Seabed to be explored

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Exploration of the seas off the north-west coast of Scotland will get underway this week (20 September), to find out more about some of Scotland’s most important marine wildlife.

A team from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Marine Scotland Science will survey the seabed in Loch Broom, Little Loch Broom, the area around the Summer Isles and the Shiant East Bank in The Minch. The survey is funded by Marine Scotland.

The North-west sea lochs and Summer Isles has been identified as a possible Marine Protected Area (MPA), along with 32 other sites around the coast of Scotland. Marine Scotland is asking for views on the proposed sites as part of their “Planning for Scotland’s Seas” consultation, which runs until 13 November 2013. The Shiant East Bank may be proposed as an MPA in the future.

Marine Scotland research vessel Alba na Mara will be used to survey the area. The survey team will use a drop-down video camera to record undersea footage and take samples from the seabed for more detailed analysis.

The survey on the Shiant East Bank will focus on the large banks and mounds formed by strong currents in the Minch. The underwater landscape provides a home for a wide variety of wildlife, including northern sea fan and sponge communities which in turn give shelter to other marine life, such as fish.

The seabed around the north-west sea lochs and the Summer Isles is important for its underwater landforms. The survey will find out more about the marine life in some of the glaciated channels, troughs and moraines.

Laura Steel from SNH, who is managing the Minch survey, explained: “We’re keen to discover the extent of northern feather stars in Little Loch Broom and find out if maerl or coarse shell gravel with burrowing sea cucumbers is present, as no recent information is available.

“And we know that large banks and mounds like the Shiant East Bank are often important spawning and nursery areas for fish, vital for the productivity of our seas. The information gathered during the survey will help us decide whether this area will be proposed as an MPA in 2014.”

The survey is part of a series being carried out around the Scottish coast this year. They 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.

A new marine wildlife video can be viewed at www.snh.gov.uk/mpa-consultation.