Sites will protect a range of habitats and species including flameshell beds, feather stars, the common skate and ocean quahog, a large mollusc which can live for centuries.
They will also protect sandeels – a small fish that many seabirds and marine mammals depend on for food – and black guillemot, a species of seabird found in Scotland’s seas that has striking black and white plumage and bright red feet.
One of the sites – the North East Faroe Shetland Channel – is estimated to be the largest Marine Protected Area in the EU. Scotland’s seas are the fourth largest in the EU and support many habitats and species including cold water coral reefs, 22 individual species of whales and dolphins and almost half of the European Union’s breeding seabirds.
The Marine Protected Area (MPA) network in Scotland’s seas is designed to conserve a selection of marine species and habitats and offer long-term support for the services our seas provide to society.
These 30 new sites will contribute to a network to conserve rare or representative species and habitats allowing them to remain healthy and productive as well as to recover more sensitive species and habitats to a more natural condition.
The network will be managed to protect the features for which they have been designated. Where possible that management will also allow sustainable use of the sea by marine users including the fishing industry.
The new sites are in addition to the existing protected areas in our seas. These range from Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for seabirds such as puffins and kittiwakes, Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for features such as bottlenose dolphins, coral reefs and seals, and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which protect a range of coastal habitats and species including seabirds, seals, sea caves and rocky shores.
This means that approximately 20% of Scotland’s seas are now in protected areas.
Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland, commented: “We warmly welcome the announcement of 14 draft Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for seabirds and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) which will protect black guillemots, sandeels and a number of other important marine species. RSPB Scotland and its supporters have been campaigning for better protection for seabirds for over a decade and regard the 14 draft SPAs as an important first step towards achieving this.”