The 15th of June marked the start of the seventh edition of the Sea Scotland Conference, an annual conference series that aims to facilitate debate among the differing marine communities on the pivotal issues facing the marine environment here in Scotland. The theme of this year’s conference was “Scotland’s Place in the Global Ocean” which set out to explore how Scotland’s marine management compares to other maritime nations and to what extent can we learn from the successes made by other nations. Herein, I intend to shine light on certain presentations, discussions and workshops that were given in this year’s conference.
The first speaker, Daniela Diz, an associate professor working out of the Lyell Centre at Herriot Watt University, presented on the “Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework” (GBF). This presentation set the scene for the conference and provided a global perspective to the challenges that humanity faces and of the solutions that are required to combat global biodiversity loss. Everything that was spoken thereafter was in part related to the strategic targets set out by this ambitious new framework. The implementation of this wide reaching framework intends to provide a pathway to combat the two most threatening global crises that we face today, the climate and the biodiversity crises. The framework has detailed 21 targets and 10 ‘milestones’ to be reached by 2030 in order for humanity to be ‘living in harmony with nature’ by 2050.
Three targets that closely aligned with the bulk of discussions over the ensuing days were:
· Target 3 “Ensure that at least 30 per cent globally of land areas and of sea areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and its contributions to people, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes”,
· Target 5 “Ensure that the harvesting, trade and use of wild species is sustainable, legal, and safe for human health” and lastly
· Target 20: “Ensure that relevant knowledge, including the traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities with their free, prior, and informed consent, guides decision-making for the effective management of biodiversity, enabling monitoring, and by promoting awareness, education and research”.
This framework’s success is hinged on the transformative changes permeating through all levels of government and society in a fair and equitable way. It acknowledges the need for appropriate recognition of gender equality, woman’s empowerment, youth, gender-responsive approaches, and the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities in the implementation of this framework. The conference this year adopted this inclusive and representative approach to its invitees, in attendance and speaking in this year’s Sea Scotland Conference were an empowered, determined and ocean literate collective of young Scots. The most inspiring and charismatic of them was Mhairi McCann, a young Scot who is wiser than her years. Mhairi, a young woman from Inverclyde has had a passion since a young age to create positive change within her community and beyond. Today at the age of 19 she is the already the founder and CEO of Youth STEM 2030, an organisation which aims to empower young people who study in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) and channel their enthusiasm and harness their intellect to provide innovative ideas and practical solutions to help achieve the targets outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). ). Mhairi was resolute in her speech, expressing her dismay at the lack of inclusion of young people in discussions and in the decision making process when addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. Youth STEM 2030 ambitions are for the views and ideas of young people today to be incorporated into the policy decisions and action plans that follow. To use Mhairi’s analogy young people should not be considered last, like the sprinkles in the cake making process, they should be valued as much as the flour that forms the foundations of the bake. The UK government has enshrined this inclusive version of marine stewardship in their vision outlined in the UK marine policy statement which states “A marine environment, which is clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse, managed to meet the long-term needs of nature and people”. Under the section ‘Promoting good governance’ of the high level marine objectives, it is stated that “all those who have a stake in the marine environment have an input into associated decision-making”. Driving change through top down measures without considering the voices of those who work in or serve to protect local marine spaces, further alienates these groups and can lead to the mismanagement of the marine environment.
