The areas proposed are North East Lewis, Sea of the Hebrides, Shiant East Bank and the Southern Trench (in the outer Moray Firth).

These sites, in addition to the 31 Nature Conservation MPAs already designated, will fulfil Scottish Ministers duties under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, as well as contributing to the OSPAR North-east Atlantic MPA network.

The proposed protected features of these sites include basking shark, minke whale, Risso's dolphin, as well as seabed habitats and geological features. Encounters with whales, basking sharks and dolphins are one of the many attractions of sailing in these waters.

Whales and dolphins, collectively known as cetaceans, as well as basking sharks are protected wherever they occur throughout Scottish waters. The four possible MPAs would offer additional levels of protection to locations important for the various life stages of these species.

Scottish Natural Heritage has provided advice to Scottish Ministers on the MPA proposals in order to complete the MPA network. RYA Scotland has been working closely with Scottish Natural Heritage to ensure that the needs of recreational boaters are considered as part of this process.

The consultation closes until 30 August 2019.

Overall RYA Scotland has supported the proposed MPA’s and Graham Russell, Planning and Environment Officer provides details from the response.

“Surveys have shown the importance visiting recreational sailors attach to seeing wildlife in what is perceived to be a natural environment. This underpins the first theme providing authentic experiences of the current Scottish Marine Tourism Strategy and can be seen in the promotional activities of bodies such as Sail Scotland whose 2019 Official Guide features a dolphin leaping next to a yacht.”

“The proposed MPAs for NE Lewis, Shiant East Bank and particularly Sea of the Hebrides will help protect this valuable natural experience. Although the Southern Trench site includes several harbours and marinas, most recreational craft in the area pass through on a route from Rattray Head to Inverness or across the Moray Firth. Most recreational sailors are unaware that they are likely to see minke whales there.”

“RYA Scotland has worked through The Green Blue, a joint RYA and British Marine environmental initiative, to publicise good practice for avoiding any adverse impacts from recreational boating on marine birds, cetaceans and basking sharks, for example by following the Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code.The creation of these MPAs may provide an opportunity for reinforcing these messages.”

“Prudent sailors keep a good watch for creel buoys, which pose a risk of entanglement, and this minimises the risk of an inadvertent collision with a cetacean or a basking shark on the surface. Cetaceans, however, seem well aware of the presence of boats and often approach to investigate. High speed powered recreational craft represent a small proportion of the boats encountered in these waters but there may be a need for a targeted campaign to minimise the risk of collision.”

“For the Sea of the Hebrides proposed MPA it should be clarified that the impact of moorings and anchorages on the carbonate production area is a potential effect on the Priority Marine Features. RYA Scotland has worked with SNH and the editor of the Clyde Cruising Club publication series Sailing Directions and Anchorages to ensure that the integrity of maerl beds and other biogenic carbonate producers is not compromised by anchoring or laying moorings and we would be keen to extend this process throughout the proposed MPA. Nevertheless, we consider that the impact of relatively few boats anchoring is small in comparison with the natural forces that break down shells and maerls into the shell sand of which machair is composed. We welcome the statement that shark awareness zones and the best practice to be associated with them are proposed as voluntary measures to be developed and agreed with boat users. Developing best practice is, of course, not contingent on the creation of an MPA.”

“For the three west coast proposed MPAs, particularly Sea of the Hebrides, protecting the environment through the creation of MPAs helps underpin the marine tourism aspects of recreational boating. RYA Scotland would consider publicising basking shark awareness zones in the proposed Sea of the Hebrides MPA to be part of its normal business. In relation to recreational boating the Sustainability Appraisal and the Socio-Economic Impact Assessment only consider the costs and not the benefits, such as increased marine wildlife tourism.”

Have your say

Responses to the consultation are invited on the Scottish Government consultation hubwhere you will be able to view the consultation documents and for details on how to respond. 

The RYA supports the UK and Devolved Governments’ shared vision for clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas. In its response to the consultation, RYA Scotland will highlight the work of The Green Blue, a joint RYA and British Marine environmental initiative.

If the Marine Protected Areas are approved, Scotland would become the first country in the world to have designated areas for specific species.

RYA Members seeking environmental information and advice are invited to contact the RYA Environment and Sustainability team on 023 8060 4228 or at environment@rya.org.uk. Further information is also available on the RYA Planning & Environment hub.