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Closer look: A community taking control of marine conservation in Scotland

Lamlash Bay marine protected area. Credit: L. M. Howarth/University of York.
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Written by: Andrew Binnie
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On the Scottish island of Arran, situated off the west coast of Scotland, a community has been campaigning to protect its seas for almost 20 years.

It all began in 1995, when two Arran divers, Howard Wood and Don McNeish, set up the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) with the aim of reversing the decline of the island’s marine habitats, which had largely been caused by the 1984 removal of the ban on bottom trawling within three miles of the UK coast.

The decimation of the fish stocks had an evident impact on Arran community – the last international sea-angling festival was held there in 1994 and saw catches down by 96% since the festival’s heyday in the 1970s.

Establishing Scotland’s first No Take Zone

For almost 13 years, COAST volunteers campaigned to have an area of sea important for the protection of maerl (a type of hard seaweed that forms a habitat that is vital as fish breeding ground and nursery grounds for juveniles) designated as a No Take Zone (NTZ), from which no marine life could be removed by any method.

Maerl. Credit: COAST.

Maerl beds are vulnerable to damage from trawling and other destructive fishing methods. Credit: COAST.

Scientific evidence has shown that a well-enforced NTZ is one of the most effective ways to ensure marine regeneration, as it allows both habitats and species to recover.

As a direct result of COAST’s hard work, Scotland’s first NTZ – an area measuring approximately one square mile at the north end of Lamlash Bay – was consequently designated by the Scottish Government on 20 September 2008.

In 2013, COAST and the community of Arran and the Clyde celebrated five years of the NTZ being in place. Surveys, supported by Fauna & Flora International (FFI), show that after five years the seabed is now 40% more complex and healthier than the area outside the NTZ.

Higher densities of scallops, crabs and lobsters (which are also older and larger), have also been recorded along with increased numbers of juvenile cod and haddock.

The NTZ has also benefited the local economy by attracting visitors and divers to Arran, and in time commercial fishermen will make gains too, as expanding fish stocks spill out of the NTZ and provide bigger and better catches in neighbouring fishing areas.

Campaigning for a wider marine protected area

In 2012, COAST’s proposal for the designation of a marine protected area (MPA) to establish a ban on bottom trawling and scallop dredging around south Arran and help restore the Firth of Clyde, was placed before the Scottish Parliament.

As part of the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the UK and other EU member states must prepare national strategies to manage their seas to achieve ‘good environmental status’ by 2020. MPAs will form a vital part of sustainable marine management plans, and the Scottish government therefore is considering the designation of a network of 33 protected areas around Scotland, including the South Arran Marine Protected Area proposed by COAST.

In 2013, during the government’s MPA public consultation, COAST gathered over 1,300 responses of which 99% were in favour of the South Arran MPA which is designed to allow regeneration of the seabed and increase the social and economic benefits for all who rely on the Clyde.

The community of Arran is currently waiting to hear if the South Arran MPA will be designated with COAST’s recommended management measures in place. These measures advocate that only sustainable methods such as creeling, hand diving for scallops, and angling be allowed inside the MPA and that more destructive fishing activity (such as trawling, dredging and hydraulic methods) be excluded.

Written by
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Andrew Binnie

Andrew Binnie is Executive Director of the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST), one of Fauna & Flora International’s partners in Scotland. Andrew has a wealth of experience working with coastal community groups in Scotland, Madagascar and Papua New Guinea and has been with COAST for three years, during which time the organisation has grown from being solely a voluntary group to an organisation that is internationally recognised as a marine science hub and for its best practice in marine education and community engagement. He has an MSc with Distinction in Aquatic Ecosystems Management.

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