Scotland’s first snorkel trail has been created in the north west Highlands by the Scottish Wildlife Trust as part of its Living Seas programme, supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
The self-led North West Highlands Snorkel Trail features nine beaches and bays on the coast of Wester Ross and Sutherland, where beginner and advanced snorkellers can dive down to see the impressive variety of Scotland’s marine life.
Highlighted locations include Tanera Mor in the Summer Isles, Camusnagaul and Achmelvich Bay (four are featured at the end of the release). Marine life that can be seen at the locations includes dogfish, barrel jellyfish and sea urchins.
Noel Hawkins, Living Seas Communities Officer, Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “The coast of Wester Ross and Sutherland features some fantastic sheltered headlands and beaches that are great places for snorkelling. The new trail is self-led, but we are hoping to establish a training programme for local people to become qualified snorkel instructors, and also a snorkel club at the local leisure centre to introduce younger members of the community to snorkelling and their local marine environment.
“Scotland needs healthy living seas that can adapt to climate change. The snorkel trail will encourage more people to explore the fragile habitats below the waves and the marine life they support, whilst also helping to raise awareness of the need to protect them.”
Lizzie Bird, Instructor Trainer, British Sub Aqua Club said: “Lots of people might think it’s too cold to snorkel in Scotland but the colours and life under the surface in places like the north west coast are up there with the coral reefs you can find abroad.
“Anyone can snorkel at any age as long as they are confident in the water. They don’t have to be fantastic swimmers and the best thing is it’s a way to look at a world that you rarely see.”
Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs said: “Scotland’s coast boasts some of the UK’s richest spots for marine wildlife, which is why nearly half of the visitors surveyed come to Scotland for our scenery and landscape.
“The snorkel trail is an innovative approach to marine and coastal planning that encourages use of existing infrastructure to help tourism diversification like this.”
The official launch of the snorkel trail is taking place on Saturday 9 July at Ullapool Harbour as part of the Rotary Club of Ullapool’s summer festival.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust is encouraging people to follow safety advice including being aware of tides and the weather forecast, and never snorkelling alone. Snorkellers should also help to protect marine life by not taking, touching or teasing animals, plants or shells.
Four featured locations on the North West Highlands Snorkel Trail
Achmelvich Bay – Stunning sandy beach with rocky outcrops on both sides. A perfect beginner location with plenty of fish, shellfish and kelp beds.
Gruinard Bay – A headland offering great low tide exploration. Seagrass and kelp shelters numerous fish and shellfish, and rare maerl can be seen.
Mellon Charles – a former naval base dating to the Second World War. The sea beneath the old pier is a haven for sea urchins, anemones and wrasse.
Tanera Mor – the steep drop offs either side of the island’s landing platform make for great snorkelling. Kelp and crevasses shelter lobsters and crabs.
Life under the waves – five species to discover along the North West Highland Snorkel Trail
Maerl – an unusual red 'coralline' algae that develops a brittle skeleton over time. It can form extensive beds that are a habitat for young fish and an important carbon store.
Sea urchin – often colourful creatures that cling to the rocks and surfaces around our coast and harbours and can be seen clearly at low tide.
Ballan wrasse – a colourful spotted fish that is commonly found among rocks, kelp forests and reefs and feeds on crabs, limpets, and mussels.
Moon jellyfish – one of the most common species of jellyfish in Scotland’s waters, harmless moon jellyfish can bloom in large numbers in response to changing temperatures.
Common sunstar – a type of starfish found on rocky bottoms and coarse sand. A surprising variety of starfish inhabit Scotland’s seas, including common starfish, sunstars and brittlestars.