Nature Champions: Kelp forest

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Kelp is a large brown seaweed that anchors to hard rocky surfaces using a holdfast. Like all seaweeds, kelp has no roots. There are five main kelp species in Scotland’s seas adapted to a range of wave conditions from sheltered to exposed.  They usually grow in dense beds in shallower waters, but can be found as deep as 30m in clear oceanic water.  

Kelp beds are considered among the most productive habitats in Scottish seas. Their presence creates a complex habitat with vertical stem-like structures (stipes), and  a shaded canopy of large waving leaf-like blades that provide homes, protection, nursery grounds and feeding areas for many animals, including fish, crabs, lobster, starfish, seabirds and seals.

Some kelp species thrive in exposed areas with high wave action and strong tidal movement, forming dense beds that can moderate strong currents  and protect coastlines from heavy wave action.

Kelp beds are recognised as Priority Marine Features (PMFs) and there are currently four nature conservation marine protected areas (MPAs) in Scotland that provide protection for ‘kelp beds’ or ‘kelp and seaweed communities on sublittoral sediment’.

Action Needed

  • Support native oyster restoration projects, such as those in Dornoch Firth and Loch Craignish
  • Advocate for significantly increased investment in native oyster restoration projects
  • Support MPA management measures that protect native oysters and any potential future MPAs for native oyster
  • Support nature and climate positive regional marine planning and inshore fisheries management

Threats

  • Native oyster beds are among the most threatened marine habitats on Earth, with very little of their historic range remaining. Enormous beds around Scotland and the UK were all fished out by the early twentieth century, including the Firth of Forth where beds covered an area the size of Edinburgh from which as many as 30 million oysters a year were harvested at the peak of the fishery. A sustainable fishery remains in Loch Ryan, the last of its kind in Scotland. 
  • Native oysters and native oyster beds are Priority Marine Features in Scotland,  currently protected in only one Marine Protected Area, Loch Sween MPA. No further MPAs for native oyster or native oyster bed habitat have been identified.
  • Subsequent to historic over-fishing, current threats include illegal wild harvesting, the parasite Bonamia ostreae, sedimentation arising from poor coastal land management, poor water quality, eutrophication and climate change.

MSP Nature Champion

Carol Mochan

Member for: South Scotland

Party: Scottish Labour Party

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