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Centre for

Marine Biodiversity and Biotechnology

From the shoreline to the deep ocean, tackling issues from pure ecology
and physiology to aquaculture, marine spatial planning and conservation.


Regeneration of temperate marine biogenic reefs: Developing techniques for their restoration

biogenic reef

We have been funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to develop tools and techniques for promoting temperate reef conservation through direct intervention. This 3 year project began in August 2011 and will initiate a longer term applied research program to promote conservation of marine reefs formed by living organisms (biogenic reefs). We are designing techniques to enable the regeneration of damaged marine biogenic reef habitats. These techniques are being developed by conducting field experiments to identify cost effective methods for optimising larval settlement of reef building species and to identify the environmental conditions most conducive to subsequent reef development. The project focuses on three reef building species of significant biodiversity conservation importance: fan-worms (Serpula vermicularis, left on image), flame shells (Limaria hians, centre on image) and horse-mussels (Modiolus modiolus, right on image).

Fan worms have white shelly tubes, ~7 mm in width and up to 30 cm in length. The red and white feathery structures are for filtering out food particles from the surrounding water. Flame shells looks like small (~3 cm) lop-sided scallops. It can not completely close the two parts of the shell and numerous bright red sticky tentacles protrude from the gap (hence the name 'flame shell'). Like the horse-mussel it produces byssus threads which it weaves together to form a nest. Horse-mussels are much larger (~15 cm) than edible mussels. They produce tough fibrous 'byssus' threads, which they use for anchorage by firmly gluing the threads to shell fragments or other mussels.

The restoration of horse mussel reefs, involved the deployment of scallop shell in cultch bags at three sites, North Wales, Loch Creran, and Orkney. These cultch bags were recovered and after juvenile mussels were recovered the remaining shells were transported to the Natural History Museum. At the museum the shells are being used to investigate the distribution and impact of British bryozoans around the UK. This work is part of the V factor at the museum and creates an exciting opportunity for anyone to get involved in the research. For more information visit the V factor website.


This project is being conducted by Rob Cook, and supervised by Dan Harries and Bill Sanderson.