Beneath the waves

A ballan wrasse fish amongst thongweed and snakelock anemonesA ballan wrasse fish amongst thongweed and snakelock anemones

So much of Devon’s brightest, weirdest and most wonderful wildlife remains hidden from us, living in a world beneath the waves.

  • Oceans cover two-thirds of the World’s surface
  • Devon’s coastal waters are some of the UK’s most diverse
  • Less than 1% of the UK’s waters enjoy full environmental protection 

Ocean giants

A basking shark opens its mouth wide just below the ocean surface (credit Colin Munro)Some mighty giants swim in Devon’s waters.

In summer the world’s second largest fish – the basking shark – charts its gentle course our way, looking for plankton to feed on.

Leatherback turtles – the world’s largest turtle – also appear in our seas, feasting on the jellyfish that drift to us on westerly currents.

A grey seal peers inquisitively at an underwater diver (credit Paul Naylor)



Minke whales, fin whales and even orcas (killer whales) have all been seen
around Devon.

Closer to land, bottlenose dolphins and Atlantic grey seals can often be spotted. Devon’s cliffs and headlands make great places to try and see them.


Flowers under the sea

There are other surprises beneath our waves.

The world’s only flowery marine plant, eel grass, flourishes in huge beds in Plymouth Sound, Torbay and at the mouth of the Exe Estuary. Eel grass acts as a crucial sanctuary for juvenile fish and its beds are home to Devon’s sea horse populations.

A Dahlia anemone surrounded by lightbulb sea squirts (credit Paul Naylor)

Lyme Bay, in the waters off East Devon and Dorset, is especially rich in marine life.

The Wildlife Trust’s have spent 20 years campaigning and working with local communities to preserve the Bay’s remaining cold water reefs. Sea fans, sea squirts, anemones and cuttlefish all thrive in these special areas.

Elsewhere rock, mud and sand dominate Devon’s seascapes. Each supports its own flora and fauna from bizarre-looking flat fish to the beautifully coloured cuckoo wrasse.


A short snouted seahorse amongst kelp (credit Paul Naylor)Marine champions

Despite its richness, the UK’s marine wildlife has so little protection against damaging human practices.

The Wildlife Trusts have long been champions of greater protection.

You can find out more about our campaigns and help us here.

To begin to discover the world of wildlife beneath the waves visit our Wembury Marine Centre, near Plymouth.