This underwater haven was actually named after the tope shark, which uses this area as an important pupping ground. Tope, a slender species of shark, is on the Vulnerable list and can grow up to two meters long and reach an age of 55 years. The key feature of this site, which is 3km2, is the discrete group of rock outcrops and boulders that support a rich biological community. These create a habitat for sponges and corals that would otherwise not exist in the area. Over 15 species of sponge have been recorded, with many more yet to be identified. Corals, such as dead man’s fingers, and white striped anemones are also common. Utopia was recognised as needing protection on the grounds that it hosts one of only two regional examples of fragile sponge, coral and anemone communities.
At risk The seabed surrounding this area is made up of deep deposits of sand and gravel. Utopia is close to an aggregate extraction area, where the sand and gravel is dredged or taken up from the sea bed, for use in the construction industry. This causes damage not only to the sea bed itself, but also impacts the animals which live in the sand - as well as those that feed off them.
MPA TypeMarine Conservation Zone
Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) are designated under UK legislation (Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009) and have been established around England, Wales and Northern Ireland to contribute to the UK MPA network protect a range of nationally important marine wildlife, habitats, geology and geomorphology, and can be designated anywhere in English and Welsh territorial and UK offshore waters.
Surface Area2.71 km2 (1.05 mi.2)
Perimeter7.98 km (4.96 mi.)
Sandy seascapes that can seem a bit like deserts, but can be full of life. Flat fish and sand eels camouflaged on the surface of the sand,worms and bivalves (with their paired, hinged shells) all live in places like these.
Subtidal coarse sediment
Undersea beds of coarse sand, gravel and shingle. Most of the animals that live here, like bristleworms, sand mason worms, small shrimp-like animals, burrowing anemones, carpet shell clams and venus cockles, are found buried in the seabed – the safest pl
Subtidal mixed sediments
Undersea beds of a mixture of stones, gravels, sands and muds. Because mixed seabeds are so varied, they may support a wide range of animals, both on and in the sediment.
High energy circalittoral rock
Rocky areas affected by strong waves or currents where the water depth means there is not enough sunlight so marine animal communities like sponges, sea firs and soft corals dominate and seaweeds are mostly absent.
Fragile sponge & anthozoan communities on subtidal rocky habitats
Anthozoans are a group of soft animals with feathery tentacles, which includes soft corals, sea-fans, cup corals and anemones. Members of this group can be found together with branching sponges on steeply sloping bedrock or large boulders in depths from
Volunteer Seasearch divers completed surveys and a report recommending this area was designated in 2014. The report focused on the types of habitat found here. It is a challenging site to dive given the generally poor visibility in the East Solent, but the site itself, with rocky reef outcrops rising up to 2m above the surrounding seabed of coarse sediment, is its own reward. The reefs support a rich turf of sponges and anemones, providing an unusual habitat in this area. The site is used as a nursery for the tope shark species which gives the site its name.Learn more about Seasearch
Did you know?…
Over 500,000 records on undersea habitats and species have been collected by volunteer Seasearch divers providing significant evidence for inshore ‘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
To the shelf limits, Scotland has 61% of UK waters, of which 23% are now in existing or new ‘marine protected areas’