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Shellfish reef 'huge and thriving'
The discovery of a large shellfish reef on the west coast of the UK could be the biggest find of its kind in the world, experts believe.
More than 100 million brightly coloured and rare shellfish have been found in Loch Alsh, a sea inlet between Skye and the Scottish mainland.
The reef of flame shells, or Limaria hians, was found to cover an area of 4.6 square miles (7.5 sq km) during a survey commissioned by Marine Scotland. It is the largest known colony of flame shells in the UK and possibly the world, according to experts.
Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: "The seas around Scotland are a hotbed of biodiversity and the clean and cold waters support many fascinating and beautiful species.
"With Scottish waters covering an area around five times bigger than our landmass, it's a huge challenge to try and understand more about our diverse and precious sea life.
"This important discovery may be the largest grouping of flame shells anywhere in the world."
Flame shells have a similar shape to scallops with many neon orange tentacles that appear between the two shells. They group together on the sea bed and their nests create a living reef to support hundreds of other species.
The Loch Alsh survey was carried out by Heriot-Watt University on behalf of Marine Scotland. Dr Dan Harries, from the university's School of Life Sciences, said: "Too often, when we go out to check earlier records of a particular species or habitat we find them damaged, struggling or even gone.
"We are delighted that in this instance we found not just occasional patches but a huge and thriving flame shell community extending right the way along the entrance narrows of Loch Alsh.
"This is a wonderful discovery for all concerned."