Sharing our blue space: Sea Scotland 2024 summary

12 Jun 2024

Deborah Long, Scottish Environment LINK Chief Officer retraces Sea Scotland 2024, which was held on 3rd and 4th June at Stirling Court Hotel.

Sea Scotland 2024 kicked off with our morning youth event, Making waves: Sea Scotland Youth Voices. An enthusiastic, knowledgeable and thoughtful group of 15 young people came together to find out more about how to make waves at conferences like this one. They are all starting their marine career, or anticipating one, and are keen to get involved. We were pleased that some of them were able to stay for the entire conference and practice their new knowledge and skills.

a group posing for a photo in front of a whiteboard

This year’s conference explored “Sharing our blue space”. Catherine Gemmell, Marine Conservation Society, started us off with her insightful and inspiring keynote assessment of what it means to share our blue space. We followed on with an expert panel discussion around marine policy. Speakers looked at where we are in marine policy, expressed all our frustration at the slow rate of progress but also stressed the absolute need to keep going. They outlined the challenges we face, and the actions needed, including public and private investment, using SMEEF as a current model for this. Audience questions explored how we can make more and speedier progress, and what the reality of change looks like and needs to achieve.

Later in the afternoon, delegates chose one of 3 sessions: an “Industry with Ambition” session looked at sustainability and the role of innovation in ecosystem restoration and supporting strong communities. The Marine Just Transition workshop underlined the fundamental need for a just transition and offered hope as well as wider scope for fair and just change. The nature restoration session looked at the challenges and opportunities in restoration and concluded that we need to do much more to meet our nature restoration goals.

Day 2 of the conference started with a message from the Cabinet Secretary. This helpfully reiterated her and the Government’s commitment to the nature and climate goals as well as outlining Government ambitions for Scotland’s blue space. The audience poll afterwards reflected the poor condition today of Scotland’s’ seas but also contained optimism for the future.

a group of people sitting at a table in front of a screen

The morning expert panel session tackled marine planning. Speakers looked at Government plans for the National Marine Plan 2; the importance of coastal literacy and the potential of community-led partnership building with members of the public, schools and industry. The power of community-led action was illustrated through the community-led State of the Coast  for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. Speakers also looked at what the future of marine planning could and should look like, especially related to offshore wind and how marine planning works for mobile species, like minke whales. Audience questions focussed on the speed of change already happening in Scotland’s marine environment and the need for policy to catch up with the speed of those changes. Comments underlined how we cannot afford to linger any longer. The audience was also interested in coherence and coordination for National Marine Plan 2, particularly the need to learn lessons from National Marine Plan 1, and to ensure it delivers community-informed decision-making.  

The three afternoon workshops looked at managing diverse views and perceptions and how we can use our own feelings to help us understand others; using the community voice method in the Oceans of value project and using art for activism: how visualising the key issues in new ways engages more people, and builds creative new collaborations.

a conference room with groups of people sitting round tables listening to a presentation

If I was to sum up the key points from our two days:

  1. The need for speed: we’ve been talking about the need for protection and effective spatial planning for 20 years now. In that time, our marine environment has changed and deteriorated while becoming more pressured. While Scottish Government ambition remains high, delivery is far too slow. This is challenging but because ecological changes are already happening, we can’t afford to wait any longer to tackle it.
  2. A Just Transition: one of our panellists said: Healthy, happy communities [should be] able to have a good life and protect their environment at the same time. Marine has long been an obvious gap in the Government’s Just Transition work, and it is very welcome to see the start of direct work on it. Some common themes of this year’s Sea Scotland echo themes in the visits the Just Transition Commission are making:
    • we need to learn the lessons of the past and avoid past mistakes that led to severe and ongoing injustices;
    • we need professionally facilitated conversations;
    • we need better communication and real engagement with local communities, to avoid the pervasive ‘consultation overload’;
    • we need to have the hard conversations about what has to change and who has to pay
    • and finally, we need to hear all voices.

There are 5 F’s that I took from the conference:

First F is for Food. It breaks the ice, brings people together and is the start of productive conversation

Second F is for Films: these inspire and communicate with a very wide audience

Third F is for Feelings: if we can be brave enough to harness the power of feelings, our own feelings help us understand our own perspectives as well as understand others and that mutual understanding builds better joint outcomes.

Fourth F is for Finding new ways; art is a great way to express complex and sometimes depressing environmental issues. But art visualises the issues we face in the marine environment in new and surprising ways, which helps us build understanding and support for action.

Our shared blue space depends on us all for its Future. If you want to have your voice heard, particularly around protecting and restoring our marine environment for future generation, sign our petition to tell the Government to give Scotland’s network of Marine Protected Areas real protection.

Sea Scotland cannot happen without our sponsors: thank you to Howell Marine Consulting, Stromar, Naturescot, WWF Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Marine Conservation Society.

The success of the conference is thanks to the Sea Scotland Steering group and LINK’s Marine Policy and Engagement Officers, Fanny and Esther.

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