Extraordinary discovery in the South Arran MPA

COAST is finishing 2020 on a high as they reveal an extraordinary discovery made recently in the South Arran Marine Protected Area. Featured image shows a flame shell. Credit: Paul Kay.

Community research divers have discovered an extensive flame shell living reef in our seas – estimated to cover in excess of 10,000 sq.m (that’s about 30 tennis courts)! As only the second known remaining flame shell bed in the Clyde marine region, this is a significant and exciting discovery not just for Arran but for biodiversity interests within the whole of Scotland.

Gaining their name from the neon orange flame-like tentacles protruding from their shells, flame shells on their own are beautiful and unusual looking creatures rarely seen or even heard of by the public. This is despite playing a very important role in the marine ecosystem. Using byssus threads, the animal literally knits the seabed together to build a nest which supports a large variety of other marine life that lives on and within the seabed. As a result, living reefs like this create an important habitat and enhance biodiversity in the area; research on the only other known flame shell reef in the Clyde recorded 265 different animal species within samples of the flame shell bed. These living reefs are not only biodiversity power houses, providing key nursery grounds for juvenile fish and commercially important scallops, they are vital blue carbon stores which can help increase our resilience to climate change.

The discovery of this flame shell bed highlights three key things:

1) The invaluable contribution of community groups and citizen scientists in helping survey and monitor the marine environment;

2) The need for local conservation and community voices to be included in the ‘Community of Interest’ linked to the Joint Fisheries Statement of the UK Fisheries Act 2020 – the scene setter for all UK fisheries post-Brexit;

3) The need for proper protection and management of Scotland’s MPAs alongside spatial limits on damaging bottom-towed fishing.

COAST and other members of the Coastal Communities Network are calling upon the Scottish Government and Marine Scotland to urgently bring in effective protection for Scotland’s seas and to better support communities to survey, monitor, research and manage their coastal waters in line with the recent Edinburgh Declaration, which recognises the vital role that communities have in taking action to address biodiversity loss.

To read more about the newly discovered flame shell reef go here

And listen here  for a recent radio programme with COAST founder Howard Wood. Together with Casper Van de Geer, Howard discusses how No Take Zones and Marine Protected Areas actually work and also how grassroots activism can achieve important change to protect our seas.