Some of the most extraordinary wildlife can be found along the UK coastlines and in the surrounding waters. Announced last Thursday, rare and threaten species are being given extra protection as a result of 30 new Marine Protected Areas (MPA) off the Scottish coast. Designated under the Marine (Scotland) Act and the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act, these new sites will make up a network believed to include Europe’s largest MPA.
MPA’s are designed to conserve a selection of marine biodiversity (species and habitats) and geodiversity (the variety of landforms and natural processes). These areas will help conserve a number of the UK’s threatened birds and marine fauna such as the ocean quahog, flameshell beds and the black guillemot. They will also help preserve deep seas sponges and muds, as well as larger geological features.
However, the Scottish government has been put under pressure to do more. Scottish Natural Heritage, has recommended that addition MPAs should be considered to protect other species not included in the new designations, such as the minke whale, Risso’s dolphins and basking sharks.
— WWF (@WWF) May 10, 2015
After receiving pressure from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Scottish ministers announced that they are also designating a further 14 draft special protection areas for sea birds. The organisation was concerned that a number of sea birds that had experienced decline, such as Arctic skua, Arctic terns and kittiwakes, were not included in the new MPAs.
These new designations highlight some of the major debates in marine conservation with protecting fisheries and assigning of large offshore areas for renewable energy. Director of RSPB Scotland, Stuart Housden, stated the outer Firth of Forth MPA was of ‘enormous value’ to bird species like gannets and kittiwakes however was being earmarked for a large wind farm. Despite this, recent research has suggested that larger man-made structures, like wind farms, can also be beneficial to some marine species.
While these 30 new MPAs are a crucial first step in the continuing protection of marine wildlife, they are, for the time-bein,g simply lines on a map. Now the government must stay true to these boundaries and properly enforce them. Careful management is needed to ensure that the MPAs actively help the recovery of the UK’s ocean ecosystems.
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