Why are Brighton & Hove Museums talking about the ocean? Our museums are intimately connected to the sea. Objects in the museum collections reflect how generations of people have been living off the sea, enjoying the sea and using the sea for health benefits.
Exhibits at the Booth Museum of Natural History can tell the story of the biodiversity of life in Sussex seas. We hold several hundred thousand marine specimens including incredibly detailed Sussex chalk fossils, marine molluscs, bryozoans, mammal skeletons, microscopic foraminifera and a significant collection of seaweeds. These collections give an insight into Sussex seas of the past and can help us to gain an understanding of how we protect the seas of the future.
Over the coming months, we will use our collections online to highlight how oceans are threatened by human intervention, such as plastic pollution, climate change and industrial overfishing. Working with our specialist partners in Sussex, we hope to show you that many people are trying to combat the ocean crisis to ensure it is is protected for future generations.
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.
Plants form part of the immense natural history collections at the Booth Museum of Natural History, included in these are *seaweeds – some of which are over 100 years old!
These specimens were carefully dried, identified and mounted by the Victorian women who collected them – often forming beautiful delicate displays or arranged in beautiful bound books.
But why keep 100 year old seaweed? It can’t just be because they are beautiful, can it?…Dr Gerald Legg, former Curator of the Booth Museum of Natural History reveals all…
Learn from the past to protect our future
One important value of such collections is to be able to see what was found in the past compared with what is found now. What has been lost and what has been gained. The collections like those of Mary Merrifield, Mrs Leopold Grey and Dr Omerod in the Booth collections contain incredibly detailed notes showing exactly where they were found and the date they were collected.
Data, data, data!
Collecting data of seaweeds over the last century and in more recent decades has helped to provide key information for conservation. In Sussex, data collection like this is helping towards the restoration of a vital marine habitat that was hidden to most people beneath the waves…
In the not distant past **kelps were common along the shore and off the coast of Sussex. Kelp forests can provide important nurseries for fish, can help combat climate change and are a crucial habitat for a host of species.
However, with trawling, dredging and the storm of 1986 much of the dense ‘forests’ have been lost. You no longer get masses of seaweeds washed up on Worthing beach causing a stink and making a useful fertiliser to be collected by farmers and the like…
Sussex Kelp Forest cover 1980
Sussex Kelp Forest cover 2019
What it’s like now
But not all is lost…
Find out how local conservationists and activists are working together to bring the kelp back and allow the forests to regenerate in our Take Action section.
I’d like to finish this blog with a wonderful poem on Kelp by Jeffery Yang
Kelp by Jeffrey Yang
How easy it is to lose oneself
in a kelp forest. Between
canopy leaves, sunlight filters thru
the water surface; nutrients
bring life where there’d other-
wise be barren sea; a vast eco-
system breathes. Each
Dr Gerald Legg, former Curator of the Booth Museum of Natural History
*Kelps include: Oar Weed Laminaria digitata, forest Kelp Laminaria hypoborea, Golden Kelp Laminaria ochroleuca, Sugar Kelp Saccharina latissimi, Furbellows Sacchorhiza polyschides and the alien Wakame Undaria pinnatifida.
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.
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.
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.