A collaboration of coast and countryside organisations on The Lizard Peninsula

Natural England and Cornwall Inshore Fisheries & Conservation Authority joined forces recently to get a unique underwater view of the seas around the Lizard.Lizard Point - Simon Lewis, www.westcountryviews.co.uk

i. The Big Blue, Lizard Point.

Walking from Lizard village along the coast towards the most Southerly Point, there are some fantastic places where you can find yourself high above the sea with a 180 degree view of nothing but blue. This is one of the things that I have loved about the Lizard for many years, but what lies below that wonderful blue expanse?

Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (CIFCA) and Natural England have recently been carrying out some survey work around the Lizard to better understand what is beneath the waves, and importantly, how healthy it is. The sea around the Lizard is a Special Area of Conservation as it has some of the best examples of underwater reef habitat in the country. Surveys of this fantastic marine environment first took place 7 years ago, and last month it was time to go back and have another look...Camera equipment

ii. Camera equipment being deployed over the side of R/V Tiger Lily

 The surveys took place using CIFCA’s vessel R/V Tiger Lily. Her small size brings advantages as it is possible to get closer inshore than other larger survey vessels would be able to. Obviously on somewhere as exposed as The Lizard though, weather conditions are a very important factor in deciding if a survey can take place on a certain day!

A ‘drop-down’ video camera is lowered to the seabed to record what is there. The expensive camera equipment is protected inside a metal frame, and is ‘flown’ above the surface of the seabed and then ‘landed’ approximately every 60 seconds to take a high quality photograph. This allows both video footage and still photographs of the reef to be taken. Using a camera instead of scuba divers means that a wide area can be covered in a short space of time, and it also allows very deep locations to be recorded.


In total 26 stations were surveyed, resulting in a total of 882 images and several hours of video footage! The plants and animals found varied greatly with the changes in exposure and energy levels around the peninsula. Some of the fantastic marine life captured on film included dead man’s fingers (Alcyonium digitatum), Devonshire cup corals (Caryophyllia smithii), Ross corals (Pentapora foliacea), jewel anemones (Corynactis viridis), spiny starfish (Marthasterias glacialis) and sea urchins (Echinus esculentus). We even had an octopus swim directly underneath the camera!

 Dead Mans Fingers

iii. Dead Man’s Fingers (Alcyonium digitatum) on the reef

Species such as the Pink Sea Fan (Eunicella verrucosa) are found attached to rocks in areas where water movement is moderately strong. This is because sea fans feed on tiny plankton suspended in water, and they require water movement to bring new food towards them. Sea Fans are actually a colony of animals, despite looking more like a plant.

Pink Sea Fan-ncciv. Pink Sea Fan (Eunicella verrucosa)

A favourite of mine that was also found was Ross coral (Pentapora foliacea). This is a stunning bryozoan (another colony of animals) that appears deep orange in colour, and almost resembles a bunch of orange calla lilies. The species can be very easily damaged, and finding them on a survey is a good sign of a healthy reef.

The results of the survey are now being looked at in detail, but initial signs are showing a fantastic and healthy underwater reef surrounding the Lizard. Can’t wait for the next look beneath the waves!

Ross Coralv. The delicate Ross coral (Pentapora foliacea)

Photo credits:
(i): Simon Lewis, www.westcountryviews.co.uk [NB. web address to be fully credited as a condition of using this photo please.
(ii): Natural England
(iii) and (v): Cornwall IFCA
(iv): JNCC


Published: Dec 2017

Author: Carolyn Waddell  (NE Marine Lead Adviser, West Cornwall)