December 28, 2012
World’s Largest Flame Shell Reef Discovered In Scotland
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Scientists have found a huge colony of elusive and brightly colored shellfish species in coastal waters in the west of Scotland.
Researchers found the bed containing at least 100 million flame shells during a survey of Local Alsh, which is a sea inlet between Skye and Scottish mainland.
According to the Scottish environment secretary, the colony could be the largest grouping of flame shells anywhere in the world.
Marine Scotland conducted the survey as part of work to identify new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
The scallop-like species has numerous neon orange tentacles that emerge between the creatures' two shells.
Flame shells group together on the seabed and their nests create a living reef that supports hundreds of other species.
The reef is much larger than expected and covers an area of 75 hectares, or 8 million square feet.
"With Scottish waters covering an area around five-times bigger than our landmass, it's a huge challenge to try and understand more about our diverse and precious sea life," Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said in a statement.
"The flame shell must be considered among the most remarkable species in our waters, with a dazzling array of orange tentacles."
He said these shellfish form a reef that offers a sanctuary for other species that live in the waters.
Dan Harries, of Heriot-Watt University's School of Life Sciences said that often, during surveys like these, researchers find that the species have been damaged, are struggling, or are even gone.
"We are delighted that in this instance we found not just occasional patches but a huge and thriving flame shell community extending right the way along the entrance narrows of Loch Alsh," Harries said in a statement. "This is a wonderful discovery for all concerned."
A spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund said these surveys highlight that Scotland's seas and coasts are home to some amazing wildlife.
"Who needs space travel when we've still to fully explore and understand the oceans and seas here on planet Earth," spokesman Lang Banks said in a statement.