About the Sound of Jura and Loch Sween
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The Sound of Jura and Loch Sween contain some of the most fascinating and diverse marine life in Scotland and are part of the Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area which aims to safeguard several species which have been designated Priority Marine Features including Flapper Skate and Northern Sea Fan.
Scottish Natural Heritage's website gives more information about the Marine Protected Area and the Priority Marine Features:
This document gives detailed information about the assessment of Loch Sween as an MPA:
The KIPPER Guide - how to identify and report illegal fishing within the MPA
CROMACH have put together a guide on how to identify and report illegal fishing within the MPA and they have kindly shared this with us. It is called the KIPPER guide:
Know your MPA zoning
Identify a vessel and activity
Place on a map
Exact time and date
Report to Marine Scotland
Note: in the area at the mouth of Loch Sween/around the MacCormaig Islands, scallop dredging and bottom trawling is also not allowed between 21:00 and 07:00, as well as at weekends as shown on the map.
Priority Marine Features
The Sound of Jura and Loch Sween contain some of the most fascinating and diverse marine life in Scotland.
The Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area was established to protect the extraordinary flapper skate that live here. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature designates flapper skate as 'critically endangered', an unenviable category they share with the Sumatran rhino and mountain gorilla, meaning that the skate are among the rarest animals in the world, threatened with a high risk of extinction because of their rate of decline.
They are the world's largest skate - the females may grow to three metres in length. Tag and release studies done in the Sound of Jura have shown that they are extremely site-faithful - some skate have been found year after year in virtually the same spot. They are very long-lived and breed in this area, as shown by their beautiful gold-coloured egg cases, the world's largest mermaid's purses.
Fishing by dredging the bottom for prawns or scallops can harm flapper skate, as well as the animals that live on the seabed on which they feed. The MPA helps to protect the skate by the restricting when and where dredging is allowed.
Many other rare animals live in the Sound of Jura, including the beautiful colonial animal, the northern sea fan. Sea fans are related to corals. Each polyp in the colony looks like a small anemone, using its tentacles to trap food passing in the current. In the Sound of Jura sea fans often grow alongside a rare community of sponges, including the 'prawn cracker' sponge.
The Sound is also part of the Inner Hebrides and Minches candidate Special Area of Conservation for harbour porpoises.
Loch Sween is connected to the Sound of Jura but is a separate Marine Protected Area. This MPA was created because the loch has a great variety of types of seabed, with the rare animals associated with them, from the tidal rapids at Taynish and the tide-swept waters around the McCormaig Isles, to the still waters of Caol Scotnish and Linnhe Mhurich and the deep burrowed mud bottom of the middle of the loch, which supports a range of animals including the volcano worm. Loch Sween's MPA safeguards one of Scotland’s most important populations of native oyster. It also has rich sea grass meadows and maerl beds. Maerl is an alga that grows a stony coat, so it looks like small pieces of coral. This complex three-dimensional structure makes maerl beds important nursery grounds for other animals, including many types of fish.
The rare animals living in the Loch Sween MPA are protected by limiting fishing methods that dredge the seabed.
Effluent and chemical pollution from fish farms can affect many of these animals too; Sea fans and maerl beds are particularly vulnerable. Scientists and Scottish Natural Heritage have also expressed concern that they may affect the eggs and prey of the flapper skate.
Porpoises and other cetaceans are scared away by the loud underwater sounds of the Acoustic Deterrent Devices or 'seal scarers', used by fish farms to prevent seals damaging their nets. The sounds from multiple farms' ADDS combine to exclude porpoises from very large areas.
Learn more about the northern sea fan here
See the video The Quest for the Giant Skate
SNH Marine Operations Officer Jane Dodd describes "A Day in the Life" and gives an insight into the important fieldwork which took place before the coronavirus restrictions.
This Guide has been written with the help of experienced skippers and anglers fishing in the Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area (MPA) for skate. The aim of this Guide is to pass on advice on how best to handle skate when angling to maintain them in the best possible condition rather than how to fish for skate.
Northern sea fan
Photo credit - Mark Woombs
Photo credit: Onyer Marks Sea Fishing
Flapper skate egg case
Photo credit: Chris Rickard
Flapper skate egg case
Photo credit: Chris Rickard