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The world’s largest known colony of a brilliant but shy species of shellfish has been discovered in a west coast Marine Protected Area (MPA).

 

A quarter of a billion flame shells were found living in nests that have merged to form a huge 185 hectare bed at the bottom of Loch Carron. Flame shells are small bivalve molluscs with fiery orange tentacles. Flame shells spend most of their lives completely hidden away inside nests, built from old shells, stones and other materials around them and bound together with thin wiry threads.

This is a great example of partnership working across government departments, SNH and academia to deliver a timely and scientifically robust response.

Dr Dan Harries

The discovery was made during a joint Heriot-Watt University, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Marine Scotland (MS)) survey to learn more about habitats in Loch Carron. The latest find further highlights the global importance of Scotland for the species, following on from a 2012 discovery in Loch Alsh of a colony of more than 100 million flame shells.

 

Dr Dan Harries, from Heriot-Watt’s Institute of Life & Earth Sciences, led the diving fieldwork. Dr Harries said: "This is another fantastic discovery. We really didn’t think we’d find a bed that could top the 100,000,000 find in Loch Alsh. This is a great example of partnership working across government departments, SNH and academia to deliver a timely and scientifically robust response.”

 

Mike Cantlay, chair of Scottish Natural Heritage, said: "Scotland’s seas clearly still have many secrets left to tell. This is a remarkable discovery and I think we should be proud that our rich waters are so important to flame shells, and as our marine research and survey work continues to reveal, many other wonderful species too.”

 

Environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “This is a fantastic discovery which shows that the new Marine Protected Area is making an even more valuable contribution to safeguarding these waters than we first thought.

 

“I am determined to protect Scotland’s rich marine environment as this example shows the importance of considering how our seas are conserved beyond the MPA network. We are continuing to work with SNH to review the most vulnerable Priority Marine Features in our coastal waters.”

Image: Graham Saunders