Scotland’s Argyll Coast and Islands have been declared a Hope Spot – the first in mainland United Kingdom – by international non-profit Mission Blue to shed light on the immense beauty, rich history and vibrant life along the country’s west coast. The Hope Spot also recognises the four community groups (CAOLAS, CROMACH, Friends of the Sound of Jura and Save Seil Sound) that have banded together under the Coastal Communities Network, Scotland, to raise community awareness of the need to encourage protection of Scotland’s unique marine ecosystems.

Mission Blue seek out Hope Spot sites around the world which contain the presence of rare, threatened or endemic species and sites which can demonstrate active community involvement and a real chance to reverse historical damage – the “Argyll Coast and Islands” was therefore considered a perfect location as it holds one of the last remaining strongholds of the critically endangered flapper skate and is a vibrant region for community-led conservation initiatives.

Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue, says, “The Argyll Coast is a place of great beauty but also of great importance. It’s home to not only great people, with a love and appreciation for the sea, but of such a wonderful mix of creatures, from marine mammals; the dolphins, whales and seals to otters and birds. And of course, what’s under the surface, like the flapper skate, which is more endangered than the giant panda. Thank you for doing what you’re doing to ensure a healthy future for the Argyll Coast and for the rest of the world’s oceans. Congratulations on the first Hope Spot in Scotland and mainland United Kingdom!”

Kerri Whiteside, Fauna & Flora International’s (FFI) Marine Scotland Project Manager, says, “FFI is delighted to have supported the application process for this Mission Blue Hope Spot to go forward, we are excited to see what is in store for the Argyll Coast and Islands, as this fledgling initiative develops into the future. Our focus in Scotland currently is to ensure the aspirations of the Coastal Communities Network to enhance the protection of Scotland’s seas and to place communities at the centre of decision-making are met – we hope this is a big leap forward for the Argyll groups who came together to propose their Hope Spot. Moreover, witnessing initiatives such as this taking fruit inspires us all to believe that one day Scotland’s entire coastline will be synonymous with the idea of hope.”

Flapper skate

The Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area (which constitutes most of the Hope Spot area) was created in 2014 to protect the area’s deep, glacier-carved seabed troughs and a critically endangered species – the flapper skate.

Scotland doesn’t have many such large, critically endangered creatures, and many Scots have not heard of the flapper skate, a large flat fish, related to sharks and rays, and growing up to three metres in length with a whip like tail and weighing 200 kilogrammes. It is the largest of all the world’s skates. The flapper skate, and much of the other marine life in the Hope Spot, are easily damaged by boats dredging the seabed for scallops. This is still allowed in some parts of the MPA, with evidence more recently suggesting that some boats dredge illegally in the closed areas too. It makes little sense to protect the skate from dredging in some parts of the MPA, but not in others; proper protection should be afforded and enforced.

First ever UK Hope Spot declared in Scotland
First ever UK Hope Spot declared in Scotland

Community voices

Although much of the west coast of Scotland is sparsely populated, the residents are incredibly proud of their rich Scottish heritage and the unique landscapes that hold onto it. Community voices have often inspired the introduction of legislation to protect their home’s marine ecosystems, and the Argyll Coast and Islands Hope Spot Champions believe that more community awareness could in turn lead to greater protection of Scotland’s marine ecosystems.

Hope Spot Champion John Aitchison said: “There are so many communities along the coast whose livelihoods and enjoyment depend on the sea being healthy. We hope that its designation as Scotland’s first Hope Spot will encourage more people to get involved and to appreciate the life below the surface that is right on their doorsteps.”

Annabel Lawrence, Hope Spot Champion, elaborates, “We want to encourage our coastal communities to be more engaged and aware of what is happening just off their shores. The more people get to know and understand the wonders of this marine ecosystem, the more likely they will care about how it is looked after and what factors can impact upon the success of future protection and restoration of this unique and finite resource.

“Taking care of the local marine environment will ensure the sustainable future of the ocean, the right framework is in place to make it happen– we just have to take the plunge.”

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