Scottish Government proposals announced today have the potential to help reverse hundreds of years of environmental decline in our seas, say a coalition of environmental groups. Plans for a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were launched via public consultation today alongside the National Marine Plan, a new plan for sustainable development at sea. The MPAs have the potential to recover and manage the ecological health of Scotland’s seas that have suffered from centuries of pollution, overfishing and damage to the seabed. … [Continue Reading]
Read why Heriot-Watt researchers need an injection of capital to pioneer some world-leading technology that could transform the way we do nature conservation at sea…
Could robots help to save the world’s fragile and increasingly damaged coral reefs? It’s an astonishing idea conceived and developed by researchers at Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University.
By developing complex, swarm-based algorithms, the researchers hope to build intelligent submersible robots that could recognise underwater coral species and help to rebuild sections of reef. The brainchild of some healthy cross-departmental pollination at the annual “Heriot-Watt Crucible,” the idea is ambitious and potentially transformative. … [Continue Reading]
A parliamentary report highlighting a chronic “lack of clarity” with English marine protection plans sends a strong signal to the Scottish Government about its proposals for a marine protected area network to safeguard Scotland’s marine biodiversity.
The report by the cross-party UK Science and Technology Committee describes the “frustration” and “anxiety” for industry and other stakeholders caused during efforts to create Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in England. The consultation is being viewed by many Scottish stakeholders as a stark lesson about the potential pitfalls for Scotland’s Marine Protected Area project if not implemented robustly and … [Continue Reading]
The future of Scotland’s sealife depends on a planning system for the sea, according to a committee of MSPs. In a letter sent to Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Environment and Climate Change on Monday, MSPs on the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee stressed the importance of a coordinated National Marine Plan to ensure the sustainability of offshore development.
The comments on the Scottish Government’s biodiversity strategy, have been welcomed by the members of Scottish Environment LINK, who warn that Scotland’s marine life is under increasing pressure from a range of threats, such as climate change and industrial activities at sea. Scotland’s Marine Atlas, a compendium of scientific knowledge about Scottish seas, documents the worrying declines of many marine species and habitats. … [Continue Reading]
The people of Fair Isle are calling for better protection of their local marine environment. Nick Riddiford, chair of the Fair Isle Marine Environment and Tourism Initiative explains why a Marine Protected Area would help safeguard their sea, and their community.
For the last 24 years the Fair Isle community, concerned at steady and unremitting damage to its marine environment, has been active in trying to reverse the process.
This has culminated in a proposal to the Scottish Government for a Marine Protected Area for Fair Isle waters, submitted to the Government’s Marine Scotland in December 2011. The proposal has the backing of every person on the isle, as a healthy marine environment underpins the social and economic well-being of the isle.
The isle has been occupied continuously for at least 2000 years and archaeological investigations have demonstrated that there were people living here 5000 years ago. Fair Isle is 42 kilometres (28 miles) from the nearest land in any direction. A community would not have survived without using its resources in a sustainable manner. It was not in a position to use up its resources, then go and exploit resources elsewhere. That remains the situation today.
The seas around Fair Isle have always played an essential part in community life and continue to do so. We recognise that safeguarding the resource also safeguards the future of our island. That resource now includes the public, drawn to the isle by its marvellous wildlife, scenery and maritime culture. We owe it to them. We owe it to our children.
In 1995 the community formalised its efforts through the Fair Isle Marine Environment and Tourism Initiative (FIMETI), an initiative led by the islanders in partnership with Fair Isle Bird Observatory and the National Trust for Scotland.
FIMETI, perceiving no action from other bodies, set out to provide a catalyst for urgent progress towards proper, sustainable management of the Fair Isle marine resource. It has engaged in a plethora of activities, including an international sustainable resource management project, the production of a policy report Safeguarding Our Heritage – the Fair Isle Marine Resource, participation in the Scottish Government’s Scottish Sustainable Marine Environment Initiative (SSMEI Shetland pilot study) and much more. But it is yet to achieve its primary aim of bringing a sustainable management programme to a resource which the community sees as crucial to its long-term development and well-being.
