Page last updated at 12:00 GMT, Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Special status for marine life havens

Darwin MoundsWyville Thomson RidgeBraemar PockmarksScanner PockmarkStanton BanksSaturn Reef/N Norfolk SandsHaig Fras

Linked to the government's Marine Bill, certain areas of the seas around Britain are likely to gain extra protection. The government is looking at creating seven Special Areas of Conservation.

To find out more about the areas covered, use the clickable map above.

DARWIN MOUNDS

Described by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) as "an exceptional example of cold water coral reefs". Individual reefs on the top of sand mounds, or "sand volcanoes", provide a habitat for various large invertebrates such as sponges and starfish. Each mound is approximately 100m (330ft) in length and 5m (16ft) high.

WYVILLE THOMSON RIDGE

The ridge divides the relatively warm water of the North Atlantic from the cold waters of the Arctic. This combination of water masses in one area is unique in UK waters. The ridge is about 20km (12miles) wide and 70km (43miles) long.

The rock and stony reef areas support diverse biological communities, including a range of sponges, dense beds of featherstars and brittlestars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and sea spiders.

BRAEMAR POCKMARKS

The Braemar pockmarks are a series of crater-like depressions on the sea floor, two of which were made by leaking gas. Methane still seeps out from the sea floor. Oxidation of this gas has caused large blocks of carbonate to form, which provides shelter for fish species such as wolf-fish and cod.

The site's name originates from its proximity to the Braemar oil field in the northern North Sea. The shallow seabed depressions were probably formed by the venting of petrogenic gases into the water column.

SCANNER POCKMARK

The Scanner pockmark is a large seabed depression in the northern North Sea made by leaking gas. Methane still seeps out from the sea floor. The site supports large numbers of anemones and squat lobsters. Hagfish, fourbeard rockling, haddock, wolf-fish and small redfish use the carbonate structures, created by the oxidation of methane, for shelter.

The area also supports organisms known as chemosynthesisers which feed off the discharged methane and its by-product, hydrogen sulphide.

STANTON BANKS

Stanton Banks are a series of granite rises which outcrop from the seafloor south of the Outer Hebrides. The tops of the banks have been rounded by glacial action and are colonised by encrusting red algae and small sponges.

The slopes, which are rugged, are home to featherstars and dead man's fingers. At their edges, the banks are fringed with boulders and cobbles.

SATURN REEF/NORTH NORFOLK SANDS

The North Norfolk Sandbanks site is the most extensive example of sandbanks formed from tidal processes. The banks support communities of invertebrates such as polychaete worms, isopods, crabs and starfish.

The Saturn Reef site was first discovered in 2002 and consists of thousands of fragile sand-tubes made by ross-worms which have consolidated together to create a solid structure rising above the seabed.

HAIG FRAS

Haig Fras is an isolated granite outcrop 95km (50miles) north west of the Isles of Scilly. It is the only substantial area of rocky reef in the Celtic Sea. It supports a variety of fauna ranging from jewel anemones and Devonshire cup coral near the peak of the outcrop, to encrusting sponges towards the base of the rock.




SEE ALSO
Marine bill to 'protect UK seas'
15 Mar 07 |  Science/Nature
UK seas 'in peril' - says report
01 Mar 05 |  Science/Nature

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