Dubbed ‘Britain’s Great Barrier Reef’, the Cromer Shoals Chalk Bed, created when dinosaurs ruled the earth, has been found to be the longest in the world – and it’s so close to the shore you could skim a stone out to it.
At over 20 miles long, the 100-million-year-old reef is one-and-a-half times longer than the Thanet Coast chalk reef in Kent, the former record holder.
Discovered around ten years ago, the reef is just 25ft under the sea’s surface and has now been made a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs. With an area of 315sq km it’s larger than the Broads National Park.
And it’s part of the chalk seam that stretches across England and includes the White Cliffs of Dover and the White Horse Hill Carvings in Wiltshire.
The reef, with dramatic features such as towering arches and deep chasms made during the Ice Age, has one of the most diverse and spectacular arrays of sea life around Britain – the composition of the reef meaning the water is actually quite warm.
The bed of the North Sea is mostly soft sand and mud, so the hard rocky chalk features create a habitat that attracts all kinds of life.
The marine haven has many species, including sponges, burrowing piddocks, sea squirts, anemones, starfish, brittlestars and fish including shoaling horse mackerel and bass. Three species never before recorded on the east coast have been found: the Atlantic ancula sea slug, the blush-red strawberry anemone and leopard spotted goby.
The MCZ means that sea life such as the threatened pink sea fan coral, which grows on the reef, will now be protected, along with hundreds of species including crabs and lobsters that colonise the soft chalk beds.
So now you know why Norfolk has the tastiest, most succulent crab and lobster you’ll find in the UK – they have a very special habitat to feed on.