On Friday 1st September, members of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee set sail from the Isle of Mull to experience Scotland’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Departing from Tobermory, the Committee members visited part of the Loch Sunart to Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area on the West Coast of Scotland.
The trip was organised by members of Scottish Environment LINK’s Marine Group and hosted by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) a marine conservation charity and LINK member based on the Isle of Mull. Members were joined by representatives from the Community Association of Lochs and Sounds (CAOLAS), and were lucky enough to see a young minke whale feeding near the boundary line of the proposed Sea of Hebrides MPA, and several harbour porpoises in the Sound of Mull aboard the Staffa tours boat. The excursion recognised the progress that has been made in developing Scotland’s MPA network, but underlined the work still to be done.
Plans to develop a network of MPAs in Scotland are well under way. The Sound of Jura to Loch Sunart MPA is just one of 30 MPAs designated in 2014, as part of a strategic jigsaw of protected areas in both inshore and offshore waters designed to give sealife – such as corals, seabirds and fish – a chance to return to better health.
Recent additions to the MPA network include a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in the Inner Hebrides and Minches for Harbour Porpoise announced last September, and the Loch Carron emergency MPA for the recovery of flame shell beds.
Yet, there is still more to be done, say environmental groups, who underlined the importance of there being sufficient resources to get the job done. Among the measures outstanding are management measures for remaining inshore sites including seven MPAs and 14 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). Additionally, the LINK Marine Group urged the timely designation of 15 Special Protection Areas for marine birds, and a further four nature conservation MPAs first proposed in 2014, to provide much needed protection for mobile species including minke whale and basking shark.
Calum Duncan, Convenor of Scottish Environment LINK’s marine group and Marine Conservation Society, Head of Conservation Scotland said: “We are delighted that members of the ECCLR Committee and local groups were able to join us to celebrate Scotland’s marine life and recognise progress towards developing Scotland’s MPA network. We are at a critical point on this journey and more still needs to be done. If the MPA network sufficiently represents all of Scotland’s marine life, is reliably resourced and well-managed, alongside effective marine planning and modernised fisheries management, it will help reverse decades of environmental decline and boost the many benefits our seas provide for current and future generations”.
Alison Lomax, Director at Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust added: “The waters of west Scotland are an important feeding hotspot for minke whales in the summer months. Thousands of visitors come to see these animals each year in our waters. It was fantastic that members of the ECCLR Committee got to experience some of Mull’s amazing marine wildlife during the visit.”
Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee Convener, Graeme Dey MSP, said: “The conservation of Scotland’s seas is hugely important for the protection of marine life as well as our coastal communities and marine industries.
“Our Committee will examine Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) across Scotland in the future, and that’s why our visit to Scottish Environment LINK to find out more about the operation of Loch Sunart and Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura MPAs was incredibly valuable.”
Notes/links for editors:
Scottish Environment LINK’s marine group – a coalition of environmental charities campaign to protect and recover Scotland’s seas – and comprises the following nine organisations: Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust, Marine Conservation Society, National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland, RZSS, Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, WWF Scotland, Whale& Dolphin Conservation. (http://scotlink.org/workareas/marine/) The members campaign for Marine Protected Areas via www.savescottishseas.org
- Scotland’s MPA network can be seen here:
- A map showing the locations of the proposed MPAs can be viewed here: http://www.savescottishseas.org/scottish-marine-protected-area-network
- A map showing the concerning and declining state of Scotland’s seas can be found here: http://www.savescottishseas.org/save-scottish-seas/recover/
- Information about recent MPA designations can be found here – Loch Carron Emergency MPA: http://www.snh.gov.uk/protecting-scotlands-nature/protected-areas/national-designations/mpas/mpa-lca/ and Inner Hebrides and Minches SAC for Harbour Porpoise: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/marine/marine-environment/mpanetwork/harbourporpoisesacs
- Information about the four delayed nature conservation MPAs can be found here:
Ø Related information on MPAs can be found at www.savescottishseas.org/why-we-need-mpas