Seil skippers’s call to save rare flapper skate egg site

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A sealife adventurer based on Seil has helped film a rare egg-laying site belonging to the endangered Flapper Skate.

Skipper and marine biologist David Ainsley, who is also an underwater cameraman and runs Sealife Adventures, said it was ‘a huge privilege’ to be involved with a team of divers catching the site on camera.

Now he and others are calling on people to write to their MSPs asking for immediate protection for the Flapper Skate, which he says are as much in danger of extinction as Giant Pandas and Polar Bears.

Mr Ainsley, who has only ever seen the Flapper Skate on four of about 4,000 dives, says the area he filmed at near Skye urgently needs protection from fishermen who could wipe out the eggs, catching them up accidentally in trawler nets.

Although it has been illegal for fishermen to target flapper skates commercially since 2009, they are still at risk of being caught up by trawlers by accident – a situation not helped by them being so big and such slow-swimmers.

Mr Ainsley said: ‘The area needs protection from damaging fishing activities as one event could wipe out all these eggs which take more than 500 days to hatch. Flapper skate are as endangered as Giant Pandas and Polar Bears they are here in Scotland!’

On Sealife Adventure’s Facebook he urged: ‘If possible, please write to your MSP asking for immediate protection.’

More than 100 eggs were found on the seabed off the northwest coast earlier this month. The site is one of the largest ever to be  discovered and because the eggs, which take 18 months to hatch, were different sizes it suggests there is a community of skates populating the area.

With the possibility of growing to be more than 8ft across the wingspan, the huge flapper skate is known to be one of the largest skate species in the world. It is also one of 81 priority marine features the Scottish Government is committed to protecting.

The Scottish Government has been told about the recent find and asked NatureScot to advise on possible protection so it can consider what is said and decide what action to take.

Mr Ainsley, who set up Sealife Adventures in 1988 and has worked on a number of documentaries, including Hebrides: Islands on the Edge, as well as Coast,  said: ‘This is a move in the direction although NatureScot did know about this site since March.’

A diver, Chris Rickard, who first discovered the site, reported it to authorities but felt no action was being taken to protect it so in desperation put out a shoutout for other divers to join him to film it – Mr Ainsley was one of those who stepped forward. Blue Marine Foundation has also been involved.

Mr Ainsley added: ‘We can’t risk this area being destroyed. There’s a lot of interest in it now thanks to the publicity and if we can keep it up and get people’s support then hopefully we can keep it safe.’