Open Seas: Stories from Scotland’s Seabed (Part 1)

Scotland seas seabed
                   Loch Carron Reef Community © SNH (Flickr)

Scotland’s seas are packed full of amazing life – the basking sharks that migrate to our west coast each summer are the world’s second largest fish, the Bass Rock is the world’s largest gannet colony and the cold water coral gardens on the Hebridean Slope hold some of the oldest living creatures on the planet.

Some of the species that live in our seas are not just important in themselves; just like the redwood forests of the Pacific Northwest or the heather of our own peat bogs, they create and maintain the structure of our interconnected marine habitats. The lastest blog series from Open Seas looks at where those species live, where they used to live and understand what the future may hold for them…

From vast forests of kelp, to shoals of sandeels, muddy sea lochs to cold water corals, Scotland’s seas are rich in life. These species form an interwoven web of life, the marine ecosystem. Together this connected web provides the living, breathing and working sea that delivers fish to our tables, provides water, oxygen to nourish our lives, and circulates and captures carbon dioxide in a way that helps stabilise our climate.

Scotland’s seas are home to ocean giants like the basking shark, humpback whales and even killer whales. However, when thinking about our seas, it’s worth also thinking about the smaller things that are less well known, make less of a splash, but are actually just as important. Things that live on the Scottish seafloor establish the foundation of all our marine life; they form an integral part of the way the seas function, by creating habitats for fish, shellfish and other marine creatures to spawn, grow up, live and hunt in.

Here, we want to showcase just a few of these crucially important seafloor species, and in particular take a look at their history in Scotland’s seas, and what the future may hold. Native oyster, horse, fan and blue mussels, serpulid reefs, flame shells, seagrass, maerl, gravels with burrowing sea cucumbers, cold water corals and Scotland’s seafan and sponge communities each play a key role in our seas. Telling their story gives an insight into the history of our seas more generally – and hopefully inspires us to think about where we can go in the future.

We’re particularly interested in these species and habitats because they form the backbone of the Scottish Government’s current approach to managing our seas. Along with another 70 odd species, they have been identified as “Priority Marine Features”, which, put simply, are some of the most important species and habitats in Scotland’s seas.

Scotland has a National Marine Plan which was designed in 2015 and sets out the way we should make use of our seas. When it comes to protecting the environment, the Plan dictates that any use and development of the sea should not result in significant impacts on these priority features. General Policy 9 is a planning policy just like the important policies that guide sustainable development on land.

In this series, we look at the role of each in underpinning the health of our sea, what has happened to them in the decades leading up to now and their current status, before considering what the future holds for such Scottish marine habitats and species as we hopefully move forward towards a more sustainable future.

Check back tomorrow for the next article in this series – Part 2: Native Oysters

This blog post was originally published as Stories from Scotland’s Seabed by Open Seas on 08/06/18.

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