Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Lamlash Bay: Scotland's first no-take zone

I spent February this year in Scotland talking to a lot of different people about marine protected areas. During my trip, I visited a very special and interesting place: Lamlash Bay on the east coast of the island of Arran, which has Scotland's first (and currently only) no take zone.

Lamlash Bay, photo by David Ross
A no take zone is an area that is closed off to all fishing, all removals from the sea, and any activity that could damage the sea bed. Area based protection isn't rare in Scotland - there are a number of European protected areas of sea (such as Special Areas of Conservation, and Special Protection Areas) and there will soon be nationally protected areas of sea (Marine Protected Areas). However, these areas are very different to no take zones, as they only require special planning processes for any activities to take place in the protected area, rather than banning activity outright.

The Lamlash Bay no take zone was the brainchild of keen divers living on Arran in the 1980s. In 1984, the Inshore Fishing (Scotland) Act changed the nature of fishing around Scotland's coasts dramatically. Before the act, very little mobile gear (gear that is dragged or towed, often across the sea bed, such as trawls and dredgers) was allowed within 3 nautical miles of the Scottish coastline. The act loosened these rules, and the divers on Arran were alarmed by what they felt to be the negative consequences of this legislative change - when diving around the islands, they seemed to encounter significantly less life and biodiversity than they had before the Act.

One of the divers was a regular visitor to New Zealand, and while there, noted there was a number of marine reserves - why not start one of those in Arran? This was the beginning of a voluntary group, Community of Arran Seabed Trust (the beautifully acronym-ed COAST), dedicated to creating a marine reserve for Arran.

For the next 20 years COAST campaigned, and a no take zone was created by the Scottish Government (ironically, using the Inshore Fishing (Scotland) Act 1984) in September 2008. Since that time, COAST has continued to monitor the no take zone and the wider health of the seas of Scotland and the Firth of Clyde. They also offer advice and guidance to other UK communities interested in establishing marine reserves. 

COAST put in a third-party proposal for a National marine protected area, covering the whole South Arran coastline, to be considered in the first tranche of Scottish national MPAs. This was put forward for consultation in 2013, and the results will soon be announced by the Scottish Ministers.

If you are part of a coastal community, and would like to see a marine reserve in your area, COAST will happily provide you with advice based on years of experience. If you're thinking of taking a holiday in Arran (and you should, it's beautiful!) COAST often organise activities such as beach cleans you could get involved in - just check their facebook page for details.

If you'd like to keep up to date with Arran COAST's activities, you can visit their website, or follow them on twitter.