A NETWORK to help protect Scotland’s seas could provide economic benefits worth £10 billion, according to a report to be published today.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) would safeguard a range of benefits which are currently under threat, by mitigating against extreme weather impacts, boosting fisheries and securing Scotland’s tourism appeal, the report said.
Commissioned by industry forum Scottish Environment Link’s marine taskforce, it comes as the Scottish Government is due to publish proposals for a network of nature conservation MPAs. The report found that the greatest economic benefits would come from a network that protects a high proportion of habitats and species which are currently threatened or in decline.
Protection of spawning and nursery grounds for fish is also identified by the researchers as important. Calum Duncan, of the Marine Conservation Society, said: “The [£10bn] figure does not take into account the huge value in simply having a resource available in the future, what is known as an ‘option-use value’ by economists, nor the economic value of potential overspill from MPAs.
“What is clear, however, is that for the benefits to flow, marine protected areas must be well-managed and must properly protect ecosystem function.
“A network of well-managed marine protected areas is a vital part of the way we expect our seas to be managed.”
Kara Brydson, of RSPB Scotland, said: “Seabirds bring significant tourism revenue to remote and coastal communities which, in financial terms, makes it all the more concerning that breeding populations of some Scottish seabirds are estimated to have plummeted by over 70 per cent in one human generation.
“A smart government will protect seabirds and the benefits they provide to Scotland’s economy, and the simplest and best way to do this is to create MPAs for seabird feeding hotspots out at sea.”
Scottish Environment Link’s Marine Taskforce is made up of eight organisations: the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust, Marine Conservation Society, National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, Scottish Wildlife Trust, WWF Scotland and Whale & Dolphin Conservation.
Alex Kinninmonth, Scottish Wildlife Trust’s living seas officer, said: “The main purpose of protected areas is the conservation of wildlife and natural systems and the benefits that flow from them. However, the economic value of protected areas has tended to be overlooked.
“This needs to change: if the economic value of marine protected areas is not recognised, they are unlikely to receive the investment from government.”