Marine life in danger without stricter protection, warn experts

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While swathes of the country’s waters are already subject to an existing network of legal safeguards, the powers are insufficient to protect rare species, according to the authors of the Saving Our Seas Through Law project.

The initiative, a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST), calls on the Scottish government to designate one-tenth of Scottish waters as strictly protected areas, also known as marine reserves.

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This measure would impose a general ban on practices such as fishing, fish farming, mining and dredging in sensitive coastal areas.

James Harrison, a project member and professor of environmental law at the university, said the longer the more stringent protections are delayed, the greater the risk to invaluable marine resources.

Although there are 23 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for nature conservation in Scotland’s coastal waters, almost all of them are designated as ‘multiple use’. This, Mr Harrison said, offered a weaker form of protection compared to other statuses.

The project highlighted the MPA in place in the waters around Canna and Rum as an example of where the existing designation lacks adequate fisheries management measures. The area is home to the only British colony of rare fan mussels.

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Marine life flourished in the Lamlash Bay no-take zone off Arran. Photo: Howard Wood / CTE

Mr Harrison said: “A new system of strictly protected marine areas can provide comprehensive protection for the most valuable biodiversity hotspots. This will give our seas a chance to recover from the pressures they have been exposed to over the past century. ”

Mr Harrison said politicians must “act urgently and sensitively” to deploy tougher protections while balancing conservation, business and recreation needs.

Other areas where Save Our Seas by Law say existing MPAs are insufficient include the Clyde Sea Sill between Kintyre and Galloway, as well as the waters between Fetlar and Haroldswick in the Shetlands.

The Lamlash Bay “no-take zone” off the Isle of Arran has been hailed as a success. Image: Getty

The researchers highlighted the success of the Lamlash Bay “no-take zone” off the Isle of Arran, which is part of a much larger marine protected area.

Lucy Kay, COAST MPA Project Manager, said: “The benefits of effective marine protection are clear. Strong action has led to the establishment of the Lamlash Bay no-take zone and the protection of parts of the South Arran MPA, and we now urgently need more decisive action from the government to support the recovery of the Scottish seas. “

A spokesperson for Scottish government aid: ‘Our MPA network already covers 37% of our seas and we are committed to putting in place fisheries management measures for existing sites where they are not already in place by March 2024.

“We will also designate highly protected marine areas (HPMA) covering at least 10% of our seas by 2026. HPMAs will be a major step forward in conserving and enhancing Scotland’s marine biodiversity.

“The site selection and designation process must be fair, open and transparent, and follow due legal process. We will ensure that stakeholders, including maritime industries and the coastal communities that depend on them, have the opportunity to fully participate at all stages. We will of course be happy to consider the proposals of this group as part of this process.

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