Much of Scotland's marine environment is now recognised to be in a state of decline or concern. The report finds that if such a network was set up to help protect Scotland's seas, MPAs would help safeguard a range of hidden benefits that are currently under threat. Mitigation against extreme weather impacts, boosting fisheries and securing Scotland's tourism appeal are amongst the many economic and social values described in the report.
The report's findings come just weeks before MSPs are due to see proposals by the Scottish Government for a network of nature conservation MPAs to help protect and recover Scotland's seas.
Commissioned by Scottish Environment LINK's marine taskforce, the detailed study firstly identifies the many economic benefits provided by our seas. It then assesses what would happen if the existing management regime continues and compares that to the impacts of different theoretical MPA network scenarios over the next 20 years.
The study finds that the greatest economic benefits would come from a network that protects a high proportion of habitats and species which are currently threatened or in decline. The findings also highlight that significant benefits arise from stopping activities, such as the use of bottom-towed fishing gear, that currently have a detrimental impact on some marine habitats and their dependent species.
Protection of spawning and nursery grounds for fish is also identified by the researchers as important for achieving the largest economic benefits, indicating that fishermen stand to gain from this increased protection.
The report states that the 'scenario-based' values (between 6.3 billion and 10 billion) attributed to a theoretical marine protected area network in Scotland are likely to be minimum estimates, due to a number of important factors being excluded due to a shortage of data and need for further research.
Calum Duncan, Marine Conservation Society, (Scotland Programme Manager) said: "10 billion is a large figure, but potentially even then a major under-valuation. The figures do not take into account the huge value in simply having a resource available in the future, what is known as an 'option-use value' by economists, nor the economic value of potential overspill from MPAs. What is clear, however, is that for the benefits to flow, marine protected areas must be well-managed and must properly protect ecosystem function. They must not become 'paper parks'. Once these figures sink in to policy circles, there is only one way forward. A network of well-managed marine protected areas is a vital part of the way we expect our seas to be managed."
Kara Brydson, RSPB Scotland (Senior Marine Policy Officer) said: "Seabirds bring significant tourism revenue to remote and coastal communities which, in financial terms, makes it all the more concerning that breeding populations of some Scottish seabirds are estimated to have plummeted by over 70 per cent in one human generation. A smart government will protect seabirds and the benefits they provide to Scotland's economy, and the simplest and best way to do this is to create MPAs for seabird feeding hotspots out at sea."
Alex Kinninmonth, Scottish Wildlife Trust (Living Seas Officer) said: "The main purpose of protected areas is the conservation of wildlife and natural systems and the benefits that flow from them. However, the economic value of protected areas has tended to be overlooked. This needs to change: if the economic value of marine protected areas is not recognised, they are unlikely to receive the investment from Government they so urgently need. The biological benefits of well-managed protected areas on land and sea are clear, but figures like these highlight that Scotland's long term prosperity can be enhanced at the same time - its a win-win." Sarah Dolman, Whale Dolphin Conservation, (Head of Policy, Scotland) said: "Whale and dolphin watching around Scotland's coastlines generates millions of pounds and valuable jobs. For example, whale watching in western Scotland is worth about 7.8 million a year, supporting over 60 boat operators. Dolphin watching in the Moray Firth alone was recently found to be worth more than 4 million and generating more than 200 equivalent time jobs."
Further ReadingYou can view the full report by clicking here.