Marine experts launch campaign to highlight the important role shipwrecks play in providing a haven for sealife

Marine experts are launching a campaign to highlight the surprisingly important role that local shipwrecks play in supporting a huge wealth of marine life.

Monday, 26th August 2019, 9:51 am
The wreck of the Riverdance, Blackpools most recent shipwreck, although hundreds of other vessels have gone to a water grave off the Fylde coast

Marine experts are launching a campaign to highlight the surprisingly important role that local shipwrecks play in supporting a huge wealth of marine life.

While people may remember the running aground of cargo ship Riverdance, a decade ago, which attracted huge crowds to the beach at Anchorsholme, the Fylde Coast is a hot spot for shipwrecks over the centuries.

And these provide a crucial habitat and encourage a hugely-diverse range of species, as well as giving rise to local folklore.

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These include delicate sea horses, velvet, spider and tiny pea crabs as well as brittle stars, sea cucumbers and seven-armed starfish.

As part of its popular ‘breed, rescue, protect’ campaign, aquarists at Sea Life Blackpool are encouraging visitors to learn more about local shipwrecks and the dynamic eco-systems they support.

Pouting are often found near wrecks.

Shipworm and isopods, also known as ‘gribble’, frequently pepper wooden wrecks with small holes, playing a key role in their eventual breakdown.

Lobsters are also common around wrecks, sheltering during the day before venturing out across the sea floor at night to hunt for prey, as well as sharp-eyed sharks who patrol the remnants.

Despite their name, the common skate is now considered critically endangered and ship wrecks provide them with an important shelter and hunting ground.

Matthew Titherington, general manager of Sea Lifel, said: “Wrecks provide a vital eco-system for a rich diversity of species. We’re encouraging people to think more about the shipwrecks off their coastline and the kind of marine life they support.”

Around 40,000 shipwrecks are waiting to be discovered along the British coast, according to Historic England.

Storms in recent years have uncovered hidden wrecks and exciting, new finds are expected in the coming years.

Experts at Historic England say there are still tens of thousands of missing ships which are yet to be found and coastal explorers are encouraged to keep an eye out, particularly after bad weather.

Blackpool has one of the UK’s most extensive, although little known, ship’s graveyards. There have been 22 recorded vessels wrecked on the beaches of Blackpool and the Fylde coast, each with their own unique stories.

The oldest recorded wreck is that of the Travers in 1755. Carrying a cargo of valuable lace, much of its payload is said to have disappeared before the coast guard arrived on the then sparsely-populated coastline.

Many Fylde Coast residents were said to have ‘Travers Lace’ curtains in their homes for many years after.

A further wreck followed in 1779. While the name of the ship is not recorded, its cargo of peas has led to the incident being referred to as the ‘pea soup wreck’.

Further wrecks occurred in 1797 when the Liverpool-bound Happy foundered off Lytham, followed by the Fanny in 1821. Like with previous wrecks, much of the Fanny’s payload of flannel cloth was missing by the time authorities arrived.

In 1833 a ship was wrecked off Gynn Square, an area of the coastline notorious for being particularly treacherous for ships and individuals alike.

The crew were saved by steering towards a light in the upper windows of the old Gynn Inn, which stood at the centre of what is now Gynn Square. The incident is commemorated on the signage of the current Gynn pub.

Cargo ships continued to be wrecked on the beaches of Blackpool, including the Crusader in 1839, the Aristocrat (1840), William Henry (1861), St Michael (1864), Favourite (1865) and the Lexington (1865).

The loss of the Fleetwood-based Bessie Jones in 1880 resulted in calls for a lifeboat station in St Annes, which is still in use today. Lifeboats played a crucial role two years later when 10 crew members were saved from the wreck of the Arethusa.

In 1892, the Norwegian Sirene was caught in a storm shortly after departing Fleetwood on-route to Florida and was ultimately dashed against North Pier. All 11 members of the crew managed to jump from the foundering ship onto the pier and safety. Sirene’s wheel is on display at Blackpool lifeboat station.

Two years later, the steamer SS Huntcliff eventually ran aground close to Squires Gate, after snapping her anchor chain off Llandudno.

The same year, what is possibly the most well-known wreck along the Fylde Coast took place, the remnants of which are still clearly visible today.

The Abana, another Norwegian ship heading for Florida, was caught in a storm and was wrecked off Little Bispham, after mistaking the then newly-built Blackpool Tower for a lighthouse.

The crew of 17, as well as the ship’s dog, were rescued by a lifeboat crew, eventually making it safely back to shore after the lifeboat was grounded on a sandbank.