Supporting the Scottish Marine Protected Area (MPA) project

July 24, 2014 by No Comments | Category Marine Directorate general, Marine Directorate Science

This week the Scottish MPA project reached a significant milestone this week with the designation of 30 protected sites throughout Scottish waters. This network is the result of work involving many agencies and organisations. Marine Scotland Science (MSS) has been working hard conducting research, monitoring surveys and providing advice to help support this work.

MSS Scientists led by Peter Wright, the Ecology and Conservation Group Leader have unique knowledge and expertise of some of the habitats and species considered to be marine nature conservation priorities in Scottish waters or Priority Marine Features (PMFs) as they are commonly known. This is particularly so for some of the mobile fish species such as common skate and sandeel.  Peter and his colleagues advised on MPAs for the two PMF fish species; sandeel and common skate.

Common skate being tagged in the Sound of Jura

Common skate being tagged in the Sound of Jura

Common skate is especially vulnerable to fishing pressure and a highly valued species by recreational anglers in Scottish waters. Research by MSS scientist Francis Neat  published last month in the Journal Aquatic Conservation confirms the need for measures to protect these species and informed the decision on the MPAs in the Sound of Jura and Loch Sunart. Working closely with the Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network ( skate movements were tracked, showing that many were resident in the area for long periods of time. Data from skate tagged and released by anglers showed that skate in this area are currently experiencing a high mortality rate.
Video of the sea bed collected by MSS during surveys of Scottish Nephrops stocks are a valuable source of information on the presence of vulnerable benthic species and enabled MSS scientist Lynda Blackadder, and colleagues to produce a comprehensive picture of these species across surveyed areas of burrowed mud. This together with earlier data collected by MSS  facilitated a modelling study of the suitable habitat and environmental conditions for these species in a paper shortly to be published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science by Clare Greathead and others of MSS.
Two species of sea pen found on ‘burrowed mud’ habitat

Two species of sea pen found on ‘burrowed mud’ habitat

Understanding how connected the protected features may be between different MPAs is important but is a difficult area of science where often little is known about the movements or spread of many of the features being protected. MSS oceanographer Alejandro Gallego has used hydrographic models to simulate where the planktonic larvae of protected benthic species may move to, potentially providing a bridge from one protected site to another

MSS scientists Mike Robertson and Phil Boulcott  have led on several surveys with partners JNCC and SNH using Marine Scotland vessels Alba na Mara  and Scotia  across a range of MPA search areas, possible MPAs and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) (part of the wider MPA network).  Survey methods in which MSS specialise, such as: swathe bathymetry, towed underwater video, grab sampling and deployment of fish traps, were used to record the habitats and species in MPA areas in the Minches, West of the Hebrides, Northern North Sea, Moray Firth and Faroe Shetland Channel as well as the SACs East Rockall, Wyville Thompson Ridge, Stanton Banks, Solan Bank and Pobie Bank. These surveys have provided data to define search areas, revise site boundaries and set a baseline for future site condition monitoring.


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