Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Norfolk Chalk Reef

Photo:Rob Spray
The ancient coast-line of East Anglia, once the furthest extent of retreating glaciers during the last Ice Age, continues to reveal astounding evidence of early man's activities and prehistoric nature. The North Norfolk coast-line in particular is a rich source of geological and archaeological wonders. These include the Cromer Ridge, a terminal glacial moraine formed during the last Ice Age; the discovery of a fossilised skeleton of a steppe mammoth approximately 600,000 years old in the cliffs of West Runton in 1990, and  a circular arrangement of over fifty split oak tree trunks, an early man-made ritual monument named  Seahenge, dated circa 2100 BCE, which was first exposed at Holme-next-the-Sea in 1998.

It's recently  been announced that the world's longest chalk reef, over 20 miles in length, stretching from Cley to Trimingham along the Norfolk coast, complete with massive two metre high arches and deep gullies has been discovered.  So far three species never recorded before have been found in the Chalk reef including the Leopard Spotted Goby, two rare anemones and an obscure purple-coloured sponge.  The Chalk Reef was the subject of a BBC regional TV  programme which was spectacular in viewing. Here's the link for a 3 minute filmed dive through the Norfolk chalk Reef . The discovery of the Chalk reef was made by Rob Spray who runs the Marine Conservation Society survey project with a team of volunteers.


Even during my hedonistic and ecstatic summers of youth, swimming, sunbathing and reading on the  beach, I never dreamed of a submarine world some 300 million years old just half a mile out from the shore and  just eight metres below  the surface of the North sea.

However, the seventeenth century doctor and philosopher Sir Thomas Browne did dream of submarine worlds. His miscellaneous tract   Museum Clausum  or Bibliotheca Abscondita  identified by W.G. Sebald  in his Rings of Saturn  (1998) as a  curious minor masterpiece of the imagination,  includes among its inventory of lost, rumoured or imagined books, pictures and objects-

9. A Sub Marine Herbal describing the several Vegetables found on the Rocks, hills, Valleys, Meadows at the bottom of the Sea, with many sorts of Alga, Fucus, Quercus, Polygonum, Gramens and others not yet described.

The world of the submarine must have been of great interest to Browne as included in his miscellaneous tract under the entries of  pictures, one reads the worthy doctor dreaming of -

3. Large Submarine Pieces, well delineating the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, the Prairie or large Sea-meadow upon the Coast of Provence, the Coral Fishing, the gathering of Sponges, the Mountains, Valleys and Deserts, the Subterraneous Vents and Passages at the bottom of that Sea ; 

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