Wester Ross MPA – An Underwater Eden

By Rebecca Plant, Marine Project Officer at FFI

Wester Ross MPA
Exploring the underwater meadows of Loch Broom and the Summer Isles © Graham Saunders

Marine Protected Area

The Wester Ross Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area (MPA) was designated in 2014 to safeguard diverse seabed habitats and protect the site’s complex underwater geodiversity.

Burrowed mud, flame shell beds, maerl beds and northern feather star aggregations, to name but a few, all find a place to thrive in this mosaic of sea lochs, bays and near shore island channels. The deeper parts of the MPA are covered by extensive areas of burrowed mud.

Norway lobsters can be seen guarding the entrances to their burrows amongst dense forests of seapens. All three species of seapen found in Scottish coastal waters are present including substantial numbers of the nationally scarce tall seapen.

Northern feather stars grip onto the mixed sediments, extending their feeding tentacles into the water column to catch passing food. Around the shallowest margins of the MPA a lush and vibrant community of green, red and brown seaweeds together with burrowing anemones, starfish, sea urchins, crabs, squat lobsters, scallops and whelks thrive in the clear waters.


Coastal Communities Network member Sea Change is a local community think-tank working for the restoration of the marine ecosystem, with a key aim being to survey the MPA to build a picture of the habitats and species and inform better fisheries management and enforcement.

This summer, Sea Change, SubSea TV and the Scottish Creel Fisherman’s Federation (SCFF), alongside marine scientist divers and SeaSearch divers, joined together in a true community effort to survey and photograph the seabed in this underwater Eden.  In an inspiring example of community action and team work, the surveys were only made possible by the collective efforts of all of those involved – from the coordinators, to the volunteer divers, to those contributing equipment and materials.

Sara Nason, Coordinator of Sea Change, says “for me this group effort is as much the story as the actual footage – it is only with this kind of cooperation and support coming from so many people that things like these outstanding images can be achieved”.

Underwater surveys like these are valuable in so many ways – not only to understand what is there and to monitor change, but also to share with the wider public to show how diverse and beautiful Scotland’s seas can be.


We’re very lucky to be able to share a few of the extraordinary images, thanks to Graham Saunders, one of the marine scientist divers and photographers who took part in the surveys.  To see more, visit the Sea Change Facebook page and the Sea Change website.

Plumose anemones, lesser-spotted dogfish, feather stars, scallop, urchin, Devonshire cup coral: all images © Graham Saunders

Thanks from Sea Change

The Sea Change, SubSeaTV, SCFF survey would not have been possible without a huge collective effort. A very special thank you to Andy Jackson, SubSeaTV and Alasdair Hughson, Keltic Seafare & Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation for their partnership coordinating with Sea Change Wester Ross on the June 2018 survey and citizen science in Wester Ross Marine Protected Area. Thank you to Andy’s beautiful video of the survey, yet to be seen.

Marine Scientist divers & photographers:

Thanks to the marine scientists and photographer-divers Graham Saunders and Lewis Press who volunteered to dive for the week long survey with Andy Jackson. Special appreciation for Graham’s extraordinary photographs and their help on transects and quadrats for our citizen science surveys. Thanks also goes to Inverness Sub Aqua Club and their Seasearch divers willing to support the 3 cameramen divers and Ali Hughson’s scallop divers during the survey with use of the ISAC boat to offer support, and share their photographs.

Support volunteer Divers: Seasearchers: Neil McInnes, Lynn MacKay, Pete Watson; Scallop divers: Ali Hughson, Johnny Maclennan, Andy Venders.

Boat support: Ali Hughson for three days on Atlantia; Scott Coleman and Robyn Dutton for the Goldseeker; Tanera for their supply of a boat.

Accommodation given: Brian Wilson, Sara Nason.

Thanks for Accommodation offered: John Wilding, Jenny McBain.

Equipment Engineering: John McIntyre for supplying and making quadrats and drop down GoPro Rig

Donations: Gabby Rex for donating the funds for all the technical equipment used for the transects by the divers; Andrew Hopetoun for funding Andy’s petrol expenses.

Science Support: Ben James at Scottish Natural Heritage for guidance on the citizen science; Graham Saunders and Lewis Press during survey dives.

Air Supply for divers support: Thanks to Keltic Seafare for air supply and Pete Watson for generously driving it to us.

Others to thank for their advice, support and knowledge in preparation: Donald Rice, Richard Luxmoore (National Trust for Scotland) for guidance on the last survey findings. Gary Lewis for his knowledge on the seabed in Wester Ross MPA. Beatrice Brinkler, Keith Dunbar, Margeret Salmon Shore Project, Invisible Dust for photos on board Goldseeker.

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