The Faroe-Shetland Channel is a huge rift basin that separates the Scottish and the Faroese continental shelves to the north of Scotland. The Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt MPA falls on the Scottish side of the channel. Warmer North Atlantic water flowing over sub-zero Norwegian Sea deep water drives a diversity of sea life in the area, including fields of slow-growing deep-sea sponges known as “Ostebund” or “cheese-bottoms” by local fishermen owing to their appearance. The sponges provide shelter for a range of small sea life and an elevated perch for animals such as brittlestars that filter food from the passing water currents.
The seabed within the Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt MPA is characterised by iceberg “ploughmarks”, scars in the seabed caused by the scouring action of icebergs during past glacial ice ages. Over time these scars have been partially filled with sediments, creating a mosaic of habitats which are home to animals such as squat lobsters and burrowing heart urchins. The only example in UK waters of ‘boreal ostur’, a special type of deep-sea sponge aggregation, is also found here.
Within the MPA, the seabed descends into the deep sea and the changing environmental conditions with depth create zones that support different types of animal communities, such as the ocean quahog, a large and slow growing clam which can live up to 400 years and is one of the oldest living animals on Earth.
The current conservation objective is to conserve the protected features of this MPA.
More detail on the designation is available from the JNCC website.
The final Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment for this MPA is available to view.