Four new species of sea creature have been discovered in ocean waters hundreds of miles off the west coast of Scotland.
Marine Scotland trawl surveys off the continental shelf in the North Atlantic have uncovered a brand new species of large sea snail, two kinds of clams and a marine worm.
International experts have now confirmed that they are completely new to science meaning the mysterious molluscs have managed to avoid detection during decades of underwater research around the Rockall plateau.
The finds a could indicate the presence of a cold seep, where hydrocarbons are released from the sea bed. If confirmed, it would be the first cold seep to be discovered in the vicinity of Rockall.
Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Our oceans are often called Earth’s final frontier and these new species prove just how much we still have to learn about this rich marine habitat.
“Scottish waters cover an area around five times bigger than our land mass and are miles deep in places, and these hidden gems offer a fascinating glimpse of the treasures that still await discovery under the waves.
“While understanding more about these great depths is clearly very challenging, we know that Scotland’s seas are home to a diverse range of precious sea life and it is our responsibility to protect this fragile environment.
“The area where these species were found is not currently fished and the confirmation of a cold seep is likely to result in the region being closed to bottom contact fishing.”
Jim Drewery from Marine Scotland Science, who oversaw the research on the deep water invertebrates, said: “The discovery of these new species is absolutely incredible, especially when you consider that the sea snail measures a relatively large 10cm, yet has gone undetected for decades.
“Its capture on these surveys could be due to the new techniques we are now employing at Marine Scotland Science in our research on the deep sea floor.”
WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said: “Scotland’s seas have once again thrown up some truly amazing new wildlife. These surveys highlight that we’ve still so much to learn when it comes to life beneath the waves.
“These latest discoveries underline the need for a precautionary approach in the management and use of our seas.
“The location where these species were found is not currently fished and we hope it stays that way. However, we now know enough to say that the area should certainly be put off limits to any future plans for oil and gas exploration.”