Our recent publication, 50 for the Future, lists 50 things that we believe should happen in Scotland over the next 50 years to benefit both people and wildlife. In the second of our 50 for the Future blog series, Dr Sam Collin, the Scottish Wildlife Trust's Marine Planning Officer, explores the wide range of benefits offered by Scotland's seas and why the health of our marine environment is so critical.
Number 34: Ensure all consented marine and coastal developments, including fish farms and energy infrastructure, are sited, operated and decommissioned with minimal environmental impact.
The marine environment plays an essential role in human society. The dynamic and powerful seas that surround Scotland not only provide a wealth of natural resources that support our daily lives, such as fish and energy, but also a sense of awe and mystery that inspires all generations to discover, learn, and create. Scotland’s close connection with the sea can be traced throughout its history, from fishing and navigation to poetry and folklore. However, as time passed and technology improved, marine activity became increasingly diverse and demanding, ever testing the stability and resilience of our seas.
We once considered the sea to be an unlimited power, able to meet our demands while simultaneously absorbing the pressures we throw at it. We now know this not to be the case and that not only are marine resources limited but ecosystems are extremely fragile and sensitive to change. Seabird and marine mammal populations are in decline, fish stocks are being overfished, and valuable habitats are being lost due to destructive fishing practices, coastal development, and pollution.
The natural resources that form the foundations of many communities and industries are at risk from the very pressures we place on them. Despite our close connection with the sea, our relationship has been unmistakably one-sided and we are now beginning to truly understand the impact our activity has had on the health of Scotland’s marine life.
The health of our marine environment is at an all-time low and it is clear that the current treatment and demands on Scottish seas are unsustainable. If we are to safeguard the marine environment and ensure future generations can enjoy and prosper from healthy seas, business as usual is not an option. So what can we do? It is important to understand that managing the marine environment is highly complex and challenging. Due to its dynamic nature and large scale, we cannot manage the marine environment itself and should instead focus on managing the various human activities that take place off Scotland’s coasts – through a process known as ‘marine planning’.
Marine planning is a powerful tool that enables environmental managers and decision makers to consider the multiple and often conflicting requirements of marine users, from large-scale industries to smaller, local community groups. If implemented correctly, marine planning can prioritise the maintenance and enhancement of nature over developmental needs and ensure future marine uses are carried out in a sustainable and environmentally considerate manner.
The way we use and manage our seas must adapt to modern demands and in Scotland we are on the cusp of profound changes in the way we generate energy and produce food from the sea. Scotland’s National Marine Plan was adopted in 2015, and a further 11 Regional Marine Plans will be established over the next few years. These plans, if implemented effectively with nature at the core of decision-making, have the potential to raise the bar for marine environmental management, not just in Scotland but in Europe and across the World.
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Dr Sam Collin is the Scottish Wildlife Trust's Marine Planning Officer