If designated the MPA network would almost double the 12 per cent of Scotlands seas currently protected, bringing the total area to more than 20 per cent. This would cover around 32,000 square miles comparable with all of Scotlands landmass.
A Scottish Government report on progress in developing the network has been presented to the Scottish Parliament. Scottish Natural Heritage and UK-wide advisory body the Joint Nature Conservation Committee have put forward 33 MPA proposals. A further four search areas have been identified to protect dolphins, whales and basking sharks, while proposals for black guillemot, sandeels and tidal fronts would enhance protection for seabirds.
Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, said: Accounting for 13 per cent of Europes seas and 61 per cent of UK waters, Scotlands seas include many diverse habitats, with rare and beautiful species that it is our responsibility to protect. Thats why the Marine Act included ambitious commitments to safeguards our seas.
Not only that but a healthy marine ecosystem underpins the nursery grounds for the species our fishermen rely on, the reefs and kelp forests that protect our coasts by buffering against storms as well as the clean waters needed to absorb carbon dioxide and help in the fight against climate change.
We have already made good progress in the past five years with new protection for marine habitats. That includes 91 Special Areas of Conservation and 45 Special Protected Areas for seabirds.
We have held very constructive dialogue with many stakeholders to get to this stage and I thank them for their input. What remains clear is our firm commitment for a fit-for-purpose and well managed MPA network being in place by 2016.
Ian Jardine, Chief Executive on Scottish Natural Heritage, said: Laying the report before Parliament represents an important milestone. Preparing the proposals for Nature Conservation MPAs was a complex, demanding but very worthwhile exercise and we are grateful to everyone who helped in the process, in particular those who attended the workshops to develop and discuss them.
Scotlands seas are a fantastic asset that contributes enormously to our quality of life and our economy. Managing them in a sustainable way is a complex task. Our role is to provide information and advice about the marine environment to the Scottish Government to help them to decide where the MPAs should be and how they could be managed.
Dr John Goold, Marine Director for the Joint Nature Conservation Committee said: "JNCC's work in partnership with Marine Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage has delivered a range of MPA proposals that will not only be of benefit to the conservation of Scotlands vitally important natural heritage but to Scotlands people also.
Our proposals for Nature Conservation MPAs have been developed using the best available science. To help achieve this, information has been collected in a range of different ways, including a number of marine surveys to support our understanding of the features present within MPA proposals.
Bertie Armstrong, Chief Executive of Scottish Fishermans Federation, said: The Scottish Fishermens Federation looks forward to studying todays report on Marine Protected Areas and to continuing its practical, positive input, having been closely involved in the development of this element of marine spatial planning since its inception.
We have long recognised the protection requirements of the environment that we work in every day. We have insisted from the start that scientific evidence and commonsense be used in determining the size and number of protected areas and what, if any, practical measures are required in each individual case.
It is absolutely essential that science guides the process, which must serve the requirements of the marine environment and of sustainable harvesting of seafood. If MPAs in Scottish waters are properly organised, the objectives should actively support each other. We are committed to that.
Calum Duncan, Convenor of Scottish Environment LINKs Marine Taskforce, said: Marine Protected Areas are not a luxury. A network is crucial to help secure the future environmental, economic and social prosperity of Scotland. We therefore welcome the 33 MPA proposals reported to Parliament, and would urge that all 33 are available for public consultation next summer.
We await further details about how current gaps for seabirds, whales and dolphins, sandeels and basking sharks will be addressed and whether there will be adequate coverage for the seabed. If well-managed, MPAs are a win-win and will help improve the health of our seas, not merely halt the historic decline.
Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network Vice Chairman Ian Burrett said: Through the work of the many volunteer sea anglers in our Scottish Shark Tagging Programme, we provided a much needed insight into the movements of sharks in Scottish waters, and this indicated that the endangered common skate in the Argyll region are primarily a resident species.
Skate are now protected through a Statutory Instrument and suitable MPAs will help protect their habitats, facilitate their regeneration and ensure the future of sea angling in the region, which is worth more than 20 million per year to coastal communities.
Alistair Sinclair, Chair of the Scottish Creel Fishermen's Federation, said: The opportunity has presented itself through the introduction of MPAs designed to halt the further decline of the marine ecosystem in many areas around Scotland's coastline. The SCFF cautiously welcome MPA implementation with the caveat that restriction are not placed upon our membership, given creel fishing has been proven to be the most sustainable method to capture shellfish. Additionally, we hope that MPAs support the restoration of recreational sea angling and diving opportunities in Scotland.
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