Scotland’s seas need more protection

Crop another basking shark (alexander mustard 2020 vision)

Basking shark. Picture credit: Alexander Mustard.

The proposed MPA for the Sea of the Hebrides would be among the first protected areas for basking sharks in the world

Graham Martin's photo

7th June 2019 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Conservation group Scottish Environment Link has welcomed the launch of a public consultation on proposals to create more marine protected areas (MPAs).

Four new MPAs, one of which spans the Sea of the Hebrides, will add to a developing network of protected areas across Scotland’s seas.

Once in place, with appropriate management of marine activities, these would safeguard some of Scotland’s most iconic species, including the basking shark, the world’s second largest fish, minke whales and the little-known Risso’s dolphin.

Basking sharks migrate to Scottish seas through the summer to feed and breed, but their numbers have declined historically due to commercial hunting.

These species make popular viewing for Scotland’s growing wildlife-watching industry, in which whale-watching on the west coast alone is worth over £2 million.

The proposed MPA for the Sea of the Hebrides would be among the first protected areas for basking sharks in the world.

Important seabed habitats would also be protected - such as sea-fan and sponge communities and burrowed mud, which provide a home to many other marine species, and sandeels which are vital in the marine food web.

However, these proposals would protect the sites in name only - a further process will be required to implement management measures to reduce the impact of human activities on the protected species and habitats.

The announcement comes the day before World Oceans Day, a global initiative that recognises the importance of the marine environment for sustaining life on earth.

Calum Duncan, head of conservation Scotland for Marine Conservation Society and convenor of Scottish Environment Link’s Marine Group, said: “Scotland's seas are globally important for a range of species and habitats, including the mighty basking shark, but they face increasing pressure from climate change and human activity.

“We know that Scotland's wildlife and environmental quality are of immense value, both intrinsically and to our global reputation, and so are pleased these new sites are being proposed. It is vital such special places are properly protected from damaging activities to support wider marine ecosystem health and ensure Scotland is a beacon of ocean recovery worldwide.”

Sarah Dolman, policy manager for Whale and Dolphin Conservation, added: “We commend the Scottish Government for bringing forward these MPA proposals. We need to understand and protect the important habitats of Scotland’s little known Risso’s dolphins and playful minke whales by monitoring and managing activities that may impact them, individually and collectively.”