A ship equipped with an underwater robot has set sail from Edinburgh on a two-month exploration of the North Sea.
Environmental group Oceana is examining Scottish waters for the first time in an attempt to discover what wildlife is on the seabed and whether certain areas need protecting.
Having left Leith at 11pm on Tuesday, the Neptune ship will sail up the Aberdeenshire coast before moving on to Norway, Denmark, Germany and finishing near Newcastle.
The crew will lower a remote-controlled robot into the water, which will be used to scan the seabed and take samples of the fish and fauna.
Suzanne Conlon, a marine scientist at Oceana, said:“For the oil industry, there’s quite a lot of infrastructure on the sea floor and the installation and removal of that is potentially harmful to the organisms that could be there.
“We want to go out and survey areas that have had very little attention paid to them, or areas we’ve been asked to look at in order to get a general description because we don’t really know what’s there.
“We want to improve the management of already marine protected areas and find out whether other places should be protected.
“We also want to find out if there are areas that could be potential fish habitats, so spawning grounds or where adult fish or juvenile fish grow up.”
Ms Conlon added: “It (robot) has a video camera, so we send it down and it goes along the bottom of the sea floor and has two laser beams on it, so we can use those as reference points.
“On board the vessel we watch it as it moves along and it records. Back in the computer lab we analyse all the species and sediment types it finds there. It’s a pretty good piece of equipment.”
The crew – backed by £2.2 million of Dutch Postcode Lottery funding – also hopes to assess the impact of the fishing and oil industries on the North Sea.
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