EXPLORATION of three sea lochs on the west coast of Scotland has begun to find out more about some of the country’s most important marine wildlife.
A team from the British Geological Survey (BGS) is being funded by Marine Scotland to survey Lochs Duich, Long and Alsh, using cutting-edge survey techniques to create a 3D image of the seabed.
A survey of the area in 2012 discovered what is thought to be the largest flame shell bed in the world, with an estimated 100 million of the brightly coloured shellfish covering an area of 75 hectares.
It also confirmed that forests of tall seapens and large numbers of flamboyant fireworks anemones are still found in the soft burrowed mud that carpets the main basin of Loch Duich.
The information gathered during the current survey will be used to map these habitats, along with others of conservation interest.
The area has been identified as one of 33 proposed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) put forward to the Scottish Parliament in December 2012.
Scottish Ministers are currently considering which of the proposed sites will be formally consulted on this summer.
The survey is one of a series being carried out around the Scottish coast this year.
It is 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 seas.
Laura Clark, SNH’s project manager for the survey, explained: “Over the next two months the team from the British Geological Survey will cover a large area with their coastal survey boat the RV White Ribbon. They’ll process the data collected to produce 3D images of the seabed. From these we will be able to draw up detailed habitat maps of the seabed.”
Rhys Cooper, BGS’s project manager for the survey, added: “This is a great opportunity to contribute our marine survey expertise to the Scottish MPA Project. We are looking forward to working in such a beautiful area.”
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.”
Calum Duncan, Marine Conservation Society Scotland Programme Manager, added: “We are pleased that this important survey work is being carried out. From our own Seasearch surveys we were aware of the thickets of fireworks anemones, supporting our original third-party proposal for Lochs Duich, Long and Alsh to be considered as a Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area.
“Tall sea pens and possibly the largest flame shell bed in the world, equally worthy of protection, are also known from this spectacular sea loch system, and we look forward with interest to the results from this latest survey.”
The survey will be completed by the end of April.