Marine Protected Areas

The seas around Scotland are home to a wide variety of animals and plants and are of international importance as a stronghold for many species. Whilst the protection of the wider environment through the management of various activities is essential, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have an equally important role to play in the protection and conservation of key habitats and species. There are now 230 MPAs covering 37% of Scotland’s marine environment (at December 2020, it was 22% in 2018 at the end of the assessment period) comprising MPAs for nature conservation (Nature Conservation MPAs; Special Areas of Conservation (SACs); Special Protection Areas (SPAs); Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs); and Ramsar sites), MPAs for other purposes (Demonstration and Research MPAs; and Historic MPAs), and Other Area-based Measures. Work continues to implement all the necessary management measures and the on-going monitoring necessary to determine the effectiveness of the protection afforded by the MPAs. The Case study: Protecting the Loch Carron flame shell beds documents the emergency measures put in place to prevent further damage after scallop dredgers destroyed part of the bed.  In other cases, it is apparent that prevention is better than cure – the Case study: Persistent damage to the Loch Creran serpulid reefs where damage first recorded in 1998 still shows little evidence of recovery. The Case study: Flapper skate – Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura MPA describes how the on-going monitoring involving recreational anglers has not only improved our understanding of the ecology but also the information necessary for determining the management measures needed to ensure their protection.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges is balancing the need for protection and therefore control of certain activities with the resulting possible socio-economic impacts. The Case study: Socio-economic impacts of marine protected areas describes the outcomes of an initial assessment of the evidence and views of the impact of MPA designation. These are some initial findings from only 2-3 years after designation and whilst there is evidence in some areas that fishing has been made more challenging there are also early signs of positive environmental and community impacts. The lessons from other parts of the world is that to get a full and balanced picture of the effects of MPA designation takes time.