A series of reports on marine surveys carried out round the coast of Scotland have been published by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
The surveys were set up to find out more about Scotland’s marine wildlife and habitats, as part of the work led by Marine Scotland to develop a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The results will also help inform future decisions about marine renewable energy development.
A range of techniques were used to explore areas in the Firth of Clyde, Loch Sween and around Loch Linnhe and Orkney. These included remote video footage, sampling the seabed and diving. SNH worked closely with other organisations including Marine Scotland, who funded a number of the surveys, the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) and Heriot-Watt University, to carry out the survey work.
The surveys pinpointed the distribution, extent, quality and health of a number of important marine wildlife and habitats, such as maerl and horse mussel beds, and northern sea fan and deep sponge communities.
The biggest and best known example of an unusual habitat in the UK was found in Loch Sween, where large, impressive mounds of mud up to a metre high cover the seabed. Formed by a marine animal known as the mud volcano worm, the mounds cover about 660 hectares. The beds of maerl, a hard coral-like seaweed, found in the tidal narrows of Loch Sween, were among the richest examples of the habitat in Scotland.
Around the south of Arran ocean quahog clams, amongst the longest-lived animals on earth, were widely recorded and were abundant at one site. In parts of the Loch Linnhe area, rich beds of sea pens were found carpeting the sea floor.
Burrowed mud supporting a rich megafaunal component was found to be extensively distributed in deeper water around the south of Arran. An inshore band of coarse sediments around the more exposed Arran coastline included the widespread presence of dead maerl and coarse sand with burrowing sea cucumbers, with patches of fairly sparse living maerl also encountered at three sites.
Thirty-three sites around the coast of Scotland are being considered as possible MPAs by Ministers, following a Scottish Government consultation earlier this year. Further work is underway on another four areas which may go forward as MPAs. The surveys are part of an extensive programme of marine research led by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Marine Scotland to help Government and others plan for the sustainable management of the sea.
Copies of the SNH commissioned reports 501, 621 and 631 are available on the SNH website at http://www.snh.gov.uk/publications-data-and-research/publications/new/