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Rare mussels found near Rum / MPA for the Sound of Canna? - December 2011


"Rare mussels found during marine surveys" by Lewis Smith - - 30/12/2011Fan Mussel (c)

The largest living collection of rare fan mussels in British waters has been discovered around Scotland’s Small Isles. More than 100 of the mussels, a species that fishermen used to believe fed on the bodies of drowned sailors, were located during a series of surveys of Scottish waters over the last year. Mussel fans were one of several rare species to be uncovered in waters where they were either unknown or hardly ever seen. They are the largest shellfish in British waters – growing up to 48cm long – and are among the rarest and most threatened.

Sailors once believed them to eat the bodies of the drowned because they have thin, silk-like threads that look like golden human hairs. The threads allow the mussels to hold on to the sea bed by clinging on to objects as small as a grain of sand. In previous centuries the threads were prized for use in gloves – Henry VIII was reputed to have worn a pair. The mussels, which get their name from being fan-shaped, protrude from the surface of the sea bed and they are especially vulnerable to destruction from scallop dredging. Numbers have also fallen because in previous years they were a popular souvenir among divers. Scotland’s largest horse mussel bed was pinpointed near Noss Head, Caithness, during the 15 surveys this year that covered 2,000 square kilometres of the sea.

Horse mussels are regarded as a vital component of the marine ecosystem because they stabilise the sea bed which allows other creatures to colonise an area. They can live up to 50 years but are also vulnerable to bottom trawling – in Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland horse mussel beds were virtually wiped out by scallop dredging. Other unusual species found include Amphioxus, a small eel-like and faceless fish which has virtually no brain and is regarded as a living copy of some of the first animals which evolved backbones. It was found off Tankerness in Orkney.

Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s environment secretary, welcomed the knowledge brought by the surveys and is planning for more to take place in 2012 to help build up an accurate picture of the marine habitat. He said: "In an age where the lands of the world have been mapped out and recorded, it's amazing how many discoveries are waiting to be found under the waves. "The waters around Scotland are rich in such fascinating biodiversity and it's our responsibility to protect this fragile environment.” Susan Davies, director of policy and advice with Scottish Natural Heritage, added: "Scotland's seas really are a fantastic asset. The findings from these surveys will help us to manage them sustainably and ensure future generations can also enjoy the benefits of a healthy and diverse marine environment."

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MPA for the Sound of Canna? - October 2011

IRCT Newsletter October 2012Northern Feather Star (c)

On the 28th of September, Richard Luxmoore a Senior Nature Conservation Advisor for the National Trust for Scotland held an open meeting on Rum to discuss a proposal of a Marine Protected Area in the Sound of Canna.

Research surveys in the sound in 2010 and 2011 carried out by Marine Scotland, to identify the locations of priority marine features, have shown that there are a large number of species that have become extremely rare elsewhere in Scotland concentrated in a very small area. These include the spectacular Fan Mussels, which can grow up to 43cm long, and that have previously only been found in groups of 1 or 2. Here in the Sound of Canna, there is a bed of several hundred. They are extremely vulnerable to damage from trawl nets and dredges, a single pass potentially causing damage that could take 50-100 years to recover. Other priority species include the Northern Feather Star and Burrowing Anemones. The Scottish Government are currently searching for sites containing such priority species that would qualify as Marine Protected Areas under the new Marine (Scotland) Act. It is highly likely that the Sound of Canna will fulfil the criteria and be officially proposed during 2012.

A Marine Protected Area is not necessarily a No Take Zone and, rather than stop all fishing altogether, it could allow sustainable techniques, such as line fishing and creeling, while prohibiting more damaging techniques such as the use of scallop dredges and trawl nets. This would allow the species and habitats to regenerate and improve.

The Marine Act also makes provision for local communities to propose sites for Marine Protected Areas. If the Rum, Canna and Small Isles communities were to make such a proposal, it would improve the chances of it becoming a reality.

Click here to see fan mussel information on the SNH website

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SNH biologists search for sea species off Canna - June 2011 - 22/06/2011Burrowing Anemone (c) R Luxmoore

Exploration of the seas around the island of Canna is set to continue as marine biologists return to study the largest known fan mussel bed in UK waters. This rare mussel has a shell which measures up to 48 centimetres and, though once common off British coasts, has virtually disappeared from waters above 50 metres. The scientists will try to establish how far north of Canna this bed of fan mussels extends. Marine biologists from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) started work last week (15 June) aboard research vessel Sir John Murray, owned and crewed by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). Drop-down video cameras are being used to capture undersea footage and small samples collected from the seabed in a bid to capture the scientific marvels under the water. And SNH will return to carry out further research around Canna next month (July) to team up with the British Geological Survey (BGS) aboard the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) boat NLV Polestar. The team will collect acoustic multibeam data which will be used to help create detailed maps of the seabed around the island. This year's survey area is larger than in 2010 during which surveyors searched for habitats and species of high conservation importance. That work revealed the presence of marine habitats and species including burrowing sea anemones, northern sea fans, seagrass beds and burrowed mud communities. These feature on Scotland's Priority Marine Features list. Laura Clark, SNH's project manager for the survey, stressed: "This year's survey programme aims to make best use of existing Scottish research capabilities, with much of the work being carried out using partner organisation vessels, such as SEPA's Sir John Murray.

"The findings from all the surveys are helping to improve our knowledge of the fantastic marine biodiversity which lives in Scotland's seas. This will enable us to give the best NLV Polestar (c) www.macduffshipdesign.compossible advice to Ministers and help Scotland fulfil its international commitments to designate a network of MPAs in the seas around Scotland."

And Sandy Downie, SEPA's marine ecology unit manager, said: "We are pleased that SEPA can help SNH carry out this work. Scotland's seas are an important asset and working together is essential to ensure we build a comprehensive understanding of our seas, record environmental change, manage the environment, advocate improvements and inform sound regulation."

The survey is one of a series taking place around Scotland in 2011 as part of the Scottish Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Project, an initiative comprising Marine Scotland, Historic Scotland, SNH and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). SEPA is represented on the steering group. Other collaborative surveys planned for 2011 under the Scottish MPA Project will study the Southern Trench and Noss Head off the north-east coast, areas of the Minch and Lochs Linnhe, Etive, Leven and Eil on the west coast. The Canna surveys are expected to be complete by July and final reports of the findings will be published next spring.

Click here to read about Scottish MPA Project info

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