Despite this lack of achievement, the community identifies a new opportunity with the prospect of a network of Marine Protected Areas in Scottish waters. Fair Isle’s seas remain rich, despite a marine environment subject to continued enormous pressure. In addition, the isle has a series of facilities which would make it an ideal site for a Demonstration and Research MPA. In this way it could act as a pilot site for testing appropriate management measures and provide a model for coastal communities throughout Scotland.
An MPA would also meet the Scottish Government’s obligation within the Council of Europe. Fair Isle has held the Council of Europe Diploma since 1985, one of just two sites in Scotland. In 2010 a condition was signed by the Council’s Committee of Ministers – representing all 47 participating countries – that the Scottish and UK Government’s should use their powers to establish a protected marine area for Fair Isle. If this is not done, Fair Isle will lose its Diploma and Scotland one of its only two sites.
FIMETI remains the community’s voice on the issue. Just about everyone, from school children upwards have been involved in FIMETI activities over the years, including the preparation of the MPA proposal. This is clearly demonstrated in a series of newsletters entitled Making Waves. The latest Making Waves (Issue 10) has just been published. It has been described as “a good read” but also displays the range of maritime activities, and qualities, which makes Fair Isle such a special place. We invite you to read it here
Major concerns about marine protection in England and Wales have been raised by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s ‘Fish Fight’ campaign after initial plans for 127 marine conservation zones were later cut to just 31 sites for public consultation. The UK Government slashed the proposals following arguments over science, sparking around 2,000 people to take part in a rally at Westminster earlier this week calling on the UK Government to be more ambitious.
But the scientific case for an equivalent network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in Scotland is strong enough to consult on all 33 Scottish sites … [Continue Reading]
Sea trout, like many species in Scotland’s waters, are in decline. And not just a gradual decline; in some regions they are on a disturbing trajectory towards local extinction, having fallen by over 75% in 20 years . Government advice infers from the latest sea trout rod catch statistics that spawning levels of this fish are at historically low levels. This is bad news for obvious ecological reasons. It is also bad news for very interconnected economic ones.
Sea trout are part of the natural, social and economic fabric of Scotland. For millennia a part of our diet, Scottish sea trout and salmon now attract anglers from all over the world.
A study in 2004 revealed that recreational anglers for sea trout and salmon spent a total of £73m in Scotland annually. This is undoubtedly a substantial annual contribution to the coastal and rural areas of Scotland’s economy. A 1999 study suggested indirect and induced impacts of angling on the Western Isles economy amounted to £5.6m and accounted for 260 full time equivalent jobs – 2.7% of the working population.
These economic studies make clear that healthy stocks of sea trout and salmon are vital to the rural economy. And widespread declines in sea trout mean these financial benefits to local communities are under threat. The reasons for the declines vary throughout the country, but in the west where the issue is most pressing, they are mostly linked to the spread of disease. And again one thing is obvious; we need to act. Much work is already being done to conserve sea trout in river systems, but there is more we can do to protect sea trout in the marine environment.
What can we do about this?
Like salmon, sea trout move from freshwater into salt-water, but rather than migrating across the Atlantic like their salmonid cousins, sea trout spend the marine stage of their life cycle in inshore and estuarial waters. It is here that they are particularly vulnerable and where they are known to pick up lethal infections of sealice.
It is for this reason that Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) can help to protect sea trout. Sea trout are classed as a ‘Priority Marine Feature’ under new Scottish marine legislation and although they are not being used as one of the features to drive the selection of MPA sites, it is essential that once the sites have been identified, some must be managed specifically for the protection of sea trout and other migratory fish such as salmon. MPAs could also be managed to enhance the marine habitats and food sources which sea trout rely upon, for example by protecting eelgrass beds, maerl beds and sandeels.
Alongside other conservation measures, MPAs therefore could provide a vital boost to migratory fish in Scotland’s marine and freshwater environment. This of course is an end in itself – studies show that people are glad simply to know that fish live in our rivers. But the potential trickle-down effects in the form of secure – and possibly increased – revenue from recreational game fishing is just one demonstration of how the health of our economy is underpinned by environmental health.
