Scotland's magnificent seas
Scotland has an astonishing 10% of Europe’s coastline and 61% of UK seas. Framed by sea lochs, firths and islands, they are home to a third of the global population of grey seals; the world’s most northerly population of bottlenose dolphins; 23 other species of the world’s 82 whales and dolphins and 43% of all seabirds breeding in the EU. They also provide summer feeding grounds for the basking shark and the endangered leatherback turtle.
Beneath the waves are some of the finest marine habitats in Europe, including rocky reefs covered in soft corals, sea fans and sponges, shallow beds of delicate maerl, sea grass, flameshell and horsemussel - all providing refuge for young fish and shellfish - and spectacular coldwater coral reefs.
So much to lose
However, Scotland’s seas are under threat from overfishing, climate change, pollution and unsustainable development. Scotland’s Marine Atlas starkly reveals that climate change and fishing are the two most widespread pressures on Scotland’s seas, that the majority of our seabed is in a poor condition and that populations of seabird, common seal, several commercial fish species and sharks, skates and rays are in decline.
Save Scottish Seas
Almost ten years of dedicated campaigning by Marine Conservation Society and partners resulted in the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 which requires Scottish Ministers to protect and, where appropriate, enhance the health of Scotland’s seas, develop a national marine plan that includes marine ecosystem objectives and establish a network of well-managed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). To date, 31 new MPAs have been established, including the largest in Europe and, following scallop dredge damage, Loch Carron. For the most vulnerable inshore sites, protection measures have been put in place. However, there is still a long way to go and time is running out to bend the curve of decline to one of recovery.
Clean Seas and Beaches
The foundation of our clean seas and beaches work in Scotland is our citizen science project Beachwatch. In addition to our flagship beach cleaning event at Cramond in Edinburgh there are thousands of volunteers across Scotland who have helped collect important data on marine litter over the past few decades. This data has been crucial in supporting campaign wins like the 5p carrier bag charge, a ban on plastic stemmed cotton bud sticks and the upcoming Deposit Return Scheme for bottles and cans. We continue to use this crucial Beachwatch information to help stop the plastic tide by pushing for further circular economy measures such as bans on plastic cutlery, charges on coffee cups and lids and targets in law for reuse and recycling.
Responsible aquaculture and sustainable fisheries
Fishing and aquaculture are two important industries to Scotland both economically and culturally, but they are currently contributing to ocean decline rather than ocean recovery. Through detailed scientific assessments, we use the Good Fish Guide ratings to support the market for the most sustainable capture fisheries and responsible aquaculture practices. We’ve been at the forefront of the push for transformative change in both industries. We supported the Scottish Parliament calling on the aquaculture industry to halt expansion until environmental problems have been rectified, and successfully pushed for commitments to reform the future of fisheries management in Scotland. Nothing short of transformational change in the way these industries are managed will be sufficient to meet the challenge of the current twin climate and nature crises.
A decade of ocean recovery
The Marine Conservation Society in Scotland is campaigning for ocean recovery by 2030, where our coasts and seas are pollution and litter-free, where at least 30% of Scotland’s seas are highly protected, of which at least a third are fully protected from damaging activity and where nature and climate-friendly fishing, aquaculture and other industries thrive within environmental limits. With your support, whatever the future holds, help us build on the progress to date and push for the transformative change needed to recover our shared ocean.
Find out more about Scotland’s amazing wildlife