Basking Shark off Coll West Scotland Mark Kirkland

New protections for Scottish seas

2 minute read

In July 2019 we joined forces with the Scottish Wildlife Trust to campaign in support of better protection for basking sharks, whales, dolphins and seabed habitats.

We're delighted that these long-awaited sites have all been designated. This is particularly good news for basking sharks, minke whales and Risso’s dolphins for which Scotland’s seas are important feeding areas.

Basking sharks, the second largest fish in the world, gather off Scotland’s west coast from May to October to feed on plankton in the nutrient rich waters. But these gentle giants are at risk from human activity, whether being caught in fishing gear, struck by boats or distressed by wildlife watching vessels.

Our joint campaign gathered more than 3,300 signatures in support of better protections for these beautiful creatures and we’re so pleased that the Scottish Government listened and acted.

Alongside the Sea of the Hebrides, three further nature conservation Marine Protected Areas have been designated to protect Risso’s dolphins, sea fan and sponge communities, burrowed mud habitat, other large-scale seabed and geological features, as well as 12 new Special Protection Areas for Scotland’s marine birds. Seabirds are a vital indicator of the health of Scotland’s seas and the 2019 State of Nature Report revealed a 38% decline in the numbers of 12 species.

Calum Duncan, our Head of Conservation Scotland: “We're delighted to see these new areas designated to protect basking sharks and some of the other stunning marine wildlife and habitats found in Scotland’s seas. Now it is key that these areas, and the wider protected area network, are properly managed so that they can support urgently needed ocean recovery.

Basking Shark off Coll West Scotland Mark Kirkland

Basking shark of Coll, west Scotland

Credit: Mark Kirkland

“To do this, protection measures still need to be put in place for most sites in the network. Building back better from the intertwined climate, nature and Covid crises must include real protection measures to make sure the network helps increase ecosystem resilience, combat climate change and supports coastal communities into the future.”

Dr Sam Collin, Living Seas Manager, Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “We still have a lot to learn about basking sharks but it is increasingly clear that helping them to thrive in Scotland’s seas is vital to their survival. The designation of the Sea of Hebrides Marine Protected Area is crucial for ensuring these gentle giants are safe when they gather in these waters during the summer.”

These areas are a crucial next step in the development of Scotland’s Marine Protected Area network, but they will still need management measures in place to protect them in practice as well as in law. With the right sustainable management measures, the new Sea of the Hebrides Marine Protected Area will help basking sharks and minke whales feed and explore Scottish seas safe from potential human impact.

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