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Survey of Seas under way

14/08/2011

A collaboration of organisations, headed by Marine Scotland, is taking forward a series of marine surveys to gather information on the biodiversity of Scotland's seas.

Eight surveys during 2011 are taking in a diverse range of locations around Scotland's coasts, covering some 2,200 square miles - equivalent to an area 1.25 times the size of the Cairngorms National Park.

The surveys involve a range of techniques, including acoustic multi-beam survey to create a 3D image of the seabed, underwater videoing and photography, and sea bed sediment sampling. Vessels from Marine Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Northern Lighthouse Board are all involved.

The information gathered will build on existing knowledge and help inform plans for the creation of Marine Protected Areas, provide additional information on fish stocks, and inform plans for renewables and other marine developments. The results will also be used to develop better maps of the seabed and improve our understanding of the species and habitats associated with our seas.

Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, said:

"Scotland's seas provide rich marine habitats and a stunning array of biodiversity. Our waters are home to some of the world's most precious wildlife, including internationally important species, therefore it's critical that we further our knowledge as much as we can.

"This ambitious survey programme covers a substantial proportion of Scotland's seas, including areas to the west, north and east of the country. The results will improve our knowledge as we seek to strike the right balance between marine conservation and economic development.

"I would like to thank all of the organisations involved for collaborating together to carry out this ambitious body of work. In particular, the collaborations with the Northern Lighthouse Board and SEPA have provided improved co-ordination of survey vessels, which is critical to the success of the project."

Sandy Downie, Marine Ecology Manager at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, said:

"We are pleased that SEPA can help Marine Scotland carry out this work. Scotland's seas are an important asset and working closely together to make best use of existing Scottish survey vessels is essential to ensure best use of capabilities to understand and manage our seas."

Roger Lockwood, Chief Executive of the Northern Lighthouse Board, said:

"The Northern Lighthouse Board is committed to the safety of mariners and our marine environment. We are delighted to be able to work with such a knowledgeable team and to utilise the survey capacity of our ships in support of Marine Scotland's aim to acquire a greater understanding of Scotland's seas."

The surveys are being undertaken by Marine Scotland in collaboration with Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Northern Lighthouse Board, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, the British Geological Survey (NERC) and science institutions.

Following on from work undertaken in 2010, this year's survey locations cover:

  • An area in the north east of Scotland between the Moray Firth and Aberdeen
  • An area in the outer Firth of Forth in the south east of Scotland
  • The Minches in the north west of Scotland
  • Loch Linnhe and Loch Etive (north of Oban)
  • Parts of the waters around Orkney (Copinsay, Shapinsay, Wyre Sound)
  • An area in offshore waters, to the north of the Western Isles
  • Noss Head, near Wick, Caithness
  • The Sound of Canna, just south west of Skye (completed in June)

The locations included in the survey programme have been recommended by SNH and JNCC, based on reviews of existing data and data gaps. If the survey results identify or confirm locations of biodiversity value these will be combined with existing data on Scotland's marine environment, and the results of recent surveys, to help identify the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) proposals in Scottish waters for inclusion in the MPA network. The results will also be available for marine planning and environmental assessment of proposed developments.

The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and the Marine & Coastal Access Act 2009 created new powers for Scottish Ministers to designate MPAs and a legal duty to develop a MPA network to protect biodiversity and geodiversity.