250 million flame shells discovered at the bottom of a Scottish loch.
Divers have discovered the world’s largest known colony of flame shells in Loch Carron in the Highlands.
The small bivalve molluscs with fiery orange tentacles spend most of their lives hidden away inside nests. Now ministers must consider making emergency measures to protect them permanent.
In 2012, 100,000,000 of the molluscs were discovered in Loch Alsh and up until now that was thought to be the biggest colony of these highly sensitive creatures ever identified.
Dr Dan Harries, of Heriot-Watt University’s Institute of Life & Earth Sciences, who led the diving fieldwork, said: “This is another fantastic discovery. We really didn’t think we’d find a bed that could top the 100,000,000 find in Loch Alsh.”
A huge 185-hectare bed in the Loch Carron Marine Protected Area (MPA) has been formed by the flame shell nests, which have merged together.
The discovery was made by a Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Marine Scotland and Heriot-Watt University survey to learn more about creatures living in Loch Carron. Mike Cantlay, SNH’s chairman, said “Scotland’s seas clearly still have many secrets left to tell. This is a remarkable discovery and I think we should be proud that our rich waters are so important to flame shells, and as our marine research and survey work continues to reveal, many other wonderful species too.”
The Loch Carron MPA was designated on an urgent basis in April 2017 after a scallop dredger passed over the reef area twice causing extensive damage. The MPA lasts for a maximum of two years, but there are plans to give Loch Carron the status permanently.
When announcing the designation, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham launched a wider review of vulnerable habitats to identify where else management is needed to prevent further damage or loss.
Ms Cunningham said: “This is a fantastic discovery which shows that the new MPA is making an even more valuable contribution to safeguarding these waters than we first thought.
“I am determined to protect Scotland’s rich marine environment as this example shows the importance of considering how our seas are conserved beyond the MPA network.
“We are continuing to work with SNH to review the most vulnerable priority marine features in our coastal waters.”
Flame shell beds support a diverse community of other species, meaning protection of this habitat-building species conserves hundreds of other species and promotes local biodiversity.
However, they are extremely sensitive to physical disturbance, such as dredging.
Substantial and persistent declines have been observed, raising widespread concern about the conservation of this species and habitat it creates.
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An area over 9 times the size of Wales is now in marine protected areas in the UK, but less than 1% is considered by MCS scientists to be well managed
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