Attenborough’s Sea Dragon

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Attenborough’s Sea Dragon

Back in January, there was a BBC programme called ‘Attenborough and the Sea Dragon.’ The dragon was actually a variety of ichthyosaur and this variety had come to light during excavations on the cliff side above Monmouth Beach near Lyme Regis and Charmouth.

The limestone cliffs hide the remains of many marine species which lived in the ancient waters which once covered the land. Ammonites are the most common fossil found on the beaches but sometimes there’s something truly rare and spectacular. In 2016, that something “truly rare and spectacular” was the ichthyosaur.

Up until that excavation the ichthyosaur had been buried in that cliff and the discovery excited interest around in the world when the news broke.

Lyme Regis, Charmouth and the Jurassic coastline in Dorset has attracted visitors and prehistoric creature hunters for centuries. So important is it globally that the area is the first natural UNESCO World Heritage Site designated in the UK and one of the most important geological sites in the world.

Over the Easter holidays a trip to the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre which is free to enter will enable you to see Attenborough’s Sea Dragon. The heritage centre was set up in 1985 to encourage the safe and sustainable collecting of fossils from the local beaches. It has fossil displays as well as information on how and where to find them on the beach. The centre hosts regular guided fossil hunting walks and helps thousands of visitors discover and take home their own fossils.

Having the sea dragon on display will draw many more visitors because of the importance of the find. Scientists from Southampton and Bristol universities have identified it as a new species of ichthyosaur, never discovered before, and were able to create a CGI image of the creature as if it was alive and swimming in the waters. With bite marks on the skeleton as well as damaged vertebrae and ribs, they deduced that the 4m long headless creature had been attacked and killed by a much larger reptile.

Those visiting the Jurassic Coast and the centre should also pop into The Forge Fossils, a shop and fossil preparation workshop which will improve the local knowledge you need to find the fossils.

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