The proposal to make Loch Carron in Wester Ross a permanent nature conservation Marine Protected Area will create a valuable contribution to Scotland’s MPA network.
In 2017, Loch Carron was designated an emergency MPA after local community members reported trawl fishing activity in an area known for its flame shell beds – a habitat identified by Marine Scotland as a Priority Marine Feature (PMF).
Local divers provided video footage of the seafloor in the affected area, which showed significant damage to flame shell beds and prompted the urgent response from Marine Scotland.
Subsequent dive survey work by Scottish Natural Heritage, Heriot-Watt University, and Marine Scotland Science confirmed the damage caused by the trawl fishing activity. They also discovered what is now recognised as the largest flame shell bed in the world, containing over 250 million flame shells.
The dive surveys also discovered a number of maerl beds within the area. Mearl is another priority feature that is recognised as a key feature in other MPAs, such as the Wester Ross MPA.
Both flame shell beds and maerl beds provide important nursery grounds for a number of fish and invertebrates, including commercially important species such as scallops and cod, and their protection is essential for maintaining and enhancing the health of the marine ecosystem.
These habitats are also important ‘blue carbon’ habitats that draw carbon out of the sea water and fix it in their shells and coralline structures for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
The actions of local people and the swift response by Marine Scotland to the damage at Loch Carron highlight the importance of acting on the most up-to-date information and applying an adaptive, ecosystem approach to marine conservation.
The current consultation on the proposed Loch Carron MPA boundaries and management orders provides an important opportunity for all stakeholders to contribute to the MPA process and help ensure Scotland’s seas are adequately protected. We wholeheartedly support the proposal to make the MPA a permanent designation, given the area’s outstanding value for wildlife and carbon storage.
If you support the creation of the new MPA you can add your comments to the consultation by 13 June 2018.
Dr Sam Collin
Marine Planning Officer