The Government of Scotland has proposed four new Scottish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) aimed at safeguarding the country’s native marine species.
The MPAs, which will span more than 5,000 square miles, will include designated areas of protection for vulnerable minke whales, Risso’s dolphins and basking sharks. Marine Protected Areas currently account for 22% of the seas around Scotland, protecting historic sites and conserving marine biodiversity. The four new MPAs, which will now be subject to a 12-week government consultation, are:
- North East Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, protecting sandeels and Risso’s dolphins;
- The Sea of the Hebrides, protecting minke whales and basking sharks; as well as fronts: marine regions which occur when warm shallow water mixes with cooler, nutrient rich water to create high productivity feeding grounds;
- Shiant East Bank, between the Outer Hebrides and the mainland, which features a high population of sea sponges and sea fans, a form of coral; and
- The Southern Trench, a deep underwater valley to the south of the Moray Firth which is home to minke whales and, due to the large number of juvenile fish recorded in the area, appears to be an important ‘nursery’ region for fish breeding.
Scotland’s Minister for the Natural Environment Mairi Gougeon said: “It is our duty to help protect and enhance our marine environment so that it remains a prized asset for future generations. Not only are they fundamental to our way of life, they provide habitats for a huge diversity of marine wildlife and it is vital that we ensure appropriate protection for them. Scotland’s seas account for 61% of the UK’s waters and are internationally recognised as being important for whales, dolphins and basking sharks. These MPAs would offer additional levels of protection to these species; and ensure the MPA network is fully representative of Scotland’s marine diversity.”