Thursday, February 15, 2007

Lochs studies reveal pink reefs

Colourful tube worms are found beneath the sea lochs Life on brightly coloured reefs that lie beneath two Scottish sea lochs have been catalogued for the first time by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). Surveys of Loch Creran in Argyll and Bute and Loch Maddy in North Uist found they support dozens of habitats and hundreds of species. It includes red, pink and orange reefs created by pencil-sized serpulid worms. SNH said information and images gathered support the lochs' being classed as internationally important. In Loch Creran, serpulid worms were found occupying an area around the edge of the loch covering the equivalent of 100 football fields. It was also revealed to have large pillow-like sponge colonies. SNH also said dense beds of horse mussel, sometimes called Clabbies or Clabbie Dubhs from the Gaelic Clab-Dubh meaning large black mouth, were found to be more widely distributed than previously thought. Even the featureless sandy and muddy sea beds often hide a wealth of wildlife burrowing away just under the surface SNH's Graham SaundersLoch life in pictures In Loch Maddy, divers and shore surveyors recorded 59 different habitat types supporting more than 800 species, such as the rare northern sea fan and jewel anemone. Graham Saunders, SNH senior environmental audit officer and project manager for both surveys, said the lochs were "breath-taking examples" of Scotland's marine environment. He said: "Very few underwater experiences can rival drifting over the brightly-coloured tubeworm reefs which look like a vast flower garden, or glimpsing the sheer numbers of animals and plants packed into every nook and cranny of a shallow Loch Maddy kelp forest. "Even the featureless sandy and muddy sea beds often hide a wealth of wildlife burrowing away just under the surface." Conservation value He added: "On the whole we have found the lochs to be in good condition although there is some worrying evidence of past damage by fishing gear and some areas have shown declines in the abundance of particular species." The surveys were carried out with Heriot-Watt University, as part of SNH's Site Condition Monitoring (SCM) programme, which monitors the status of the species and habitats protected for their conservation value. Loch Maddy and Loch Creran are designated at a European level as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC). The results will provide a guide to assess their condition in the future. BBC News online

No comments: