Sea surveys could lead to more protected areas

DISCOVERING what lies beneath the waters around the Western Isles could lead to more protected areas, writes Michelle Robson.

The Scottish Government announced last week that they were taking forward plans for eight marine surveys during 2011 which would help inform plans for the creation of Marine Protected Areas, provide details of fish stocks and also suitability for renewables and other marine developments.

A survey to the north of the Western Isles will take place in the second half of September and another in the North Minch in the second half of October with results to be revealed early in 2012.

The surveys are being undertaken by a collaboration of organisations, headed by Marine Scotland to gather information on the biodiversity of Scotland’s seas.

The studies will involve a range of techniques, including acoustic multi-beam survey to create a 3D image of the seabed, underwater videoing and photography and sea bed sediment sampling. Vessels from Marine Scotland, SEPA and the Northern Lighthouse Board are all involved.

The results will be used to develop better maps of the seabed and improve our understanding of the species and habitats associated with the seas.Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment said the results would help them to strike the balance between marine conservation and economic development.

He said: “Scotland’s seas provide rich marine habitats and a stunning array of biodiversity.

“Our waters are home to some of the world’s most precious wildlife, including internationally important species, therefore it’s critical that we further our knowledge as much as we can.

“This ambitious survey programme covers a substantial proportion of Scotland’s seas, including areas to the west, north and east of the country.

“The results will improve our knowledge as we seek to strike the right balance between marine conservation and economic development.”

Mr Lochhead added: “I would like to thank all of the organisations involved for collaborating together to carry out this ambitious body of work.

“In particular, the collaborations with the Northern Lighthouse Board and SEPA have provided improved co-ordination of survey vessels, which is critical to the success of the project.”