There are people who think about Scottish marine life and strike up a conversation about good ol’ Nessy. However, conversations may very well veer to an exciting discovery made by Marine Scotland. A reef, speculated to be the largest of its kind, comprised of flame shellfish (Limaria hians), sits off the west coast of Scotland. It is estimated to be 75 hectares and is believed to be home to 100 million of these saltwater clams.
Discussions abound in the Scotland government about protecting the inlet to Loch Alsh, where the thriving reef has formed. The justification to warrant such protection rests with prior observations by researchers. When attempting to gauge marine life for an accurate aquatic food chain, researchers have only ever been able to observe severely damaged flame shell reefs. This reality has only offered a glimpse into their significance towards wildlife stability.
These clams form a reef by binding gravel and shell pieces together using fine, spider web-like threads, called byssus. Research studies in other Lochs revealed that flame shellfish were traditionally a rare find, which was a concern, as it was determined they are vital to aquatic stability. Even in smaller reef pockets, research concluded that these clams provide direct support to at least 265 invertebrate species, 19 forms of algae, and attract other types of mollusk larvae, which other fish and wildlife consume as their primary diet. It has been calculated that the flame shells build its reef from shallow waters to the approximate depth of 328 feet (100 meters). The reefs form in predominantly high traffic human recreation areas. Consequently, their thin shells and flaming anemone-like tentacles are easily destroyed.
There is an air of optimism from conservationists, who believe Loch Alsh will become part of Scotland’s Marine Protected Areas, based on the distinctiveness of the find. The preservation of the intact reef in Loch Alsh allows researchers to study and categorize a natural biosphere, which cannot otherwise be artificially simulated. With the amount of historical aquatic destruction, a sign of reconstruction is news worthy of celebration. Scotland is wise to consider the find as precious and worthy of preservation.