booth Museum of Natural History
Ocean Warming Carl Lundin & Dan Laffolley, IUCN, 2016
Global Warming of 1.5 C IPCC, 2018
Climate Conversations is Royal Pavilion & Museums blog series on Climate Change and what we can do about it.
“Plastic is not an intrinsically bad material, it is an invention that has changed the world. The plastic became bad due to the way that industries and governments use it and the way society has converted it into a disposable and single-use convenience…’
These are the opening words of the WWF Report 2019 (World Wildlife Fund) on plastic waste pollution on our planet.
Where does plastic waste come from?
Many of us have heard about the problem of plastic in our oceans, but where does it come from?
Globally, over 80% of the yearly input comes from land-based sources, such as plastic packaging and bottles. Over 90% of the plastic waste that gets into the ocean is carried there by ten rivers in Asia and Africa. These rivers flow through areas of high population where people don’t have access to good waste disposal.
In contrast, in the UK, plastic which goes in our bins is either recycled, burned for energy or buried in a landfill. This shouldn’t end up in the ocean if managed properly. Instead, the larger pieces of plastic that enter the sea come from plastic pellets produced by industry, littering and plastic from fishing nets and ropes.
Another important source are microplastics…
Microplastics are less than half a centimetre in size. They come from the wear and tear on car types, the breakdown of plastic litter, cosmetic microbeads and from washing clothes containing man-made fibres. Information on the effects of microplastics is limited. However, we know they don’t biodegrade and so build up in the marine environment, where they can be ingested by animals. These microplastics can contain plastics that are toxic to animals.
Around the world
Worldwide, the United Nations says that the equivalent of a garbage truck’s worth of plastic reaches the ocean every minute causing a range of problems for wildlife here are just some of the effects:
Plastic waste kills up to 1 million sea-birds, 100,000 other marine animals and countless fish each year.
Birds and animals eat pieces of plastic which may choke them. Or they may get caught up in rubbish and be injured or die. Even if they don’t die, the animals may be weaker and less successful at reproducing.
Some plastics contain chemicals that last for a very long-time and are toxic to wildlife.
Many people and organisations across the globe are coming up with innovative solutions and campaigns trying to tackle the plastic problem. From scientists to artists and litter heroes, in the coming months, we will be highlighting just some of these projects.
Around the world, governments are committed to taking action and the World Economic Forum has proposed 8 Steps to solve the oceans plastic problem. In the UK, the Environment Bill allows for deposit schemes, charges for single-use plastics and charges for carrier bags.
Plastic science in Sussex
Marine Bioplastics – Sussex student wins award for developing a biodegradable plastic from fish waste
Discover the Our Plastic Oceans by Mandy Barker temporary exhibition or find out how you can take action in the fight against plastic at Brighton & Hove’s recycling page Brighton & Hove or discover more ways you can get involved via the links below.