A TOXIC sea worm has been discovered off the Essex coast by researchers.

The team of scientists at the University of Southampton, Bangor University and the National Oceanography Centre discovered artificially introduced species in the coastal waters of southern England.

Among the species identified during the study was Cephalothrix simula, a worm, originating from the North West Pacific Ocean.

It contains neurotoxins which are potentially fatal if they enter the human body.

In total the team identified 18 non-indigenous species across the four sampled marinas – in Southampton Water, Anglesey, The Bristol Channel and the River Blackwater.

The River Blackwater runs from the Blackwater Estuary at Mersea to Bocking.

Researchers also found the Asian date mussel and another type of worm known as Paranais frici.

The researchers, led by Luke Holman, a PhD student at the University of Southampton, collected water and sediment and analysed the DNA of each sample.

Organisms leave traces of their DNA in water systems and the team were able to extract this genetic material, known as environmental DNA (eDNA), and compare it to global DNA databases to identify the presence of species.

Mr Holman said “We are enormously excited about the potential for eDNA in the detection of invasive species.

“This initial work gives us confidence that the technique could be invaluable both for catching invasions early on and also for monitoring the success of eradication efforts.”

There are many ways in which species which are not native to the UK arrive on our shores. They can be carried on ship hulls from one international harbour to another or they can also hitch a lift on live fish stocks and oysters imported for British fish farms.