Have you ever stood on the shoreline, with waves lapping back and forth and allowed your mind to dive down into the mysterious world that lies beneath the waves? What creatures prowl the depth in search of their next meal? Dolphins, Sharks, Giant squid? What if I tell you that this mystery can be solved with nothing more than a cup full on seawater? This isn’t a story of science fiction, this is real-world cutting edge science that’s opening more doors than we knew existed; and the key is DNA.

To be more specific, environmental DNA (eDNA). eDNA acts like a finger print telling us what calls a particular part of the ocean home. Scientists are able to look for endangered species that we would never usually hope of seeing. This is helping to conserve some of the most vulnerable species on earth so our children and grandchildren will also be able to swim amongst some of the most incredible animals on earth.

One species currently under threat is Pinna nobilis, more commonly known as The Noble Pen Shell. At 1.2 meters (max height) tall, this giant mussel is a crucial cog in the network of animals that filter water, creating the iconic crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean. However, the threats to the Noble Pen Shell are numerous. The Seagrass meadows it calls home are ever reducing whilst the illegal fishing has caused its population numbers to plummet.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just its uses in traditional recipes that encourages fishermen to hunt this endangered animal. The thin – but incredibly strong fibres – known as “sea silk” have been coveted for use in fine clothing since the time of the ancient Greeks. The Noble Pen Shell uses these fibres to anchor itself to the seabed. Meanwhile, its enormous shell is often used to decorate homes and restaurants.

With its population in such steep decline, scientists and researchers from around the world are working together with Archipelagos – here in Greece – to understand how eDNA moves in seawater whilst also looking at what damage has been done to the Noble Pen Shell around the island of Lipsi.

Benjamin Tatton
3rd Year Student of Biological Science
The University of The West of England