You do not have to go to the tropics to find colourful corals. We have them in England. The pink sea-fan is a soft coral, related to tropical species and one of the most exotic-looking of our seabed animals.
The pink sea fan lives in areas of strong currents on the rocky reefs below 10m deep, and is most common in the south-west of England.
An intricate, branched pink sea-fan can grow up to 80cm high and 100cm across, but it is not a single animal. It is in fact a colony of tiny anemone-like polyps with stinging tentacles, which capture microscopic animals from the passing water. They usually grow at right angles to the prevailing water currents, to catch as much food as they can.
Pink sea fans are themselves home to other creatures including a sea slug and a rare anemone. Dogfish also attach their eggs to pink sea-fans, wrapping the long tendrils at the corners of the ‘Mermaid’s Purse’ eggcase around the sea-fan’s branches.
Pink sea-fan colonies are extremely slow-growing and vulnerable to damage. The main threats to them are beam trawling, scallop dredging, and boat anchoring.
The broken branches of pink sea-fans are a common sight on the strandline of the south-west’s beaches – a testament to the scale of damage to sea-fan colonies.
Pink sea-fans are found on western coasts of Europe (Spain, Portugal and France), and the western Mediterranean. Their distribution extends into western and southern Britain and Ireland. In the future, they may extend further north as a result of global warming.
Globally vulnerable on the IUCN Red List
UKBAP Priority Species
Nationally scarce species
Protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
Species of principal importance for the purpose of conservation of biodiversity under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006
Pink sea fan - Eunicella verrucosa Marine life information network
Pink Sea-fan (Eunicella verrucosa) UK Biodiversity Action Plan website
Devon Biodiversity and Geodiversity Action Plan (PDF) Devon County Council website
Pink (they may be white!) sea-fan colonies can live to be 50 years old.