Contributing Monkie Sarah Backhouse
Published on March 25, 2008
Okay, so worms don’t make cute T-shirts or catchy slogans. “Save the worm” is about as appealing as “doing the worm” on a first date. However, the 4 cm long sabellaria alveolata or honeycomb worm as it’s known in the hood, is capable of some pretty impressive reef building. After a 60 year absence, the worms are back in North Wales, and in just two years, they’ve created an incredible lunar-like reef along a 350 m long beach in Llanddulas, situated between Old Colwyn and Abergele, Conwy.
“Many areas of honeycomb reef have been lost from our shores, possibly due to pollution, coastal engineering work or even bait digging” said the Countryside Council for Wales’ intertidal team leader, Gabe Wyn. “But the reef worm’s return to Llanddulas means that the conditions here must be just right for it and is an encouraging sign about the health of the environment along this part of the Welsh coast.”
These tiny reef building worms “construct tubes in tightly packed masses with a distinctive honeycomb appearance.” Although the worms usually have a life expectancy of 3-5 years, the reefs they build last much longer because of new larvae which settle into the existing colonies. The reefs “provide some stability for a rich mix of other species including anemones, barnacles, limpets, winkles, whelks, mussels and crabs. They are also good nursery areas for fish.”
The return of the Welsh reef worm is encouraging news for environmentalists who have been calling for a UK Marine Act to protect Welsh species and habitats. “The occurrence of honeycomb worm reefs, and the animals they support, was a major factor that led the Menai Strait to be identified as a hotspot for biodiversity in a WWF report last year,” said Dr Lyndsey Dodds, WWF Cymru’s marine officer. “It is exciting to learn that this rare and important habitat-forming species is returning to other areas in Wales.”
Exciting news indeed. “Save the worm, save the world”. Now that’s kinda catchy.