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Seas south of Oban reveal some ‘jewels’

 

Divers report rise in marine species following scallop dredging ban

 

Divers have discovered that colourful reef life in the Firth of Lorn, south of Oban, may be recovering following a six-year closure to scallop dredging in the area.

The team of scuba divers from Seasearch, MCS' volunteer dive programme, spent five days surveying sites in the Forth of Lorn Special Area of Conservation.

Seasearch national Coordinator Chris Wood, who was a part of the team says that since the closure to scallop dredging in the Firth of Lorn in March 2007 local divers have reported increases in biodiversity on surrounding reefs: “We were able to compare the current range of life at Jeannie’s Reef near the uninhabited island of Eilean Dubh Mor with video from 2003 when dredging was still taking place nearby.

“Since the ban there have been dramatic increases in two species -  jewel anemones which are now abundant - though small, and northern sea fans, of which there are a large number of small colonies. The sea fans are slow growing colonial corals which can only thrive in undisturbed locations and take many years to reach their full size. Jewel anemones are most often found in clear waters and on offshore reefs. The team also recorded a wide range of other species in increased numbers, including cluster anemones and a variety of sponges.” 

Chris says that as the jewel anemones and sea fans grow in size, this reef will become even more spectacular than it is today.

However, in other sites the divers found things looking a little less positive.

At Conger Reef in The Garvellachs, a chain of four small islands north of Jura, the team found a healthy population of slender sea pens in the sandy sediment next to the reef, but this only extended about five metres from the reef, and beyond that the sediment was much less rich.

Even more worryingly, the divers failed to re-locate a population of the rare burrowing anemone, Arachnanthus sarsi, which was reported from two sites around the island of Eilean Dubh Beag in the 1980s.

Chris Wood says that though mobile species, such as scallops, can re-colonise in undisturbed sediment areas relatively quickly, the long lived static species may take much longer to recover.

“This latest survey by Seasearch has once again helped to demonstrate the value of protecting areas from damaging activities, but such protection needs to be long-term to show the full benefits.”

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on historic proposals for 33 new Marine Protected Areas, ranging from spectacular coral gardens and sponge reefs to sheltered sea lochs with fireworks anemones and two-metre tall sea pens.

MCS hopes everyone will play their part in protecting and recovering Scotland’s fabulous marine life by responding to the consultation at http://www.mcsuk.org/mpa/scotland/consultation.

 

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