Reviving Scotland’s ‘Endangered’ Marine Life With No-Go Zones | Global Ideas | DW
It was the pace of change that made Howard Wood realize something was seriously wrong. In the 1970s, when he started diving in the crystal clear waters off the Scottish island of Arran, the seabed was a mass of colorful fish, shells and plants.
“In the late 1980s you were seeing species disappearing year by year – you realize it’s not a long, slow evolution of change, it’s rapid,” said Wood, a diver and co -founder of the Community of Arran Seabed Trust ( COAST).
He was witnessing the impact of a new type of dredge that could be used to scrape scallops – a prized shellfish – from seabed previously unfishable in this way. And then, in 1984, the UK repealed laws dating back to the 19th century that banned most trawling within 5 kilometers of the Scottish coast.
From barren to abundant
In the early 1990s, the seabed was becoming an underwater desert, Wood recalls. So, in 1995, he and some friends started pushing for the creation of a No-Go Zone (NTZ) – a government-reserved area where no extractive activity is allowed – on the coast of the island.
Wood had been inspired by his friend Don McNeish, who had witnessed the transformative effect of Leigh’s No-Go Zone near Auckland, New Zealand. The area was one of the first such areas in the world, where no fishing of any kind or resource extraction is allowed.
Lamlash Bay attracts recreational anglers and scuba divers
After 13 years of campaigning, in 2008 the Scottish government designated a 2.67 square kilometers (1.03 sq mi) no-go zone on the north side of the island. The area was established around Lamlash Bay – a postcard-worthy slice of silver sea dotted with the enormous rock of Holy Island. It is now completely protected from all fishing and other extraction.
Studies conducted during the first five years of the NTZ by government marine scientists found little change in scallop populations. A 2010 study by two York University marine biologists described an “ecological crisis” in the Firth of Clyde, where Lamlash Bay is located, as a result of overfishing. He said some fish populations had dropped by up to 99%.
But the benefits of the Lamlash area are now becoming apparent, according to marine ecologist Bryce Stewart of York University in England, who has studied the area.
Howard Wood has lived on Arran for most of his life and started a grassroots initiative to save his underwater life
“We’ve seen a general increase in biodiversity compared to areas right next to it,” he said. “We have almost four times the density of king scallops in the NTZ compared to 2010, and they are also much larger, much older and much more reproductively productive. We have also seen a large increase in number of lobsters.”
Lobsters are now four times more abundant in the no-take area than in the areas around it. Algae, corals and other lifeforms also bloomed, according to Wood.
Engage the community
The UK now has four no-go zones, and the idea is spreading further afield. Wood says COAST has been contacted for advice on setting up such zones from individuals and organizations around the world, including places like Spain and Mauritius.
His response to these demands is to “get the community on board and the politicians will slowly follow”.
Wood noticed that the once plentiful sea life had started to disappear
Raising awareness and educating people about life below the waves helps build community support, according to Jenny Stark, who leads the organization’s outreach program. COAST has shown films to local community groups to help gain initial support and continues to promote its message through films and educational exhibits at its visitor center in Lamlash Bay.
“By showing people these incredible things that some people think you’ll only find in tropical seas, they realize that there are things on our doorstep that need to be protected,” Stark said. “We can show the community the change. Underwater photography and images are vital – a picture is worth a thousand words.”
The increase in marine life in the waters around the no-take zone has also helped win support from fishing communities, Wood says. Some fishermen initially feared losing fishing ground and feared this would be the start of wider restrictions. Once the area was established, there were still a few incursions by “pirate” operators, who ran around without lights hoping to avoid detection, but these now appear to have ceased.
The Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation hope no-go zones will protect their livelihoods
Alistair Sinclair of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation (SCFC) – which catches lobsters, langoustines and crabs in steel and net traps – says his organization supports the idea of similar areas across Scotland because ” everyone benefits”, from anglers to local community and recreational anglers and divers.
“This is where we need to look…for future generations of fishers, their communities and the service industries that make their living from the fishing industry,” Sinclair said.
A 2020 report by international ocean conservation organization Oceana showed that of the 10 most economically important species in UK waters, only three were healthy and fished sustainably. Southern North Sea crab and North Sea cod were found to be severely overfished.
Scallop populations have increased in Lamlash Bay and other lifeforms are also thriving
Create savings for future generations
The SFCF, COAST and others are now campaigning for a new 3-mile limit to be introduced across Scotland. This would put an end to coastal trawling and shell dredging. But many fishermen oppose it. .
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation says the limit will not help make fish populations sustainable and that instead of a blanket ban, areas or individual marine features should be given protected status where there is scientific evidence that is necessary.
But Sinclair, who is campaigning for the 3-mile limit, says people are complaining that fish are disappearing along the Scottish coast.
“It’s due to the trawling activity, and you can’t get out of the bank that much until there’s nothing left in the bank,” he added.
The hope is that with more protective measures, inspired by the work of Howard Wood, Scotland can put something in the bank for future generations.