Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sea surveys to be used in proposals for Marine Protected Areas

Marine life off the west coast of Scotland is being surveyed to help scientists learn more about Scotland's waters. The exploration of the Firth of Clyde and Loch Sween, near Lochgilphead in Argyll, will also be used to help the Scottish Government manage the seas sustainably. It is part of a research programme led by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Marine Scotland.

The Firth of Clyde survey focuses on Loch Goil and the seabed south of Arran, and will last for about two weeks. It builds on work from last year, which recorded around 250 marine plants and animals in the Firth, including a 50-hectare area of brightly coloured flame shells in upper Loch Fyne.

This work is being carried out by staff from SNH and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. Loch Sween is being surveyed by SNH staff and researchers from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, who will also explore the Sound of Jura around the Isle of Danna and McCormaig Isles. The work there is expected to last two months.

Both teams aim to use their findings to update scientific knowledge of key habitats. They will record undersea on video and will take samples from the sea bed for analysis, in order to map habitats of conservation interest.

SNH said both areas were suggested to the Scottish Parliament in December last year to be included in the proposals to create Marine Protected Areas (MPA). Government ministers are considering which of the sites will be subject to formal consultation this summer.

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: "I'm sure many people will be looking forward to finding out more of the secrets of Scotland's seas through surveys of our seabeds. Surveys add to the existing knowledge we have of Scotland's seas, as well as enriching our understanding of our marine heritage. Last year a survey uncovered charismatic flame shell beds in Loch Alsh."

Ben James, MPA project manager at SNH, said: "Parts of the Firth of Clyde and Loch Sween are really special for their marine wildlife. As we move towards the consultation on the MPA proposals, it is essential that we have a good understanding of the distribution of the important marine wildlife in these areas to help with discussions on possible management.

"For example, we need to know more about the distribution of ocean quahog clams around South Arran. These are amongst the longest-lived animals on earth.

"We also need to find out if the Loch Goil sea squirt, a rare species in the UK, found only in this sea loch in Scotland, is actually still around. It hasn't been seen since it was first recorded in 1989."

Source: stv Glasgow

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