Despite such a compelling case, these nature conservation Marine Protected Areas are not yet in place. At the end of 2012, the Scottish Government received advice from SNH and JNCC on 33 MPA proposals and four MPA search locations in Scottish waters. Members of the Save Scottish Seas campaign remain seriously concerned about gaps in the network and its adequacy for the protection of certain important marine species and habitats. The campaign is therefore committed to helping make the MPA network as well-managed and ecologically coherent as possible.
This summer there is a public consultation about the proposed network. Find out how you can show your support for a strong, well-managed and ecologically-coherent network of Marine Protected Areas by visiting the Save Scottish Seas ‘get involved’ page…
[Updated from original article on 23rd August, 2013]
The crew of an alien spacecraft, entering the Earth’s atmosphere over the north of Scotland, could not fail to be impressed by the beauty of Shetland, Orkney and the Hebrides.
Being even more sophisticated and better equipped than most civil servants, our visitors from Planet Dork would immediately recognise that these islands are part of an intricate, varied and very fragile ecosystem. Sensors on board the spaceship, as it skimmed southwestwards from Muckle Flugga to the Mull of Kintyre, would also notice that the most biodiverse and productive part of the ecosystem lies under the sea (something the seers of St Andrews House have not yet registered). The Mekon piloting the ship would probably clap a preservation order on the lot, for aesthetic if not economic reasons, before flying on to have his wicked way with the cities of the plains between the Ochils and the Pentlands.
The Mekon? That dates me. He was the sinister alien in the Eagle comic’s ‘Dan Dare’ strip in the 1950s. Sometimes I feel the Mekon’s already taken us over. It’s more than five years now since the new Scottish Government decided not to go ahead with an imaginative plan to create Scotland’s first National Marine Parks, apparently because some rich fishermen didn’t like the idea (and also, perhaps, because the Lab-Lib Coalition at Holyrood had promoted it). Instead, we’ve had a series of Special Areas of Conservation and Marine Protected Areas. These are all very well and worthy but, when I recently re-read the papers I wrote in 2006, advocating the proposed Shetland National Marine Park, I found that the argument for much larger protected areas was stronger than ever.
The basic problem, underwater, is that we’re creating conservation ‘islands’ in a sea of escalating industrial development, just as we’ve been doing on land for such a long time. Rather than saying “this place is beautiful, special and we must preserve as much of it as possible if we want to have thriving fishing and tourist industries for our grandchildren”, the attitude seems to be “if you want to keep some little bits pristine then you’ll have to make the case for it and ensure the fishermen, the fossil fuel industry and the cable layers are kept happy”. This partial, piecemeal approach to marine planning repeats the errors of the terrestrial planning industry which (and I quote a planning officer whom I recently questioned about the new Planning Act) always has a “presumption in favour of development.”
Piecemeal conservation isn’t conservation at all, because it fails to recognise that habitats such as the luxuriant Shetland kelp forest and its amazing caves, encrusted by a riot of corals and creatures that rival the Great Barrier Reef, are part of a vast ecosystem fringing western Europe from southwest Ireland to northern Norway. Offshore, where it’s too deep and dark for seaweed, there’s even more biodiversity, as the oil industry’s own surveys have revealed over the past 40 years. If you break it up into isolated bits you’re likely to damage it by far more than the sum of the fragmented pieces.
Of course we need somewhere for the fishermen to fish, but it would be in their own interests if we kept heavy trawls and scallop dredgers out of the 12 mile limit. Of course we need undersea cables, not least to develop wind, wave and tidal power on the islands, and the cable tracks would add to the area of no-catch zones where fish stocks might recover after a century of over-fishing, without the risk of pollution that comes with oil platforms and floating production and storage vessels. Until renewables are far more developed than they are today, we also need oil and gas, but at what cost to the tiny animals that live on and under the seabed, and which in turn are food for commercial fish?
It’s the developers who should have to argue the case for making a hole in the blanket of conservation, a blanket that ought to be in place already, if we’re serious about “sustainability”. At this rate there’ll soon be more holes than blanket. If you doubt this, look at a chart of the platforms, pipelines, submarine cables and heavily trawled fishing grounds in the North Sea. It looks like a painting of a rat’s nest by Jackson Pollock.
