Divers uncover rare species on Scottish seabed

It is among the most inaccessible of habitats and supports some of Britain’s rarest, most outlandish species. Yet conservationists remain uncertain about the plants, animals, and other marine life surviving in the seabeds around Scotland because of the difficulties in reaching the area.

Now, however, a team of volunteer divers and marine experts have carried out the most extensive surveys yet of Scotland’s most inhospitable habitat, helping to build a clearer picture of what it contains.

Seasearch, a project co-ordinated by the Marine Conservation Society, organised dives at around 40 sites last year, including five where such research has never been done before.

The divers, many of whom do the work voluntarily, discovered rare species such as fanshells, the most endangered mollusc in the UK; sea fan anemones; and a starfish called stichastrella rosea.

Records were also made of fish such as John Dory and red blenny, which are normally found in warmer waters further south but which are thought to be moving north as a result of climate change.

Calum Duncan, Seasearch Scotland co-ordinator and the Scottish officer for the MCS, said: “During 2005, dedicated Seasearch divers gave of their time to locate a new wild fanshell specimen; confirm the location of rare sea-fan anemones in the Firth of Lorn; record fish species such as red blenny that are more common in southern waters; and make the first reports from rarely-dived rocky reefs off Arran, Stonehaven, the Moray Firth, and the Pentland Skerries.”

The most exciting discovery of the year was that of a wild fanshell in Loch Alsh. It is now extremely rare, with surveys of nearly 10,000 sites around Britain between 1987 and 2003 failing to find a single specimen.

Seasearch also surveyed a number of new sites in the north east of Scotland, a place normally avoided by divers because of its exposed and rocky coastline.

Volunteers discovered relatively large numbers of a rare, normally solitary starfish called stichastrella rosea on reefs off Hopeman, Moray. Near Lossiemouth, they also found red mullet