With the passage of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, Scotland has shown its desire to protect and enhance one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet – our marine environment. Now we must seize the opportunity provided by this new legislation and achieve our shared vision for a clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse marine and coastal environment. With cross-sector support, this vision can become a reality, but only if we use the full range of measures now available to us. Of vital importance is the designation of a well-managed, ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
Scottish Environment LINK commissioned this scientific report to inform and shape our position on the management of nature conservation MPAs. 'Making the case for sound management of Marine Protected Areas' has been independently produced by the Scottish Association of Marine Science.
The report highlights that MPAs are not only important to protect our marine wildlife, but also vital for our economy and the fight against climate change. Crucially, it recognises that management decisions are just as important as the designation of sites in the creation of an ecologically coherent network that will help us achieve our shared vision for Scotland’s marine environment. Development of conservation objectives and management plans will be vital steps in this process and provide an opportunity to radically change the face of marine nature conservation.
The report endorses some long-standing views, held by LINK and many others, on how MPA management practices can be carried out in Scotland to support a biologically diverse and productive marine environment. For example, whilst damaging activities must be managed, harmonious activities should be encouraged. If damaging activity continues to occur within a protected site, regulatory measures such as Marine Conservation Orders, will be required. Guidelines and codes of conduct for recreational and tourism activities should be promoted, while fisheries legislation and fisheries management plans such as those prepared by Inshore Fisheries Groups, must ensure conservation objectives for MPAs are met.
Other measures recommended in the report include Environmental Impact Assessments for commercial fisheries; buffer zones around fish farms; and the use of no-take zones. Crucially, as with the designation of sites, all management decisions must be based on the best available scientific knowledge.
Getting the right sites designated is central to the success of Scotland’s new approach to marine conservation. However, for a real success story, we are dependent on how economic and social activities are managed in and around these areas in order to achieve conservation objectives. If we succeed at this, we will have made a huge step towards safeguarding marine biodiversity and recovering the health of our seas.
We hope the recommendations made in this report will provide a useful tool for decision makers and delivery bodies. We wish to encourage transparency and inclusivity in the development of MPAs with clear objectives and the use of an adaptive co-management approach. Ultimately, the success of an MPA is wholly reliant on political will to develop management plans, implement the necessary regulatory measures and invest in long-term monitoring and research programmes. The integration of competing industries will be challenging, but it must not be forgotten that healthy marine ecosystems underpin all goods and services provided by the sea. Making the correct management decisions now is vital to meet the long-term needs of people and nature.
Acknowledgement: This article was identified by the Crown Estate Wave and Tidal Knowledge Network.