Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Northern Ireland's very own Jurassic Coast

Public invited to fossil hunt in Larne
Public invited to fossil hunt in Larne

At first glance it looks like just a bleak, surf-battered stretch of flat rocks – but it is Northern Ireland's own Jurassic Coast.

For geologists, Waterloo Bay in Larne is one of the most important places in the world when it comes to fossil-hunting.

The rocks are home to tiny marine fossils dating back to 200 million years ago, ranging from the familiar ammonite to a prehistoric oyster known as devil's toenails and even huge marine reptiles.

Scientists have even found an ichthyosaur, a marine reptile which resembles a huge predatory dolphin, and remains of plesiosaurs, another marine reptile with a long mobile neck and four huge flippers.

The fossil-rich rocks are probably one of Larne's best-kept secrets for non-scientists, but tomorrow morning the public are invited to come fossil-hunting along the coast.

Geologist Kirstin Lemon, who is leading the hunt, said: "When these rocks formed 200 million years ago Ireland was down where the Sahara is now, so it was really hot and was covered by a shallow sea, which provided perfect conditions for a lot of sea creatures to fossilise," she said. "You will find other places along the Antrim Coast Road where you can find fossils, but all the rocks are covered.

"Here, you will find white rocks and black rocks but the layers are exposed with the tide.

"You can literally just lift them off the rocks."

Curator of Palaeontology at National Museums Northern Ireland Mike Simms said: "The strata at Waterloo Bay are important within Northern Ireland as being the best place anywhere to see a series of rock layers that span a period of time from around 205 million years ago, near the end of the Triassic Period, to about 195 million years ago, in the early Jurassic Period."

The ichthyosaur skeleton that was found in 1999 is now on display in the Ulster Museum.

Tomorrow's dinosaur hunt is free and runs from 10am to 11.30am – for full details visit www.ccght.org.

FACTFILE

What you can find in Larne:

* Ichthyosaurs were marine reptiles that ranged in size from 4.5-9m long with sharp teeth and big eyes.

* Plesiosaurs (right) were the largest marine predators in the fossil record, with even the smallest species around 2m (6.5 ft) long

* Ammonites are one of the most common

fossils and are related to the octopus and squid

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