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Explore our local seas

Grey seal in thongweed gully by Paul NaylorGrey seal in thongweed gully by Paul Naylor

From majestic seahorses and enigmatic seals to the colourful wrasse and crafty crabs, your local seas are teeming with life.

The Wildlife Trusts are working hard on a number of projects to protect habitats and individual species. Below you can learn more about the habitats that we are protecting and the wildlife they support. You can also find out more about are most interesting habitats and species on this interactive map.

Open sea

Cuttlefish by Paul Naylor

The water column is a highly dynamic environment and one that is rich in life. Phytoplankton are the open ocean’s most abundant inhabitants and the foundation of all marine food chains. From here our marine food chain widens and supports a range of fish, crustaceans, molluscs and marine mammals.

Species that can be found swimming around Hampshire and the Isle of Wight include:

  • bottlenose dolphins
  • harbour porpoises
  • various whale species
  • thresher sharks
  • leatherback turtles.


Peacocks  Tail seaweed by Roger Herbert

Rocky reefs and boulders provide a firm foundation for plants and animals to cling to, and plenty of nooks and crannies for creatures to hide in. The Hampshire coast doesn’t have a great deal of rock but the Isle of Wight has cliffs, reefs and even sea caves.

In coastal and shallow areas, such as at Bembridge Ledges, much of this rocky reef is dominated by a variety of seaweeds, including rarities such as peacock’s tail seaweed. At low tide these rocky shores are great places to go rockpooling and find gobies, blennies, crabs, snails and anemones. All this life attracts fish such as bib and a variety of wrasse – our most colourful fish.

Species found in rock habitats include:

  • corals (e.g. dead man’s fingers)
  • sponges
  • sea squirts
  • hydroids
  • bryozoans.

Sand and gravels

Great scallop by Paul Naylor

Sand and gravels are the most abundant habitat in the south east, and they support a wide variety of wildlife – from worms and anemones to rays and tope sharks. Subtidal sands can make challenging habitats because tides and waves ensure the sands are always moving.

Species that can colonise sand habitats may become very abundant, such as the ross worm which can form crusts and reefs from the tubes they build for protection. This activity stabilises the sand and increases biodiversity by creating shelter for many other creatures.

Further offshore, large sand dune systems are home to sand eels, an important source of prey for larger predators such as cod, bass and rays. Sand habitats are also important feeding grounds for seabirds such as divers, terns and sea ducks.
Gravels are often more stable than sand, and so may have an enormous diversity of life attached to the stones, as well as hiding within. One study of gravel habitats off the Isle of Wight found over 400 species. 

Hermit crab by Paul Naylor

Gravel areas can also be important spawning grounds for fish such as herring and black bream, which create nests in the gravel in areas including Sandown Bay. All this life makes gravel beds attractive areas for predatory fish including tope shark.

Species commonly found in sand and gravel habitats include:

  • ross worms
  • sand eels
  • soft corals
  • anemones
  • bryozoans
  • sponges
  • tope sharks.


Peacock worm colony formed on muddy habitat by Paul Nalyor

Seals feed and seagrass grows in our region’s extensive mudflats, w

hich are often exposed at low tide in Solent harbours including Portsmouth, Langstone and Chichester. Further offshore, such as at St Helen’s Roads and off Osbourne Bay, the soft mud is home to burrowing creatures such as spoonworms and the nationally scarce mantis shrimps.

Some muddy habitats around the Solent are becoming modified by large populations of the non-native slipper limpet. Shells of live and dead slipper limpets form a layer over the mud which attracts other species more typically associated with gravel habitats.

Other species commonly found in our muddy areas include:

  • peacock worms
  • bivalve molluscs, such as the common cockle
  • burrowing crabs such as the angular crab.

Report your marine sightings...

Have you seen something interesting? Whether along the coast or out at sea, we’d love to hear about your sightings – especially if you’ve seen marine mammals or seagrass. Please go to our marine sightings page for the relevant forms.