The UK may be the sixth largest economy when measured by nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP), however the UK is in the bottom 10% of nations when considering its biodiversity intactness. The ‘Biodiversity Intactness Index’ (BII) is an UN-approved index that uses internationally agreed upon criteria, which sets out to determine a nation’s retention of biodiversity in pre-modern times. The UK is considered to be one of the most nature-depleted counties globally with a BII score of 50% - falling short of the international average of 75% - meaning the UK has lost half of its biodiversity in pre-modern times. The BII serves as a useful tool to measure the UK’s progress in relation to the targets outlined by the Convention of Biological Diversity, Aichi Target 5 and those set out by the GBF, which all set out to limit the loss of biodiversity. One of the solutions to preserve and bolster biodiversity is to establish nature reserves or protected areas, which intend to limit the destructive impacts imposed by humankind while providing space for species and habitats to thrive. The UK is a signatory to the OSPAR convention which sets out to protect 30% of marine waters in the North East Atlantic by 2030, the UK has since gone on to develop a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) with the intention of being ecologically coherent and well managed. The establishment of an MPA network not only provides ecological benefits but social and economic ones too. MPAs can provide recreational areas which can draw in tourism to the area where they have been established, thus supporting local economies. Moreover, MPAs are recognised for their benefits to commercial fisheries, as the restrictions incurred within an MPA can limit the removal of fish species, which can have a spillover effect into surrounding waters. The reduction in fishing pressure within these protected areas permits individual fish to grow to larger sizes which in turn increases their reproductive potential leading to a greater recruitment of juvenile fish into the spawning stock, ultimately stabilising a population. The benefits mentioned above are witnessed in the ‘No Take Zone’ (NTZ) in Lamlash Bay on the Isle of Arran. This small NTZ (2.67 sq. km) created by back in 2008 by the Community Of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) prohibits all types of fishing activity to reverse the decline in Arran’s marine habitats. Recent surveys have recorded a 50% increase in biodiversity within its borders, a greater abundance and density of commercially sized crab, lobsters and scallops and an increase in marine tourism drawn in by the recovered seabed. The UK government back in 2018 pledged to protect 30% of its waters by 2030, to meet “good environmental status” for a range of environmental parameters. The UK’s MPA network are commonly referred to as ‘paper parks’ as they do not go far enough to provide the adequate protection for nature. The UK boasts that over a quarter of its waters are under some form of protection, although damaging fishing and extractive activities still take place within 90% of the UK’s MPAs. It is critical that marine habitats are provided sanctuary from destructive forces in order to provide the essential services in which we rely upon for our prosperity and well-being. It was highlighted during the conference that ‘highly protected marine areas’ (HPMA) will be brought in over the coming years, which will cover 10% of Scottish waters. HPMAs will prohibit extractive, destructive and depositional activities from occurring within their boundaries, only non-damaging levels of other activities are to be permitted. If we are to be serious to the commitments we have made, it is essential that these new forms of MPA are rolled out.
This progressive decision sets Scotland on course to meet its biodiversity targets, although by 2030, HMPAs ought to cover 30% of our waters to stay true to our commitments. This decision has not been universally celebrated, one group in particular have expressed their concern with the introduction of HMPAs. The fishing industry is feeling the squeeze on their right of access due to the increase in designations, marine developments and resource acquisition sites. To compound this Scotland is undergoing a dramatic energy transition to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, to provide energy security into the future and meet our net zero targets, this strategy has ushered in a wave of nearshore and offshore wind farms, which inevitably further restrict access. In response, Marine Scotland have produced the “Blue Economy Vision for Scotland” and are updating the “National Marine Plan”, this new document outlines Scotland’s approach to managing the different marine users while maintaining healthy, functioning but economically viable marine environment. These documents aim to address the issues surrounding the management of our natural capital and how those invested in the various marine and maritime sectors can continue to make a living while ensuring sustainability is at the heart of the decision making process.
The recent cost of living crisis has the potential to upend our recent strives in environmental protection and stewardship. According to the 2021 Food Security Report, the UK currently produces 60% of the food for our domestic consumption, part of which is exported. In actuality about 50% of the food on plates is sourced and produced here in the UK. With food prices set to increase over the coming weeks, months and years, the area of land devoted to agriculture could witness an increase from its current spatial extent of 71% of the UK’s landmass, in order to compensate for the price of imports and to provide better food security here in the UK. If this is to arise, land that has been set aside for biodiversity may be reclaimed for agricultural purposes. To avoid a biodiversity catastrophe, it is pertinent that these conservation areas remain off limits so that they provide the ecological benefits that they were intended to produce.
Apologies for such a lengthy blog post this time round, there were many interesting talks and discussions over the two day conference. I have tried to succinctly report on the presentations and discussions that took place, there is still plenty that I did not have time or space within this blog to cover. If you are interested to learn more about the points I have raised within this blog or eager to hear of talks that were given that I did not touch upon, please get in touch with me via the email address included below.