What are “Highly Protected Marine Areas” (HPMAs)?
Highly Protected Marine Areas are areas of the sea that are placed under strict protection to support ecosystem recovery and protect against climate change.
The Scottish Government has committed to giving a small proportion – just 10% – of our seas this strict protection. This is in line with international recommendations for nature recovery and resilience and follows the EU’s own 10% target for strict protection.
HPMAs are well-established globally and proven to have ecological benefits, which in turn can benefit fishers. The success of the ‘no-take zone’ (an area where no fishing is allowed, equivalent to an HPMA) of Carry-le-Rouet in the French Mediterranean, created in 1983, led to the fishing industry playing a key role in the establishment of a second HPMA nearby, the reserve of La Couronne.
Why do we need HPMAs in Scottish seas?
We are facing a twin nature and climate crisis, and nature’s recovery must be central to government priorities and policies. In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the impact of climate change was increasingly irreversible and called for every country and sector to take drastic action on all fronts to tackle the climate crisis. Last year, the UN Secretary General declared an “Ocean Emergency” and called for collective and urgent action to restore marine life.
In Scotland, the health of our seas is vital for communities who rely on marine activities like fishing and wildlife tourism. However, evidence shows a continuing deterioration of marine ecosystems, and some of our living seabed habitats, such as seagrass, have suffered from catastrophic decline. UK administrations have collectively failed to achieve 11 out of 15 of the ‘Good Environmental Status’ targets set by the UK Marine Strategy, with seabird populations in particular continuing to decline.
Scotland’s Marine Assessment 2020 identified climate change and fishing activities that drag heavy nets across the seabed or through the water as the key pressures facing marine biodiversity.
If implemented alongside other sustainable management measures, HPMAs would provide Scotland with core zones for ecosystem recovery, helping us address the climate and nature crises and increasing our seas’ resilience to climate change. For thriving seas with healthy fish populations, we need an effective marine planning system that protects key areas, including HPMAs, so that Scotland’s seas can support species, habitats and communities.
How do HPMAs work?
HPMAs provide strong levels of protection to the marine environment by prohibiting all impacting or damaging activities in a small number of designated sites. Activities that remove or damage natural resources or that dump materials and pollutants in the sea are banned. The specific rules for Scotland’s HPMAs will be determined by the Scottish Government.
The recently published global MPA Guide provides a helpful summary of what activities are or are not compatible with fully and highly protected areas.
What are the benefits of HPMAs?
The ecological effects of HPMAs have been widely documented globally. A 2019 study showed that HPMAs can provide greater benefits than other types of Marine Protected Areas.
HPMAs provide dedicated havens for vulnerable and depleted marine life to recover. Allowing fish, shellfish and other species to flourish in a fully protected area also benefits the many people and activities that rely upon healthy seas. The benefits from these areas overflow into surrounding waters, increasing the abundance and resilience of sea life, benefitting low impact fishing.
Analysis of the 24 no-take zones in the Mediterranean sea demonstrated that high levels of protection have significant ecological benefits for fish biomass and equally positive effects for fisheries’ target species. The total fish biomass and density were on average twice greater in fully protected areas than outside.
The community-led no take zone in Lamlash Bay off the Isle of Arran is Scotland’s only strictly protected area equivalent to a HPMA (as proposed in the recent Scottish Government consultation) and demonstrates on a small scale their potential for success. Biodiversity in the bay has increased by 50% since 2010, and the king scallop population more than trebled between 2013 and 2019. This has increased opportunities for low impact fishing and for scallop hand diving, benefitting the local economy.
Where will HPMAs be placed?
The Scottish Government is responsible for designating Scotland’s HPMA sites. Proposals will be informed and assessed by Scottish Government conservation advisors, NatureScot and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, who will suggest whether they meet the criteria to be designated as HPMAs. Proposals from organisations and members of the public will also be invited (‘third party proposals’), which will be assessed in the same way.
It is our view as members of Scottish Environment LINK that coastal, island and fishing communities should be closely involved in the process of designation as equal partners. An effective HPMA network should be spread across both inshore and offshore waters, in areas that have been degraded or that have the potential to recover to a more natural state, and should be designed to support both ecological and social sustainability.
Can HPMAs exist alongside a viable fishing industry?
Yes – HPMAs can support a sustainable fishing industry. Where there are designated ocean recovery zones, fish stocks will increase with spillover effects in neighbouring areas. The example of French fishermen working towards additional HPMAs after experiencing the benefits of no-take zones shows that this approach can bring significant benefits to industry itself.
Where else has HPMAs?
HPMAs are a key tool to enable the protection and recovery of marine ecosystems. Globally, the number and coverage of HPMAs are increasing. The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 sets a target of ‘strict protection’ of 10% of the EU’s seas by 2030.
Various HPMAs can be found worldwide, and research demonstrates their benefits on marine life within and outside their boundaries. The MPA guide helpfully provides a map of 226 MPAs, 126 of which are under high levels of protection.