Pink sea fan conservation in the UK
The pink sea fan Eunicella verrucosa is one of the UK’s most spectacular soft coral. Yet despite protection, they continue to be threatened by bottom trawling for fish and scallops and by water pollution.
The pink sea fan lives on rocky reefs in the South West of the UK and on the western seaboard of Ireland and grows to form colonies up to 80cm high and 100cm across.
Little is known about their interaction with the environment or their role in the marine ecosystem but they are considered a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
English Nature funded ZSL, in partnership with The Deep, Hull, to research life history factors such as diet, growth rates, water chemistry preferences and sexual reproduction of the pink sea fans, which is not always possible in the wild.
As well as working directly with wildlife and their habitats in the wild (in situ), ZSL also undertook significant conservation research in our aquarium systems (ex situ).
The goal of captive breeding and applied research is to maintain populations of endangered species as part of their recommended conservation action and provide a facility for applied conservation research.
In the case of the pink sea fan, ZSL worked in the longer term towards successful spawning, fertilisation and settlement of primary polyps in captivity. By producing juvenile colonies in large numbers, the possibility of re-stocking specific reefs as a potential conservation management strategy was opened up.
Aquariums such as that at ZSL have played an important role in the display of native species and the education of their visiting public, (over 1 million/year). There is a widespread lack of knowledge about the biodiversity in British seas and the coral species are amongst the least known by the general public.