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Centre for

Marine Biodiversity and Biotechnology

From the shoreline to the deep ocean, tackling issues from pure ecology
and physiology to aquaculture, marine spatial planning and conservation.

The distribution and condition of Priority Marine Features in NE Scotland and Orkney

Priority Marine Features

The UK conservation agencies responsible for Scotland have generated a focused list of habitats and species of importance in Scottish waters - the Priority Marine Features (PMFs). These PMFs may require some form of management within the context of Marine Spatial Planning, and in some cases Marine Protected Areas may be relevant. Provisions to designate new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) within Scottish waters have recently been introduced through the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. A subset of the PMFs (MPA search features) are, at present, driving the identification of Nature Conservation MPAs in Scotland.

In this contracted research project, three areas in the NE of Scotland and the Islands of Orkney, were surveyed by Heriot-Watt University's CMBB, because there was reason to believe that PMFs would be present. The first of these areas was located just off the coast of Noss Head near Sinclair's Bay. The second was located within the outer area of the Moray Firth known as the Southern Trench and the third was a stretch of water spanning the coastline north and south of the Main Island of Orkney.

The primary purpose of these studies was to investigate the presence and condition of the PMFs: horse mussel beds, (Modiolus modiolus), calcareous seaweed communities called maerl and 'shelf deep' habitats. In each area, the presence of these PMFs was identified and a watching brief for other potential species of interest, such as ocean quahog or fan shells, was maintained.

The results of this project are being worked up at present but early analyses indicate the discovery of one of the richest horse mussel beds in the UK, as well as discovering one of the most extensive beds. We have also surveyed one of the most extensive areas of maerl known in the UK and discovered a nationally scarce specimen of the fan shell, Atrina fragilis.