Success under the sea
As a budding wildlife conservationist, I am very lucky to live on the beautiful Isle of Arran which is located on the west coast of Scotland. With a population of only 5000 people, there is plenty of room for wildlife to thrive, which it certainly does. A walk along the coastline provides views of diving gannets and cormorants, bustling gulls and waders and the odd Grey heron or two overseeing it all. The island also supports many enchanting mammal species including large populations of Common and Atlantic Grey seals, Red deer, otters and Red squirrels.
However, although on the surface Arran presents a rich habitat for wildlife, this has not always been the case under the sea. Intensive dredging and trawling for scallops and other fish species has caused wide spread damage to the seabed’s around Arran which has had huge detrimental effects on its wildlife. This fishing technique involves raking the seabed destroying the entire habitat in that area; including vulnerable vegetation such as sea grass and maerl beds that takes time to regenerate. This vegetation is important breeding grounds for many fish species as it provides stable fixing points for eggs and safe nursery areas for small fish. Predictably, this crash in fish stocks (such as sand eels) resounded up the food chain diminishing many other above the water.
In 2008 the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) was created with the aim to improve this marine environment. This community group established the first No-take Zone in Scotland which covered 1 square mile of sea and prevented any fishing activity in this area.
This zone has been regularly surveyed through the use of underwater cameras, detailed photos, diver’s descriptions and information provided by fishermen about crustacean numbers. After 5 years, this seabed is 40% more complex and healthier than area outside NTZ including larger and more abundant species of scallops, lobsters, haddock and cod (more information available in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEQq2TTgCsU).
This year (July 2014) the south Arran was designated a Marine Protected Area (MPA) which only allows sustainable fishing methods such as reeling, hand diving for scallops and angling with a ban on towing and dredging. There have already been some promising results from this designation, the most significant being scallops which were found to be more abundant, larger, older and with a larger reproductive mass.
Due to these remarkable achievements, COAST has been awarded the 2014 RSPB Nature of Scotland Award for Marine Conservation. This story should ignite hope for us all as if more people unite to fight for our wildlife then we too can produce extraordinary successes that are now crucially required.
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