I congratulate Ariane Burgess on securing debating time on this important topic.
Nineteen community groups across Scotland form the Coastal Communities Network Scotland. Two are located in my constituency. The most recently established one, Fairlie Coastal Trust, has already made valuable contributions to community-based initiatives, including to the Wild Oysters Project, under which 1,300 native oysters were returned to the waters of the Firth of Clyde. Native oysters, the populations of which have declined by 95 per cent due to human activity, help to restore healthy, resilient coastal waters in the Clyde and across Scotland by filtering pollutants from the sea and acting as an important habitat for marine wildlife, as we already heard from Ariane Burgess.
In December 2020, I led my own debate in the chamber inspired by the second coastal community group in my constituency, the Community of Arran Seabed Trust—COAST—and the fantastic work that it did in campaigning for, and supporting the establishment of, Scotland’s first no-take zone in Lamlash Bay back in 2008.
The no-take zone has already clearly demonstrated that marine protection has not only ecological but great socioeconomic benefits. The area is now a nursery for juvenile fish, particularly cod, while lobsters and scallops in the zone produce six times more eggs than those outside it, thus allowing stocks of fish and shellfish in the waters around the zone to replenish. That has helped to win support from local fishers, many of whom were initially worried about losing a fishing ground and opposed the setting up of the no-take zone. Arran residents and businesses also deem the research undertaken in Lamlash Bay to be important to the local economy, as it creates and sustains employment in not only fisheries but the ecotourism sector.
The success of the project, following 13 years of campaigning, is well documented. Sea bed habitats have, in half the time anticipated, sprung up again in an area that was previously described as virtually a marine desert. Crucially, carbon-absorbing seaweeds have also returned to the sea bed. That is something on which we must focus in our fight against global warming. Much of the media coverage about the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—concentrated on green carbon stores such as the Amazon or the Congo basin forest when, in fact, oceans act as the greatest buffer for the climate system, storing 93 per cent of Earth’s carbon dioxide.
Scotland is a nation almost surrounded by sea and its marine environment stores more carbon than the terrestrial environment. We must now act to protect blue carbon habitats and stores to ensure that they do not become sources of carbon emissions, as Scotland’s damaged peatlands have in recent decades. Restoration work to help return peatlands to a healthy condition and prevent carbon from escaping has been undertaken by the Scottish Government and continues. More must also be done to protect and enhance Scotland’s blue carbon stores.
It is welcome that, in last year’s shared policy programme, the Scottish Government specifically committed to restoring marine habitats in Scotland’s inshore waters in recognition of the fact that those waters contain valuable blue carbon hot spots. In particular, I am delighted that the Scottish Government will add to the existing marine protection area network by designating a suite of highly protected marine areas covering at least 10 per cent of our seas by 2026. My understanding is that the highly protected marine areas will go beyond no-take zones by providing for the strict control or exclusion of all human activities, not just fishing.
The economic opportunities that are associated with restoring coastal environments are particularly vital, considering that Scotland’s coastal communities tend to lag behind inland areas and have some of the worst levels of economic and social deprivation in the country. The three towns area in my constituency is no exception to that phenomenon. I am hopeful that the Scottish Government’s plans to restore coastal environments will present sustainable economic opportunities to communities in Scotland’s seaside towns and dovetail well with marine regeneration work that is to take place in Ardrossan through direct Scottish Government investment and the Ayrshire growth deal.
I again highlight the important work done by the Coastal Communities Network, including Fairlie Coastal Trust and the Community of Arran Seabed Trust. The important role played by Scotland’s living coastal and marine habitats and the geological sediments that cover Scotland’s sea floor has for too long been underestimated, but I am optimistic that the actions that the Scottish Government is now taking to restore marine habitats in our inshore waters will greatly benefit our climate, as well as the socioeconomic opportunities of coastal communities.