Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom

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Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom (2010), 90:69-94 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 2010

Research Article

Colonization of an artificial reef in south-west England—ex-HMS ‘Scylla’

Keith Hiscocka1 c1, Sally Sharrocka2, James Highfielda3 and Deborah Snellinga4

a1 Marine Biological Association, Citadel Hill, Plymouth PL1 2PB, UK
a2 Seasearch, 19 Hawthorn Drive, Wembury, Plymouth PL9 0BE, UK
a3 Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Prospect Place, West Hoe, Plymouth, Devon, PL1 3DH, UK
a4 National Marine Aquarium, Rope Walk, Coxside, Plymouth, PL4 0LF, UK
Article author query
hiscock k [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
sharrock s [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
highfield j [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
snelling d [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]


An ex-Royal Navy frigate, HMS ‘Scylla’, was placed on the seabed in Whitsand Bay, south Cornwall on 27 March 2004. After five years, the reef supported a mature steel wreck community. The colonization of the reef showed wide fluctuations in species abundance in the first two years but, by 2006, most species that dominated or characterized the reef after five years had settled. Significant colonization events included settlement of barnacles, tubeworms and hydroids within a month and remarkably high settlements of the sea urchin Psammechinus miliaris and the queen scallop Aequipecten opercularis in the first year together with starfish Asterias rubens, solitary sea squirts and ephemeral algae. The plumose anemone Metridium senile, a characteristic species of wrecks, arrived in late summer 2004 but the widely distributed dead man's fingers Alcyonium digitatum was not observed until spring 2005. Wrasse were slow to colonize the reef but were established in small numbers by the end of 2007. Sea fans, Eunicella verrucosa, were first observed in August 2007. The species count for the reef stood at 263 taxa by the end of March 2009. The inside of the reef remained poorly colonized even after five years. Areas coated with tributyltin (TBT) antifouling paint only had colonization where the paint had flaked-off or on non-toxic paint markings, but with some indication that colonization may be occurring by a very few species especially near to non-TBT areas. Many species characteristic of natural reefs had not settled and neither do they occur on older wrecks including branching axinellid sponges, some cushion sponges and the yellow cluster anemone Parazoanthus axinellae. The artificial reef developed a community that was distinctly different to nearby natural rock reefs and such artificial structures should not be considered as a replacement for damaged or destroyed natural habitats.

(Received May 27 2009)

(Accepted October 11 2009)

(Online publication January 14 2010)

Keywordsartificial reef; shipwreck; colonization; seasonal change; TBT; community development


c1 Correspondence should be addressed to: K. Hiscock, Marine Biological Association, Citadel Hill, Plymouth, PL1 2PB, UK email: [email protected]