Scotland’s seas cover an area of over 462,000 km2, within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), this being approximately 6 times the land area of Scotland. There is an additional 156,481 km2 of seabed and subsoil to the west of the EEZ. With many islands, and a long and varied coastline, it is true to say that Scotland is a maritime nation. Furthermore, Scotland sits in a strategically important location with respect to global ocean circulation. Scotland is much warmer than other countries at a similar latitude because of the heat brought by the ocean. Scotland has benefited greatly from hydrocarbon-based and renewable marine energy, wild fisheries, aquaculture and the wellbeing associated with a visit to the coast. However, human activities have resulted in a range of impacts on the ocean as this assessment shows. More recently it has become clear that the consequences of increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations are placing ever greater pressures on the plants and animals that live in the seas around Scotland and the wider global ocean.

Direct management of the environment is not possible, although restoration works result in the improvement or return of specific ecosystems in coastal areas. This means that attention must be focused on the human activities which are producing the pressures. In this context, Scotland’s National Marine Plan, which covers the management of both Scottish inshore waters (out to 12 nautical miles) and offshore waters (12 nautical miles to the limit of the EEZ), provides a comprehensive overarching framework for all marine activities. The objective is to protect the marine environment and facilitate recovery where there has been degradation, whilst promoting both existing and emerging industries. The National Marine Plan is due to be reviewed and there is a requirement to prepare an assessment of the condition of the Scottish marine area to inform the review and possible update of the Plan. Scotland’s Marine Assessment 2020 is this required assessment.

A full list of the contents of the 183 components of SMA2020, with links to the relevant Themes, Assessments and Case Studies, can be found under What is assesed. With its in-built links it acts as a contents page. The Pressures from activities section introduces the regional pressure assessment.