The strikingly diverse landscape of the west coast of Scotland is one of a storybook come to life. Imagine idyllic, rolling green hills, cut with streams of clear water carving a path over rocks blanketed in tufts of spongy moss. Weathered stone castles stand like sentries along the dramatic coast, piercing a delicate veil of grey fog. Jagged rocks along the coast loom above placid, white sand beaches meeting crystalline blue waters. Plunging beneath the surface, shipwrecks lie preserved, their presence a reminder of the inextricable link between the sea and our maritime heritage, spanning four hundred years from the Spanish Armada to WW2 losses, these sites, many of which have become artificial reefs full of marine life, are windows into the past and enable us to discover the stories of seafarers, trade and conflict. There is an abundance of marine biodiversity within these waters, which has sustained the lives of those on land for thousands of years. Such areas are rare in today’s world, and the Argyll Coast and Islands Hope Spot deserves to be celebrated as well as protected from unsustainable practices.
Scotland’s Argyll Coast and Islands have been declared a Hope Spot – the first in mainland United Kingdom – by international nonprofit Mission Blue to shed light on the immense beauty, rich history and vibrant life along the country’s west coast and to recognize the four community networks (CAOLAS, CROMACH, Friends of the Sound of Jura and Save Seil Sound) that have banded together under the Coastal Communities Network, Scotland, to raise community awareness of the need to encourage protection of Scotland’s unique marine ecosystems.
Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue, says, “The Argyll Coast is a place of great beauty but also of great importance. It’s home to not only great people, with a love and appreciation for the sea, but of such a wonderful mix of creatures, from marine mammals; the dolphins, whales and seals to otters and birds. And of course, what’s under the surface, like the flapper skate, which is more endangered than the giant panda. Thank you for doing what you’re doing to ensure a healthy future for the Argyll Coast and for the rest of the world’s oceans. Congratulations on the first Hope Spot in Scotland and mainland United Kingdom!”
The Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area was created in 2014 to protect the area's deep, glacier-carved seabed troughs and a critically endangered species – the flapper skate.
Scotland doesn’t have many such large, critically endangered creatures, and many Scots have not heard of the flapper skate, a large flat fish, related to sharks and rays, and growing up to 3m in length with a whip like tail and weighing 200kg. It is the largest of all the world’s skates. The flapper skate, and much of the other marine life in the Hope Spot, are easily damaged by boats dredging the seabed for scallops. This is still allowed in some parts of the MPA, and some boats dredge illegally in the closed areas too, often secretly at night. It makes little sense to protect the skate from dredging in some parts of the MPA, but not in others; they should be properly protected and that legal protection must be enforced.
There is ongoing research on the flapper skate – they are very mysterious. No one knows exactly how long they live, or where they lay their eggs. It seems that some are migratory, which means they may leave their only marine protected area. Finding this out will require more research and, if that’s the case, then they need more thorough protection.
Plastic pollution is an issue that has garnered attention across the globe, its evidence glaringly obvious along the world’s shores, and in Scotland, beach cleanups attract enthusiastic involvement, especially with school children. It’s difficult to find flapper skate in the water but you can stumble upon their egg cases on the beach. Skate eggs are known as “mermaids’ purses”. They are large, with a golden/black shell and four pointed ends. They often hide unnoticed within the plastic, but if people know to look for them, they can help to collect evidence of the species’ presence in different areas.
Although much of the west coast of Scotland is sparsely populated, the residents are incredibly proud of their rich Scottish heritage and the unique landscapes that hold onto it. Community voices have often inspired the introduction of legislation to protect their home’s marine ecosystems, and the Argyll Coast and Islands Hope Spot Champions believe that more community awareness could in turn lead to greater protection of Scotland’s marine ecosystems.
Hope Spot Champion John Aitchison said: “There are so many communities along the coast whose livelihoods and enjoyment depend on the sea being healthy. We hope that its designation as Scotland’s first Hope Spot will encourage more people to get involved and to appreciate the life below the surface that is right on their doorsteps.”
Annabel Lawrence, Hope Spot Champion, elaborates, “We want to encourage our coastal communities to be more engaged and aware of what is happening just off their shores. The more people get to know and understand the wonders of this marine ecosystem, the more likely they will care about how it is looked after and what factors can impact upon the success of future protection and restoration of this unique and finite resource.”
