Protection zones for whales, dolphins and basking sharks are being considered across thousands of miles of sea off the Scottish coast.
The Scottish Government has launched a three-month consultation on the proposals for four more marine protected areas (MPAs), which it hopes will protect species including minke whales, basking sharks and Risso’s dolphins.
MPAs already account for 22 per cent of Scottish waters at 231 sites, but the additional proposals would make Scotland the first country to provide designated areas for minke whale and basking sharks.
Announcing the consultation, on World Oceans Day, minister for the natural environment Mairi Gougeon called for feedback on the plans and said: “It is our duty to help protect and enhance our marine environment so that it remains a prized asset for future generations.
“Not only are they fundamental to our way of life, they provide habitats for a huge diversity of marine wildlife and it is vital that we ensure appropriate protection for them.
“Scotland’s seas account for 61 per cent of the UK’s waters and are internationally recognised as being important for whales, dolphins and basking sharks.”
Conservation groups have welcomed the plans, which would cover more than 5,000sq miles of Scotland’s waters.
The recommended sites are: north-east Lewis, with protected features for Risso’s dolphins and sandeels; the nea of the Hebrides, which would be the largest of the new MPAs where sharks and whales can be found; Shiant East Bank in the water between the Outer Hebrides and the mainland with features to protect sponge and coral habitats and the Southern Trench which would support minke whales.
Calum Duncan from the Marine Conservation Society said: “Scotland’s seas are globally important for a range of species and habitats, including the mighty basking shark, but they face increasing pressure from climate change and human activity.