A tale of tenacity – standing up for Scotland’s seas

What fantastic news it was to learn that our chairman and COAST co-founder Howard Wood had received the Goldman Environmental Prize.

COAST was a long time in the making. The original impetus came in 1989 when Don MacNeish, our other co-founder, came back from New Zealand with tales of antipodean marine protected areas.

As with female suffrage, New Zealand was also way ahead of the UK when it came to marine management. Howard and Don picked up the baton here, and in 2008 COAST succeeded in creating Scotland’s first and only no-take zone – an area closed to fishing.

Howard Wood. Credit: COAST.

Howard has been diving in the seas around Arran for decades, and has witnessed the environmental declines first-hand. Credit: COAST.

It wasn’t easy; a lot of people – and especially officials within the Scottish Government – said it couldn’t be done. But after many setbacks, and deliberate stalling on the part of prawn trawlers and scallop dredgers, it was finally designated with full support from the local community.

Since then, research carried out by University of York PhD student (now Dr) Leigh Howarth has shown that juvenile scallops within the no-take zone are more numerous, while adults are larger and older. We have also seen a marked difference in the size of lobsters, which are larger within the protected area.

King scallop in the reserve. Credit: Howard Wood.

King scallop in the reserve. Credit: Howard Wood.

This can all be linked to the recovery of seabed habitat and protection from destructive fishing practices that scour the sea floor. We now expect to see an improvement in adjacent fisheries, as larvae and juveniles spill over into surrounding areas.

Following the designation of the no-take zone in 2008, COAST submitted a proposal for a marine protected area in 2012, which was then designated in 2014. We are still pushing for the exclusion of dredgers and bottom trawlers from the area and are awaiting a decision on management options early this summer.

In the meantime, we are encouraging supporters to sign our Avaaz petition in favour of effective protection for marine protected areas. Current management options have been described as “unambitious and not fit for purpose” so there is still much to do.

Giving communities a say

The COAST story is one of community involvement and tenacity over many years. Howard has been able to harness the diverse skills of a whole community and given us all a real sense of pride in what we have been able to achieve together.

Video courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize.

The Goldman Environmental Prize is a great accolade for COAST and Arran, and a boost for other coastal communities around Scotland and the UK trying to achieve better management of their coastal ecosystems.

At the core of our work is the belief that local communities should have a real say in the sustainable management of their marine resources. We have won legal acknowledgement from the Scottish Government that these resources must be managed as a public asset for the benefit of all, but we are still waiting for a tangible change in the way our waters are managed.

COAST is delighted to be working in partnership with Fauna & Flora International and our joint new Community Marine Support Officer, Kerri Whiteside, to spread the word around these shores, and we are very proud of Howard for winning this internationally-renowned award.