Emergency action has been taken to ban deep water trawling in an area off the north west coast of Scotland to protect a unique coral formation.
The coral reef was discovered five years ago
The Darwin Mounds, which lie 100 miles to the north of Cape Wrath, have been likened in importance to the Great Barrier Reef.
The ban has been imposed by the European Commission following a request from the UK.
The move follows fears that fishing was damaging the cold water corals, which were only discovered five years ago.
The decision was welcomed by environmental campaigners, who had been pressing for action.
The Darwin Mounds support a wide variety of marine life, such as sponges, starfish, sea urchins and deep sea fish such as the blue ling, round-nosed grenadier and orange roughy.
Surveys have shown that the reefs are vulnerable to damage from towed fishing gear which makes contact with the sea bed.
The European Commission has introduced an emergency measure to ban deep water fishing in the area for the next six months.
That could be extended by a further six months as the commission brings forward measures to make the ban permanent.
Britain has said it plans to designate the Mounds as a special conservation area under the EC Habitats Directive, guaranteeing long-term protection.
The decision was welcomed by Scottish Environment Minister Ross Finnie.
"It is very good news that the commission has accepted the case for protection of the Darwin Mounds," he said.
"We now have measures in place offering immediate protection for this important habitat, which we know has been under threat from bottom trawling fishing activities."
Dr Richard Dixon, the head of research for WWF Scotland, said this was the first time the commission had used the emergency powers granted as part of the recent reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.
"We acknowledge and welcome Ross Finnie's role... in protecting these unique cold water reefs," he said.
The environmental group said it was "delighted" that the area was finally receiving the protection it deserved.
"Today's announcement is great news for the Darwin Mounds," said Dr Dixon.
"Not only have emergency measures been granted to protect these cold water corals from further damage, but we also have the opportunity to develop a long term solution to protect this important habitat."