Anemones and Corals

All anemones and corals fall into the group known as Anthozoa, individual animals called a polyps form the basis of all Anthozoa. Polyps can be solitary as with most anemones and cup corals, or they can live as a colony like the soft corals and sea fans or the more commonly recognizable tropical hard corals which form reef systems.

Most people are far more familiar with the idea of tropical corals and reefs, and do not associate temperate British waters with such amazing colourful creatures, yet we have an abundance of them, often very close to shore. Indeed, anyone who has ever spent time on a rocky shore will be familiar with anemones such as the Beadlet, Strawberry or snakelocks anemones that are common place in the intertidal zone and widespread throughout the UK. In great depths other anemones and corals thrive on rocky reefs, sandy sediment and subtidal pinnicles.

 Jewel Anemone - Corynactis viridis 

Photo credit: Keith Hiscock

These anemones are very small, about 1 cm across, but grow in massive numbers. They are some of the most colourful anemones found in British waters. Jewel anemones are commonly green and pink or orange and electric blue. Although nearly all colour combinations appear to be possible. Anemones can reproduce by splitting themselves in half (called budding) and this results in two smaller identical clones. These ‘twins’ then grow to full adult size and are able to ‘bud’ themselves, forming another two individuals. This process can occur innumerable times! The result can be huge areas of identically coloured anemones forming amazing living technicolour canvases.

 

Plumose Anemone - Metridium farcimen

Photo credit: Paul Kay

These are very tall, usually ghost-white anemones which are very common around Lundy. They have a multitude of fine stinging tentacles which are arranged in a wave-like pattern around the top of the column. This gives the anemone a very fine fluffy look, hence its common name. Plumose anemones can grow up to 30 cm high, and can appear very spectral when covering one of the sunken shipwrecks found around Lundy. As with all anemones the mouth is situated at the centre of the tentacles, which are armed with hundreds of stinging cells. It feeds by catching microscopic food as the water passes by.

 

Sunset Cup Coral - Leptopsammia pruvoti

Photo credit: Keith Hiscock

Sunset cup-corals are hard to mistake due to their captivating bright yellow colour. At Lundy these cup-corals are restricted mostly to the Knoll Pins. It is not clearly understood by marine ecologists why this species has such a small range of distribution around the island. It may be that the juveniles, floating in the water as part of the plankton, only settled out to change into the non-mobile adults at this one site. Sunset cup-corals are a warm water species with the adults usually found in the Mediterranean Sea. It is believed that the larvae ‘hitched’ a ride on a warm water current which runs past the Mediterranean up to the south part of Wales. The first British examples were discovered at Lundy in 1969 and are at the northern-most limits of their distribution.