Nature Champions: Northern Sea Fan

© Gordon Lang

Resembling something you might find in the tropics, in UK waters the Northern sea fan (Swiftia pallida) is found almost exclusively off the west coast of Scotland – a real national treasure.

The Northern sea fan looks a lot like coral, to which it is related, being a colony of anemone-like individuals known as polyps. It grows in sheltered, deeper waters below 20 metres, fixing itself to rocky habitat and orientating itself into water currents, and catching food particles with sticky, poisonous tentacles. It is often associated with communities of sponge, including the ‘prawn cracker’ sponge, and cup corals.

Much remains to be learned about the biology and ecology of the Northern sea fan.

Action Needed

1. Press for designation of protected areas for Northern sea fan and surrounding habitat, including management measures that sufficiently reduce the pressure of bottom-towed fishing.
2. Support improved fieldwork and research to better understand its biology and inform conservation.
3. Ensure the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy is fully implemented.


Like many seabed-dwelling species, it is sensitive to a number of pressures including physical abrasion, increases in contaminants, smothering by suspended sediment, and changes to the seabed and currents. Its slow growth and reproduction means recovery from damage is gradual.

MSP Nature Champion

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