Deep under the steel-grey water of the Inner Hebrides, a multi-coloured marine Eden is taking shape, The Independent on Sunday (UK) has discovered.
Thanks to the Scottish coastal waters beside the Isle of Skye being unmolested by man for three decades, fish, plants and animals are thriving in a way unprecedented in modern times.
Tiny fire anemones, starfish and brittle-star roam among large fields of sea pen, a form of soft coral, while the valuable Norwegian prawn grows to sizes rarely seen around Britain.
Increasingly-large shoals of plaice, haddock, whiting and cod pass overhead. It is a rare glimpse into the way our seas used to be – and could still be if fishing bans were introduced.
This unique area sits at the heart of a 40sq km zone of the Inner Hebrides set aside for a successful marine conservation initiative designed to build a lucrative prawn fishing industry for coastal villages in remote areas.
This unofficial marine nature reserve is a secret military testing range that has been closed off to fishing for the past 30 years, giving scientists an unprecedented chance to measure the impacts of strict controls on trawlers.
The 10sq km range, used chiefly for secret torpedo trials by Britain’s submarine fleet, has become a haven for sea life – particularly the valuable Norwegian prawn, Nephrops norvegicus.
It is populated by the largest Norwegian prawns in the area. Protected by the 30-year ban on fishing, they live to full maturity and are believed to provide “seed stock” for much of the local area. As a result, local fishermen flock to the area.
The success of the prawn fishery has lifted the local economy. The largest prawns sell for