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Moray Firth gets new protection status

By John Davidson

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Basking Shark. Picture: NatureScot
Basking Shark. Picture: NatureScot

The Moray Firth is one of 12 new Special Protection Areas designed to protect a range of marine species.

NatureScot welcomed the announcement that 12 Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and four Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) would be created in Scotland’s seas.

A total of 230 sites are now subject to marine protection measures, covering around 227,622 square kilometres – 37 per cent – of Scotland’s seas.

The organisation says the announcement – made by Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Environment Mairi Gougeon on Thursday – gives additional protection to much-loved marine species including basking shark, minke whale and Risso’s dolphin as well as 31 species of marine birds such as great northern diver, Slavonian grebe, long-tailed duck, Arctic tern and kittiwake, bringing the coverage of the Scottish MPA network to 37 per cent.

Eileen Stuart, NatureScot’s interim director of nature and climate change, said: “The designation of these new sites sees some of our most iconic marine species – such as basking shark, minke whale and Risso’s dolphin – included in the MPA network as well as foraging areas for internationally important populations of seabirds, divers and sea ducks.

“The Scottish MPA network now covers 37 per cent of our seas, marking significant progress towards meeting global ambitions for marine conservation and ensuring a nature-rich future for Scotland, as well as offering locations where people can engage with and experience world-class wildlife.

“We are committed to working with others to ensure the MPA network and our wider seas are well-managed and monitored so that they can contribute to addressing the decline in nature, and help build resilience in the face of climate change.”

Ms Gougeon said: “It is our duty to help protect and enhance our marine environment so that it remains a prized asset for future generations. These designations continue Scotland’s commitment to lead by example on environmental protection.

“Not only are our seas fundamental to our way of life, they provide habitats for a hugely diverse range of marine wildlife and it is vital that we ensure appropriate protection for them.

“Scotland’s waters are home to many unique species and these designations ensure our MPA network is fully representative of our marine diversity, exceeding the proposed international target to achieve 30 per cent of global MPA coverage by 2030.

“Protecting Scotland’s marine environment is also crucial for supporting the sustainable recovery of our marine industries and these designations will form a key element of our Blue Economy Action Plan.”

The four new Marine Protected Areas are:

  • North-east Lewis: The protected features include Risso’s dolphins and sandeels.
  • Sea of the Hebrides: The largest of the four new MPAs. The protected features include basking sharks and minke whale.
  • Shiant East Bank: Located in the middle of the Minch, the sea which separates the Outer Hebrides from the Scottish mainland. The protected features include sponge habitats and sea fans, a variety of coral.
  • Southern Trench.The protected features include minke whale.

The sites receiving Special Protection Area status are:

  • Solway Firth
  • Seas off St Kilda
  • Seas off Foula
  • Moray Firth
  • Ythan Estuary, Sands of Forvie and Meikle Loch (extension)
  • Outer Firth of Forth and Outer St Andrews Bay complex
  • Bluemull and Colgrave Sounds
  • East Mainland Coast Shetland
  • Sound of Gigha
  • Coll and Tiree
  • Rum
  • West Coast of the Outer Hebrides

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