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Coastal Protection Strategies

Britain's Atlantic Margin coastline comprises hundreds of miles of rich inter-tidal habitats. These range from 100m cliffs, rocky shores and boulder shores to exposed sandy beaches with sand dunes and sheltered muddy shores. Each habitat supports different communities of animals and plants, with the widest diversity of species found on the moderately exposed shores. Fewer species are able to tolerate the extremes of wave action that occur on fully exposed or closely sheltered shorelines.

Knowledge of these habitats and their relative conservation importance is imperative for the oil industry. Many sea cliffs support colonies of breeding seabirds, often in numbers of international importance.

Equally important to AFEN members is an up to date knowledge of the location of fish farms in the many sheltered inlets in the region. Salmon cages are a common sight in the sea lochs and voes of the Highlands and Islands. Mussel and oyster farming are less common, but nonetheless important local industries.

A Coastal Protection Strategy documents the natural habitats and resources of the coast, together with the usage of the marine environment viz. fish farming and amenity use; it then gives practical advice on which sites to prioritise in the event of threatened oil pollution, and how to protect them. Protection entails the strategic use of booms either to deflect oil away from a vulnerable site, or to contain and recover the oil from a non-sensitive site. With a worked-out strategy, response to oil spills can be fast and effective in safeguarding vulnerable sites and species.

Strategies for Shetland, Orkney and parts of Harris, Lewis and the Sutherland coast have been compiled by different oil companies in previous years. During 1998, 1999 and 2000 AFEN built on this approach by commissioning work in 3 phases to survey and compile a strategy for the entire mainland coast between the Point of Ardnamurchan and Duncansby Head, together with the islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Shetland and Orkney. The resulting Strategy documents are available on CD-Rom from AFEN. A brief outline of the data is given below.

A desk-based review of summary information on coastal environmental resources at risk from approaching oil spills was supplemented with meetings, discussions and feedback with regional officers of Scottish Natural Heritage and Local Authority Emergency Planning Staff. Field survey work followed to assess the feasibility of shoreline protective booming or oil collection and recovery at specific sites. Where the collection of oil from beaches is considered a practical and beneficial response, then information relevant to beach clean up is given.

The presence of sensitive or vulnerable environmental resources was used as a focus for the selection of shoreline protection sites, in addition to consideration of commercial (aquaculture) or amenity use of the site.

The coastline has been divided into 18 regions and within each region a number of sites have been selected and documented as either Shoreline Protection Sites or shoreline Clean-Up Sites.

An example of the way the document works is given below:

Isle of Mull (West) - Mainland coast from the Point of Ardnamurchan to Duncansby Head:

Click on the image below to see the full map:

Mainland coast from the Point of Ardnamurchan to Duncansby Head

Region No. Region Name No. of Shoreline Protection Sites No. of Shoreline Clean-up Sites
1 Berneray, Mingulay and Barra 6 14
2 Benbecula and South Uist 16 15
3 North Uist 6 6
4 Isle of Mull (West) 18 3
5 Coll and Tiree 8 6
6 Mainland - Point of Ardnamurchan to Mallaig 15 3
7 Mainland - Mallaig to Kyle of Lochalsh 15 3
8 Southern Skye 8 7
9 Central Skye 7 8
10 Northern Skye 3 5
11 The Small Isles & Iona 4 15
12 South Harris, North Harris & Southern Lewis 8 12
13 Northern Lewis 16 26
14 Mainland - Kyle of Lochalsh to Gairloch 9 22
15 Mainland - Gairloch to Lochinver 10 6
16 Mainland - Lochinver to Cape Wrath 7 11
17 Mainland - Cape Wrath to Strathy Point 4 10
18 Mainland - Strathy Point to Duncansby head 3 4

The following map shows the identified coastal protection and shoreline clean-up sites on the western side of the Isle of Mull, while the illustrations give an example of the detailed plans drawn up for on particular site, at Port a Chadaigh.

Isle of Mull (West) - Map of the region

Click on the image below to view the full map:

Map of the western side of the Isle of Mull

Isle of Mull (West) - Plan of the Port a Chadaigh Boomsites

Click on the image below to view the full plan:

Plan of the Port a Chadaigh Boomsites

The Port a Chadaigh Boomsites - as seen from the A849

Click on the image below to see the full view:

The Port a Chadaigh Boomsites - as seen from the A849
These illustrations are courtesy of    Cordah Logo

Tarball Fingerprinting

Tarballs on the shore are a common nuisance in some parts of the country, and have unfortunately been found on Shetland and Orkney in recent years. AFEN has been concerned to know the origin of these tarballs, and two years ago commissioned the Institute of Offshore Engineering to analyse tarball samples collected by islanders and various organisations, e.g. RSPB, and match the chemical structure to known oils or blends of oils. This is know as 'fingerprinting'.

Significantly, samples collected during 1996 and 1997 have all been identified as coming from marine traffic. This monitoring work will continue through 1998.

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