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Can Lochaber help Scotland rival the Great Barrier Reef? Once you’re in, the water’s lovely…

The Lochaber Snorkel Trail has been put together by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and West Highland College UHI.
The Lochaber Snorkel Trail has been put together by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and West Highland College UHI.

The water is clear and the marine wildlife is abundant and colourful.

Perhaps only the temperature may prevent you from confusing the spectacular underwater world as being in the Caribbean.

Scotland’s newest snorkel trail explores what lies beneath the waves around Lochaber’s sandy beaches and rocky shores.

It could help efforts to develop marine tourism to become a £500 million industry by 2025.

The Lochaber Snorkel Trail features six sites

The Lochaber Snorkel Trail features six sites where beginners and more advanced snorkelers can discover exotically-named species such as moon and lion’s mane jellyfish, sunstar starfish, breadcrumb sponge and snakelocks anemone.

In addition, there are a range of crustaceans, fish, seals and plants to look out for.

The project has been created by the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) and West Highland College UHI.

It began as a final-year project for a marine and coastal tourism student based at the college’s school of adventure studies.

The trail is co-financed by the CAPITEN project of the Interreg Atlantic Area regional development programme.

Lochaber forms part of a network of snorkel trails in Scotland as part of SWT’s Living Seas programme, supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

The trail started in 2016 in the north-west Highlands and other projects have been added in north Harris and Berwickshire.

Helping to safely discover marine wildlife

The water temperature means it’s unlikely that snorkelling holidays will ever explode in the way they have at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

That iconic location brings in $6.4 billion (around £3.4 billion) to the Australian economy every year.

But Lochaber’s stunning landscapes can certainly bring in the crowds.

Dr Sam Collin, living seas manager for the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “Lochaber’s dramatic landscapes, beautiful beaches and internationally recognised biodiversity make it one of the finest locations for marine and coastal tourism in Scotland.

“The Lochaber Snorkel Trail is a fantastic addition to the network of trails being developed as part of our Living Seas project.

“We are delighted to have worked closely with West Highland College UHI to create it.

“We want to help people realise the importance of protecting Scotland’s seas – helping local people and visitors to safely discover marine wildlife through snorkelling is a fantastic way to achieve that.”

The Lochaber project is part of a network of Scottish snorkel trails.

Annabel Lawrence, lecturer in marine and coastal tourism at West Highland College UHI, hopes the trail will lead to a greater understanding, appreciation and protection of fragile, threatened habitats and iconic species.

She said the college’s marine and coastal tourism degree was developed in response to Scotland’s initial marine tourism strategy ‘Awakening the Giant’.

It now works in partnership with the 2020-2025 ‘Giant Strides’ strategy. This aims to grow the industry’s economic contribution to more than £500 million by 2025 while ensuring marine tourism is sustainable.

The trail was launched on the shore of Loch Linnhe. Scottish Wildlife Trust and West Highland College UHI

The amazing life beneath the waves

Kate Forbes, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, said the trail is a welcome initiative during Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters.

“The work helps to highlight Lochaber’s stunning coast and the amazing life beneath the waves. I’m sure the trail will enhance adventure tourism in Lochaber, and raise awareness of the importance of looking after our local marine life.”

The trail’s six sites are Camusdarach Beach, near Mallaig; Loch Nan Uamh – Prince’s Cairn, near Arisaig; Ardnastang, near Sunart;  Lochaline; Loch Linnhe picnic area, near Corran; and Bishop’s Bay, near Ballachulish.

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