Sharing information about Scotland’s special seas

At almost half a million square kilometres the sea around Scotland is six times the size of our land mass and home to huge variety of internationally and nationally important wildlife. From the smallest plankton, the foundation of marine ecosystems, to the largest animals such as basking sharks and minke whales, Scotland’s marine life is truly diverse.

Anemones outside a St Kilda sea cave, © SNH/George Stoyle

Anemones outside a St Kilda sea cave, © SNH/George Stoyle

The significance of this wonderful natural heritage is recognised in the designation of 42 marine Special Areas of Conservation, 58 Special Protection Areas and, most recently, 30 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in 2014.

Basking shark off the west coast, © Ben James/SNH

Basking shark off the west coast, © Ben James/SNH

The draft management measures published in June 2015 will put into place ways to control human activity, better safeguard these important areas and manage them effectively.

Our seas provide us with valuable resources and they are critical to our economic well-being. These resources include our long-established fishing industry; key ports providing trade links; the hydrocarbon and aquaculture industries developed during the 20th century; the use of our clean and scenic coastline for leisure and recreation; and the recent development of wind, wave and tidal renewable energy resources.

Loch Madadh boat. © George Stoyle/SNH

Loch Madadh boat. © George Stoyle/SNH

Managing all of these uses presents a challenge and marine planning aims to provide a comprehensive, overarching framework for the management of all marine activities, as well as providing new powers for the designation of MPAs. Scotland’s first National Marine Plan was published in March 2015.

Dolphin eating salmon, Chanonry Point, Moray Firth, © Ben James/SNH

Dolphin eating salmon, Chanonry Point, Moray Firth, © Ben James/SNH

Published in 2011, Scotland’s Marine Atlas: Information for the National Marine Plan brought together a huge amount of information in a single document for the first time and presented an assessment of the overall state of Scotland’s seas.

Peacock worms with kelp detritus on a flame shell bed, (C) Ben James/SNH

Peacock worms with kelp detritus on a flame shell bed, (C) Ben James/SNH

To ensure that the most up-to-date data and information is publicly available, SNH and Marine Scotland are working with a range of partners to maintain and develop the National Marine Plan interactive (NMPi).

A gannet and a skua fighting over a mackerel, Mousa to Boddam MPA, © Lisa Kamhausen/SNH

A gannet and a skua fighting over a mackerel, Mousa to Boddam MPA, © Lisa Kamphausen/SNH

NMPi is an online portal for special information which is available to everyone through an internet browser. Users can select data layers as diverse as the location of cold-water coral reefs, bathing beaches or routes of underwater telephone cables and gas pipelines. With many hundreds of data layers to choose from, there is something to suit all interests and you can overlay the various layers to see how human activity takes place alongside the range of marine habitats and species.

Moorings in Loch Creran Special Area of Conservation, © SNH/Graham Saunders

Moorings in Loch Creran Special Area of Conservation, © SNH/Graham Saunders

Regional marine plans are now also being developed. SNH is expecting to play a role in supporting the marine planning partnerships that will be established to deliver and implement these plans. Information at the regional scale about natural heritage interests as well as the full range of activities in the area will be needed. NMPi is being readied to host this regional data too.

Snakelocks and plumose anemones under a canopy of sea oak, Loch Swee, © Ben James.

Snakelocks and plumose anemones under a canopy of sea oak, Loch Sween, © Ben James.

NMPi allows anyone to see the natural habitats and species that require protection while at the same time appreciating the complexity of the challenge of delivering marine management in the face of increasing and competing demands on our seas.

Visit the Scottish Government website to access Scotland’s Marine Atlas and to explore NMPi. You can find lots more information about Scotland’s MPA network on the SNH website.

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