Moray Firth SMR

Location and physical characteristics

Figure 1: Moray Firth Scottish Marine Region. The thicker white line delineates the extent of the Moray Firth SMR. For a map of all SMRs and OMRs, see Figure 5 here

Coastline length (km) 985
Sea area (km2):  5,876
Deepest point (m) 256
Shallowest point (m) coastline
Average depth (m) 50
Tides (m) 2.2 – 3.8
Salinity 34.18 – 34.79
Sea surface temperature (°C) 7.5 – 13.9


The Moray Firth SMR extends westward from a point to the west of Fraserburgh to Inverness and then north to John O’ Groats, extending 12 nautical miles offshore from the coast (Figure 1). There is a gradual transition from the more estuarine and sheltered conditions of the three inner firths (i.e. Beauly, Cromarty and Dornoch Firths) to the open sea of the outer firth. This SMR receives a large freshwater input from these inner firths and the river Ness, that influences the salinity of adjacent coastal waters. The currents in this region include the general southward coastal flow. The pre-dominant direction of tidal currents is parallel to the coastline. Conditions in autumn and winter can be rough in the North Sea because of the relatively long, uninterrupted fetch and prevailing northerly and easterly winds, but is sheltered at times from westerly winds.

The solid geology is based on metamorphic, Dalradian and Moine rocks, which have been intruded by several granitic masses. These rocks subsequently underwent faulting and metamorphosis in the Caledonian Orogeny (period of mountain building) and are overlain by Devonian rocks. The Great Glen Fault influences the rock formations from the Devonian age and earlier. These north-northeast trending faults continue from Inverness parallel to the coastline and then seawards into the Moray Firth from Tarbat Ness. Rapid changes in sea level and high sedimentation rates in the Quaternary and glaciation during this time has produced features of both erosion and deposition. Following ice-melt the land was submerged to about 25 m beneath the present sea level and the inner Firths were produced by the drowning of valleys.

 Seabed sediments in the Moray Firth SMR consist of a relatively thin, uniform cover of bottom sediments of mainly Holocene age resting on glacial and periglacial sediments and solid rock. Sediment distribution reflects the glacial history and the present hydrodynamic regime, with a close correlation between increased depth and decreasing grain size due to the relative importance of wave energy to sediment transport processes.



The Moray Firth SMR extends along the northern coast of Aberdeenshire and Moray to Inverness and then northwards incorporating the Cromarty Firth and Dornoch Firth, progressing to John O’ Groats. Fishing has been a very significant part of the history of towns such as Macduff and Buckie. These coastal towns were involved in the catching and exporting of fish as well as the construction of fishing vessels. Ship building continues today in Macduff following diversification into pilot boats and survey crafts.

The Moray Firth SMR is popular with tourists and those wanting to see the dolphins that live in the area as well as the northern gannets which return on an annual basis to Troup Head to breed, along with common guillemots, black-legged kittiwakes, razorbills and Atlantic puffins.

The Productive Assessment was undertaken, with a focus on 2014 – 2018, on a sectoral basis. For a number of Sectors, including renewables, carbon capture and storage and aggregates, there was no activity within the Moray Firth SMR during the period 2014 – 2018. However, for many Sectors, there were changes over the period 2014 – 2018 (Figure 2).