SCOTLAND needs to act quickly to preserve the nation’s marine life, leading experts warned today.
They say precious marine environment is at risk unless urgent measures are taken to fully protect it this year.
WWF Scotland, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) and a leading marine research scientist believe the wait for consultation on Marine Protected Areas (MPA) is over and action is now required to safeguard these delicate ecosystems and habitats.
Esther Brooker, Marine Policy Officer at WWF Scotland said: “While acknowledging the good work that has already been carried out since the Marine Act was passed in 2010, we now believe the final pieces of the MPA jigsaw must be put in place to complete the network.
“This means delivery of crucial measures to manage damaging activities in existing MPAs, and designation of more sites for species not currently covered in the network.”
“By doing so the Scottish Government will not only be safeguarding iconic species such as the charismatic, but much declined, harbour seal and life-giving habitats such as seagrass, they will also be protecting the thousands of jobs that rely on us having healthy seas.”
Alison Lomax, Director at Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust added: “HWDT has been collecting data on whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks on the west coast of Scotland for over two decades.
“The evidence exists to support the designation of the remaining MPAs, and protect important feeding and breeding grounds for these charismatic animals. With increasing pressure from human activity and the effects of climate change, we need to act now.”
Dr Charlotte Hopkins, Marine Research Scientist from University of Glasgow said: “MPAs are one of our most effective tools in conserving ocean habitats and species.
“They can help conserve Scotland’s rich biodiversity and sustain the life-supporting services that we depend on. MPAs are also critical in supporting the ocean’s resilience to climate change.
“The oceans are facing unprecedented threats from plastic pollution, overexploitation and the impacts of climate change.
“MPAs alone will not solve these global challenges.
“However, when effectively managed to reduce human pressures they are a crucial component in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems.”
Ms Brooker added: “We know well-managed MPAs not only protect sealife, but can also help tackle climate change and support the development of sustainable fisheries by protecting breeding habitats.
“By completing and effectively managing the MPA network during 2018, the Scottish Government will ensure the jewels of Scotland’s seas are there for future generations to enjoy, and will provide some clarity in uncertain times for our fishing industry.”
The Scottish Government said is is already working to improve the status of the nation’s marine environment.
It said: “We are undertaking a review of the national marine plan, working to improve the protection of priority marine features and progressing delivery of management measures for existing Marine Protected Areas.
“We are not limiting our efforts to MPAs and developing a conservation strategy for wide-ranging dolphin and porpoise species.
“We are implementing our marine litter strategy and tackling the issue of ocean plastics and aiming to introduce a deposit return scheme to encourage recycling, considering how to reduce the demand for single-use products such as coffee-cups and have also pledged funds to help address the issue of litter sink areas around our coastline.”
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WANT TO LEARN MORE? Read: Scottish Government – Marine Protected Areas
IMAGE CREDITS: WWF Scotland