Horse mussel. (Photo: Sue Scott, scotland.gov.uk)
Marine surveys find rare species in Scottish waters
Tuesday, January 03, 2012, 00:40 (GMT + 9)
A set of 15 marine surveys conducted in 2011 across 2,000 sqmi have uncovered rare species in Scotland's seas, the Scottish Government has announced.
Off the west coast, the surveys found very rare fan mussels, Scotland's largest sea shell. Around the Small Isles more than 100 specimens were discovered, representing the largest aggregation in UK waters.
In the waters off Tankerness in Orkney, the prehistoric “faceless and brainless fish” Amphioxus was observed. This elusive species is seen as a modern representative of the first animals that evolved a backbone.
The largest horse mussel bed in Scotland was uncovered in waters near Noss Head, Caithness. Horse mussels stabilise mobile seabeds and provide a critical ecosystem for other species and can live to nearly 50 years old.
Other finds included flame shell beds in Loch Linnhe, Argyll, a species only found in a very few west coast locations with bright orange feeding tentacles. New communities of Northern Feather Star were revealed off the Sound of Canna; this is a brightly coloured species with 10 feather-like arms fanning out from a central disc.
"In an age where the lands of the world have been mapped out and recorded, it's amazing how many discoveries are waiting to be found under the waves,” Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said.
"The waters around Scotland are rich in such fascinating biodiversity and it's our responsibility to protect this fragile environment. That's why we have ramped up our marine survey work, with plans being prepared for new surveys in 2012 to further our knowledge of what lies beneath Scotland's seas," he continued.
The survey employed the latest technology, with acoustic multi-beam scanners used to create 3D images of the seabed. As a result, first-ever marine maps of many new areas were created, including waters around Rockall, to the west of the Outer Hebrides, around the Isle of Canna and within Sinclair Bay in Caithness.
"Scotland's seas really are a fantastic asset,” Susan Davies, director of policy and advice with Scottish Natural Heritage, added. “The findings from these surveys will help us to manage them sustainably and ensure future generations can also enjoy the benefits of a healthy and diverse marine environment."
The survey methods used acoustic multi-beam scanning to create a 3D image of the seabed, underwater videoing and photography and sea bed sediment sampling. Marine Scotland coordinated the work along with Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Northern Lighthouse Board, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, British Geological Survey (NERC) and Scotland's science institutions.
By Natalia Real