Scylla Science

An Underwater Laboratory

Scylla is unique amongst artificial reefs in that the project includes a 10-year monitoring programme.

The presence of the James Eagan Layne in the vicinity also means that there is a valuable baseline against which to compare the data collected from Scylla. The research carried out by the National Marine Aquarium and its partners within the Plymouth Marine Sciences Partnership will give a valuable insight into the processes that occur when a new habitat is created in the marine environment.

What is being monitored?

  1. Effects of residual anti-fouling treatment on the vessel
  2. Monitoring of the settlement of marine life on the reef
  3. Changes in the make-up of the seabed around the reef

The data collected will give valuable insights into understanding the process of colonisation, succession and seabed dynamics.

The results can then be used to predict the environmental impacts of artificial structures such as offshore wind turbines and wave power devices.

Results so far:

The surfaces of the reef were covered very quickly with marine plants and encrusting animals.

After one year, around 50 species had been identified on or around Scylla.

There were a number of ‘waves’ of colonisation – in autumn 2004 there was a large settlement of Queen Scallops. This was quickly followed by a ‘plague’ of starfish that consumed all the scallops then died out themselves.

The colonisation has stabilised since 2006 with a community that now looks very similar to the James Eagan Layne nearby.

Colonies of Pink Sea Fans Eunicella verricosa are beginning to establish in various locations around the reef.

The anti-fouling treatment, containing tributyl-tin (TBT), which was thought to have a shelf life of 5 years, is still effective and, at present, still keeps parts of the reef free of colonisation. Scylla was last treated in 1992.

The majority of the colonisation research has been carried out by Dr Keith Hiscock of the Marine Life Information Network (MarLIN). A good account of the studies can be found at

Edge of a survey quadrat on the side of Scylla Reef after 18 months showing colonisation of metal.

After less than 2 years over 80% of the available surface area had been colonised.

Anemones and other invertebrates were amongst the first animals to establish on the reef.