Although many people don't know it, Britain is surrounded by rocky reefs - often so covered in wildlife that you can't see the rock! Sea winkles and sea urchins graze on the seaweed, sea hares and sea slugs lazily filter food from the water and squat lobsters and sea cucumbers hide in rocky crevices.
Scientists have recently discovered deep water corals measuring more than a metre across off the west coast of Scotland. These corals have a very slow rate of growth, making it extremely difficult for them to recover from damage caused by humans. Even though rocky reefs are more resilient than coral reefs, the careful balance between animals and plants still has to be maintained. The removal of a single species can severely disrupt the whole ecosystem upon which reefs are formed.
Recent WWF research* reveals that reefs are likely to be among the first ecosystems to be affected by climate change. Corals are unable to tolerate high water temperatures and there is concern that reef growth will not be able to keep pace with predicted rates of sea-level rise brought about by climate change. A tenth of the world's coral reefs have now been virtually destroyed and a further third are expected to be lost within 20 years, even without climate change.
"World Oceans Day is a focus for us all to learn about the fascinating and beautiful world beneath the waves" said Sian Pullen, head of WWF's marine conservation programme. "Last year 30,000 people took part in more than 200 activities across the UK. This year we are hoping that even more people will join in the celebrations, which range from pebbly plods along the seashore to whale and dolphin spotting trips."
*A new report, Coral Reefs and Global Climate Change, has just been published by WWF. Copies are available.