New research shows that a proposed Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Sea of the Hebrides off Scotland’s west coast could help protect basking sharks, a species that is considered endangered in the northeast Atlantic.
Scientists from the University of Exeter and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) used satellite tags to track 36 basking sharks over three summers and found that 86% showed “some degree of residency” in the proposed MPA. Many sharks returned year after year, leading the scientists to believe that the area is important for foraging, breeding, or some other important activity.
“We have known for some time that basking sharks are frequently seen in Scottish waters during the summer, and they are a big attraction for visitors to our west coast,” said Dr. Suzanne Henderson, SNH project manager. “But this research shows for the first time that some individuals return to the Sea of the Hebrides in consecutive years, emphasizing the importance of the area for sharks.”
The proposed MPA would provide protection to habitats that are important to basking sharks and would ensure that their activities within these areas are not disrupted.
“Understanding the conservation potential of an area is key to the successful creation of MPAs,” said lead author Philip Doherty, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter. “It is important to gather data to ensure the evidence-base that underpins the design of MPAs is robust. The data from this project, along with information gathered over many years by boat-based surveys and from public reports helps to demonstrate the importance of this region for this species.”
To learn more:
- Read the Exeter news release: Planned protection area would help basking sharks
- Read the full study: Testing the boundaries: Seasonal residency and inter-annual site fidelity of basking sharks in a proposed Marine Protected Area
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