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Marine wildlife survey begins in Scotland’s Ullapool Approaches

02/08/2010 10:22:16

Invaluable information for conservationists

July 2010: Exploration of the seas around Ullapool in Scotland is underway to confirm the presence of some of the country's most important marine wildlife features. A team of marine biologists from Herriot Watt University's School of Life Sciences and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) will be charting the quantity, quality and distribution of habitats and species of greatest conservation importance known as Priority Marine Features (PMFs).

OBSERVATION: Divers and snorkellers will work in
sensitive areas to avoid the potential damage caused
by 'grab' samples from the seabed. Picture: SNH

Scientists are looking to enhance current knowledge of marine wildlife in an area extending from Loch an Alltain Duibh in the north, round Rubha Rèidh in the south and down to the southern edge of Loch Gairloch. This includes the Summer Isles and Loch Broom, Little Loch Broom, Gruinard Bay, Loch Ewe and Loch Gairloch.

Previous surveys have revealed the presence of several PMFs, including the calcareous algae maerl, seagrass beds, native oysters and Iceland cyprines. Other important Scottish marine wildlife features include horse mussels, tall sea pens and flame shell beds.

The survey team will primarily use a drop-down video camera to capture undersea footage. This information will be augmented with a number of "grab" samples from the seabed. The fragility of some habitats, such as flame shell and seagrass beds, means grab sampling could cause lasting damage. Therefore work in these sensitive areas will be complemented by detailed diver and snorkel observations.

The Ullapool Approaches survey is the first of a series taking place in Scotland's seas over the summer under the auspices of the Scottish Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Project, a joint initiative between Marine Scotland, Historic Scotland, SNH and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).

CONSERVATION: Tall sea pens are some of the Priority
Marine Features in Scottish waters. Picture: SNH

Balance between conservation and industry
Other areas being surveyed in 2010 under the Scottish MPA Project include the Sound of Canna and the Clyde Sea, which are thought to be home to numerous PMFs, including fireworks anemone, and beds of blue and horse mussels. Rockall and Fair Isle will also be surveyed.

Colin Trigg, SNH's project manager for the Ullapool survey, said: ‘This survey will contribute significantly towards a greater understanding of the species and habitats deemed important to the vibrant and rich ecosystems found in Scottish waters.'

Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham said: ‘Scotland's seas are home to some of the world's most precious wildlife and stunning marine habitats. This work will help identify the tremendous national underwater assets we have and enable us to get the careful balance between the growth of important new marine industries and our conservation commitments right.'

The field survey work is expected to be complete by the end of August and the final report of the findings will be published next spring.

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