Great Barra Reef to reveal secrets of sea
By Paul Kelbie, Scotland Correspondent
4th June 2004
Scientists have discovered the UK's first known coral reef less than eight miles off the coast of Britain, a significant find that could help unlock the secrets of marine life over the past 10,000 years.
The mile-long reef, up to 15ft high and 100ft wide, south-east of Barra in the Western Isles, is believed to date back to between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago and have started growing at the end of the last ice age. While most coral that forms a hard skeleton exists in shallow, tropical regions, only a handful of species can live in water cooler than 12C. Each reef is formed from thousands of 5mm polyps crowded together in colonies, which provide habitat for thousands of marine species.
"Most people think of coral as being a tropical species but here we have found not just one or two clumps of the stuff but an entire reef situated between the Hebrides and the mainland," said Dr Murray Roberts of the Scottish Association of Marine Science (Sams).
Preliminary examination of the coral, which has legal protection, has already recorded more than 120 different species living on the reef and the scientists think they could find thousands more.