Cromer Shoals
© Rob Spray

Cromer shoal - Norfolk's Great Barrier Reef

Peter Richardson By: Peter Richardson
Date posted: 23 March 2018

The Cromer Shoal presents a truly breathtaking, iconic underwater landscape.

Known by some as the ‘Great Barrier Reef of Norfolk; the shoal is thought to be Europe’s most extensive chalk reef, stretching more than 30 km along the coast and reaching out up to 10 km into the North Sea. The market town of Cromer sits central to the reef and is known around the world for its iconic Cromer Crab. Edible brown crabs and lobster populations on the reef support a centuries-old beach-launched fishery, with generations of fishing families continuing to form the backbone and character of local, coastal communities.

Cromer Blennys
© Henley Spiers /

But there’s a lot more living under the waves on the reef. Seasearch surveys have revealed more than 120 species of seaweed and plants, more than 350 species of fish and invertebrates. A recently established snorkel trail at Sheringham means the reef is accessible to intrepid swimmers. Strap on a mask, snorkel, a stout pair of fins and you’ll encounter: huge shoals of bib cruising over the verdant seaweed gardens; spot secretive tompot blennies cautiously peering from their holes and see exquisite grazing nudibranchs. You may even come across the recently discovered species of purple encrusting sponge.

The diversity of the reef was fully recognised in 2016 when it was designated as the Cromer Shoal Chalk Bed Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ), which spans from Weybourne to Happisburgh and covers a mighty 321 km2.

Our new ‘Agents of Change’ project has started working closely with local fishermen and other community members to help fully recognise and develop the benefits of the MCZ designation. By balancing the needs of local communities and biodiversity, this iconic submarine landscape can continue to support both people and marine wildlife for generations to come.

This article was written by Peter Richardson, Head of Ocean Recovery (MCS), for our winter 2017 membership magazine ‘Marine Conservation’. If you’d like to receive our fantastic quarterly magazine straight to your door, you can become a member from as little as £3.50 per month.

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Did you know?…

To the shelf limits, Scotland has 61% of UK waters, of which 23% are now in existing or new ‘marine protected areas’

Over 170 parliamentarians from across the political spectrum signed up to our Marine Charter calling for a network of ‘marine protected areas’ in UK Seas