Plan to give Loch Carron permanent protection
A public consultation has begun on plans to give a sea loch on Scotland's north west coast permanent marine protection.
Loch Carron has the world's largest flame shell bed, having an estimated 250 million of the brightly coloured molluscs.
The Scottish government gave the loch emergency Marine Protected Area (MPA) designation in May last year.
Launching the consultation, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: "Scotland has some of the most beautiful and diverse marine ecosystems in the world and the flame shells at Loch Carron are of international importance.
"That is why we are taking new measures to protect these amazing ecosystems to ensure they are safeguarded for future generations to enjoy the benefits of them, which are often taken for granted."
"This consultation is a key step to ensuring Loch Carron is given permanent marine protection to ensure the recovery of the flame shell beds in Loch Carron."
Scottish Natural Heritage is encouraging the public to get involved in the consultation.
Chairman Mike Cantlay said: "Loch Carron is home to the world's largest known flame shell bed - an elusive and brightly coloured shellfish species - as well as spectacular maerl beds.
"Not only are they outstandingly beautiful, but the west coast of Scotland is of international importance for these seabed habitats.
"We believe Loch Carron will make a significant contribution to the Scottish MPA network."
The Scottish Wildlife Trust has welcomed the planned permanent designation.
Its marine planning officer Dr Sam Collin said: "Marine Scotland's swift and urgent response to damage to the flame shell beds last year highlights the importance of taking an adaptive, ecosystems approach to marine planning and conservation."