The ‘presumption in favour of development’ is epitomised by what’s happening in the final phase of the fossil fuel industry on the “Atlantic Frontier”. As I write this, I’ve been asked to comment on the Westminster Government’s draft oilspill contingency plans for the west Shetland oil and gas fields, in water almost as deep as, and considerably stormier than, the Gulf of Mexico. The LibberTories say it’s acceptable that the only insurance cover for a Macondo-style blowout west of Shetland is a voluntary scheme run by the companies, with a kitty of just $250m. That wouldn’t pay the flights and hotel bills of the workers who’d have to wipe clean Shetland’s 1600-mile coastline of beaches, cliffs, caves and kelp forests, if and when the big one happened. But it’s OK, folks – the plan says if the cost were more than $250m ($2.5bn is not unlikely) then the victims of pollution would be able to sue the miscreants in the courts. Oh, goody! If the Amoco Cadiz and Exxon Valdez cases are anything to go by, it could take 10 to 20 years to settle, by which time some of the claimants will, conveniently, be dead.
There oughta be a law.
(This article was submitted end of November 2012).
I contributed images to the Save Scottish Seas campaign, because I believe passionately that we have got to do everything in our power to safeguard our marine wildlife for future generations.
In just 30 years – the length of time I have been taking underwater photographs – I have been privileged to explore many parts of Scotland’s incredibly diverse seas, from sheltered sea-lochs to the most exposed islands and stacs around St Kilda. In that time I have seen many amazingly beautiful creatures and spectacular underwater scenery. Despite Scottish seas being cold they have areas of world-class marine life and habitats.
Sadly I have also seen areas which have been damaged or used badly too. It is essential to appreciate that, whilst out of sight, our marine environment is an extremely important part of our world. This is not just because I am environmentally aware, but because we depend on it for food – and many do so for their livelihoods.
I think photos are an important tool for showing what goes on under the surface. Just as we would never know what the surface of the moon looks like unless we’d been there and taken photographic evidence, our seabeds are just as mysterious to us without pictures to illuminate their wonder. Although it is sometimes difficult for me to imagine, the vast majority of people will probably never dive beneath the surface of Scotland’s rich seas and will never see them firsthand. But whether you visit a kelp forest or a local wood, I think we all collectively take tremendous strength from simply knowing that our seas are healthy and rich in sealife.
Marine Protected Areas are one step towards helping secure a future for our seas, increasingly under pressure from human activities, in a way that balances everyone’s interests for the long-term.
Paul Kay is based on the North Wales coast and undertakes photographic work throughout the UK and beyond. www.paulkayphotography.co.uk
WDC has handed over a huge 36,736 signatures from members of the public to Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment, asking the Scottish Government to include whales and dolphins in Scotland’s new marine protected area network.
The handover of the signatures at the Scottish parliament by WDC’s head of policy in Scotland, Sarah Dolman, leading international minke whale expert, Dr Mike Tetley, and Ruaraigh the inflatable Risso’s dolphin was made just a day before Mr Lochhead made a public announcement regarding the Government’s plans for its marine protected area (MPA) network.
In February, WDC launched its campaign to ensure whales and dolphins are included in the list of species to be protected when the Scottish Government makes its decision on which areas of Scottish seas will be protected. In just a few months, WDC has received nearly 37,000 responses from concerned members of the public (including over 100 Scottish and international marine scientists) demonstrating the extreme level of feeling on the matter.
“We have been overwhelmed by the level of support received from the Scottish and international public on this matter and the sheer numbers speak for themselves. We are very pleased that Mr Lochhead agreed to meet with us to receive the signatures and so acknowledge the passionate public feeling on this matter”, said Sarah Dolman.
“Scotland’s seas are truly outstanding, and the Scottish MPA network is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect and showcase our amazing whales and dolphins along with other nationally important species and habitats.
“We know that the Scottish Government has the scientific data needed to include whales and dolphins in the MPA network – we helped supply it! They now have to choose whether to provide whales and dolphins with protected areas or to continue to neglect some of Scotland’s most iconic and precious marine species.”
The Scottish Government’s report to the Scottish Parliament contains no commitments to set up MPAs for the priority Scottish species identified, including minke whales, Risso’s dolphins, white beaked dolphins and basking sharks.