Scotland’s marine environment contains a wealth of valuable habitats that form the foundations of a diverse and unique range of marine life.
Our waters are home to ancient maerl beds, shoals of mackerel, visiting pods of killer whales and vast colonies of puffins, guillemots and kittiwakes, all of which contribute to a healthy marine ecosystem. The benefits of a healthy marine ecosystem on human society are evident, most notably through marine industries, education and research, and recreation.
Despite the huge range of benefits Scotland’s marine environment provides, its current state of health is below acceptable levels. Human activities at sea (e.g. fishing, aquaculture and coastal development) and on land (e.g. agriculture, pollution and littering) have caused physical and chemical damage to some of Scotland’s most valuable habitats. Reductions in biodiversity, altered hydrological regimes and increased noise pollution are some of the most damaging effects of human activity, all of which threaten the foundations of Scotland’s marine ecosystems.
Scotland’s Marine Protected Area network
To protect, restore and where possible enhance Scotland’s marine environment, the Scottish Government designated a set of 30 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in 2014 – 17 in inshore waters and 13 in offshore waters. These MPAs are known as ‘nature conservation’ MPAs, as they are designed to protect one or more habitats and/or species found on the Scottish Governments list of ‘Priority Marine Features’. In addition to protecting biological diversity, ncMPAs ensure marine productivity is not threatened by uncontrolled exploitation of marine resources (e.g. fish, oil, renewable energy) and focus resources to restoring degraded areas that have the potential to support marine ecosystems and human well-being. At present, ncMPAs cover approximately 20% of Scotland’s seas.
In addition to ncMPAs, there are two other types of MPA – ‘demonstration and research’ MPAs that aim to assess and develop potential marine management approaches and conduct research, and ‘historic’ MPAs that preserve historic assets of national importance (e.g. shipwrecks and battle sites). To date, there is one drMPA in Fair Isle (designated in 2016) and eight hMPAs in Scotland’s waters. In total there are 39 MPAs in Scotland, which, when combined with Scotland’s 48 Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), 45 Special Protection Areas (SPA), and 61 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), make up Scotland’s MPA Network.
Scotland’s MPA Network is being continually assessed and increased to ensure that, while each site performs a specific role, the combined protection provided by all sites creates a joined-up, large-scale, national approach to marine conservation and enhancement where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.