The Scottish Government has announced that additional resources will be provided for the development of four Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) designed to protect minke whales, basking sharks and Risso’s dolphins.
Basking sharks are currently listed as officially endangered in the North East Atlantic on the IUCN Red List of species, and are a species of conservation importance in Scottish and wider UK waters. While the EU Conservation Status of UK minke whale is ‘favourable’, Risso’s dolphin is ‘unknown’.
The four MPAs – the Sea of the Hebrides, Shiant East Bank, North-East Lewis and Southern Trench – were first proposed in 2012, but were not taken forward at the time as more evidence was needed. Scottish Natural Heritage provided this additional information and formally recommended the designation of all four sites in 2014.
.Dr Sam Collin, Marine Planning Officer, Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “There is wealth of research pointing to the significance of these areas for species including basking sharks and minke whale so we’re very pleased that the Scottish Government has now committed to moving these new Marine Protected Areas forward.
“The designation of these sites would reinforce the Scottish Government’s commitment through the UN Sustainable Development Goals to conserve and sustainably use Scotland’s seas.”
Marine Protected Areas are globally recognised as an effective conservation tool. With the right management measures in place they can provide much needed protection to highly mobile species as well as seabed habitats.
Although cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) are strictly protected under European Law, MPAs can help protect areas that contain significant numbers of animals, or are essential to key life cycle stages – such as calving, feeding or breeding.
Calum Duncan Convenor of Scottish Environment LINK’s Marine group said: “We commend the Scottish Government’s commitment to speed up progress on Scotland’s MPA network, which along with welcome existing commitments, will help ensure healthy seas now and tomorrow.
“These four MPAs are urgently needed to fill gaps in the network, particularly for the endangered basking shark and other iconic species, but also for sandeels, seafan and sponge habitats and landscape-scale features important for the wider health of Scotland’s seas, provided they become well-managed.”
Most minke whales are seasonal visitors, leaving in the winter months and returning to feed in Scotland’s rich coastal waters, like those in the Sea of the Hebrides and the Southern Trench, through to the autumn.
Risso’s dolphins can be found in Scottish waters year round and many young calves have been spotted off the Isle of Lewis. They are typically an offshore species, favouring the seas around remote islands for feeding.
Recent research by the University of Exeter in collaboration with the Marine Conservation Society has demonstrated the global significance of the Sea of the Hebrides MPA for basking sharks.