“Throughout history, coastal communities have been at the forefront of adaption and innovation. The community groups that have come together and immersed themselves in the conservation of West coast of Scotland’s marine ecosystems are proof that we can make a difference in local communities which create ripples across the world. Taking care of the local marine environment will ensure the sustainable future of the ocean, and the right framework is in place to make it happen– we just have to take the plunge.”
About Mission Blue
Led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue is uniting a global coalition to inspire an upwelling of public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas – Hope Spots. Under Dr. Earle’s leadership, the Mission Blue team implements communications campaigns that elevate Hope Spots to the world stage through documentaries, social media, traditional media and innovative tools like Google Earth. Mission Blue embarks on regular oceanic expeditions that shed light on these vital ecosystems and build support for their protection. Mission Blue also supports the work of conservation NGOs around the world that share the mission of building public support for ocean protection. The Mission Blue alliance includes more than 200 respected ocean conservation groups and like-minded organizations.
About the Coastal Communities Network, Scotland
The Coastal Communities Network (CCN) is a collaboration of locally-focused community groups, guided by the belief that coastal communities across Scotland can harness long-term solutions to ensure healthy, well-managed seas. The Network is facilitated by Fauna & Flora International and currently brings together 16 community groups around Scotland’s coast, as well as a host of other supporters and associated organisations. Its purpose is to provide the means to establish a strong communication and action platform for building the community voice within marine conservation and management in Scotland.
About Fauna & Flora International
Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is a biodiversity conservation charity which envisages a sustainable future for the planet where biodiversity is effectively conserved by the people who live closest to it, supported by the global community. FFI’s mission is to conserve threatened species and ecosystems, choosing solutions that are sustainable, based on sound science, and account for human needs. Since 2011 FFI has been working with a range of partners in Scotland to further marine conservation efforts, with a focus on enabling coastal community groups to play an active role in marine management and conservation.
CAOLAS was set up in 2015 by local community members as a way to involve people in their marine environment. The group is from the Morvern and Ardnamurchan areas which are connected by sea by Loch Sunart and the Sound of Mull. The value of our coastal waters for wildlife, recreation and tourism as well as fishing is being increasingly recognised. CAOLAS aims to encourage local people to contribute towards decisions about the management of their local waters. One way in which we achieve this is by developing a programme of education and activities - with local and national expertise - that shows people what wonderful marine life we have in Loch Sunart and the Sound of Mull and the importance of looking after it for the benefit of everyone.
Craignish Restoration of Marine and Coastal Habitat (CROMACH) was established to give local people a voice in marine management. It aims to encourage and promote sustainable use of local waters for recreation, fishing and other marine activities whilst protecting and allowing recovery of biodiversity and natural processes in Loch Craignish, the Sound of Jura and the Firth of Lorn, and the wider marine environment. As a community group CROMACH also raises awareness within the community on marine issues and promotes and seeks to carry out research, surveys and investigations of the local marine environment.
About Save Seil Sound
Save Seil Sound was formed in 2011 to coordinate the 840 objections lodged by residents and visitors to a proposal to relocate and expand a fish farm to a site at Ardmaddy at the North end of Seil Sound. We were unsuccessful on that occasion but have continued to campaign against the expansion of fish farms in what is effectively one large sea loch comprising Seil, Shuna and Melfort, which even planning principles deem inappropriate. We also persuaded the European Commission to force a change to the rules about disposal of toxic waste, which can no longer be dumped on landfill sites, following a catastrophic accident at Ardmaddy.
Our members include some marine scientists and other experts and we are happy to lend our expertise to other groups.
About Friends of the Sound of Jura
This group is from Knapdale, Argyll - an area surrounded on three sides by the sea. Many people in its communities spend much of their work and leisure time on or by the water. The Friends of the Sound of Jura is concerned by the growing economic pressure to exploit more of the sea’s resources, which are already under severe strain, and that this will do irreparable harm to the ecosystem on which we all depend. The group believes that sustainable use can ensure that the sea remains healthy for future generations. Education is a vital part of this growing understanding of the importance of the natural world.