Coastal Communities

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd February 2022.

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Photo of Jenni Minto Jenni Minto Scottish National Party

I, too, congratulate Ariane Burgess on securing a debate on the importance of Scotland’s coastal environment. The diversity of the contributions today emphasises that importance.

The local authority area of Argyll and Bute has a coastline longer than that of France, and almost 80 per cent of its population live within 1km of the coast. The natural asset that is the sea is integral to how communities the length and breadth of Argyll and Bute live, work and play.

In his 1703 journal, “A description of the western islands of Scotland”, Martin Martin told of the Leòdhasach water spirit Seonaidh. Each year, one of the community would wade into the sea carrying a cup full of ale and would cry:

“Seonaidh, I give thee this cup of ale, hoping that thou wilt be so good as to send us plenty of seaware for enriching our ground during the coming year”.

“Seaware” was seaweed, an organic and sustainable fertiliser.

Now, 320 years later, we face the challenge of sustainably supporting our coastal communities and ensuring that we are

“meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”,

as the United Nations definition of sustainability states.

As I researched for this speech and spoke to people in Argyll and Bute, one consistent piece of advice kept coming up—“Look to Norway.” Our two countries have many similarities, but the one that struck me as relevant to this debate is that both Scotland and Norway have extensive ocean areas—in both cases, six times greater than our land mass.

The Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment says:

“The seabed and water are biological treasure troves that we will both protect and harvest in a sustainable manner”.

Norway effectively manages its marine areas while also ensuring that the environment is looked after. That is based on knowledge. Researchers across different disciplines are involved in preparing a scientific basis for the management plans. We are doing that in Scotland, but we should be mainstreaming it.

Here are a couple of examples of how Argyll and Bute is contributing to that work. The Scottish Association for Marine Science has been working for healthy oceans since 1884. It studies the processes that drive the marine system, to understand how our coastal environment responds to ever-increasing man-made pressures. When I visited SAMS in November last year, it was about to launch a robotic device to measure the ocean’s temperature from Scotland to Iceland. Knowledge like that can help to develop a sustainable blue economy for the benefit of people without degrading the sea’s health and productivity.

SAMS also works with community groups such as South West Mull and Iona Development and, together, they have created a 6-hectare sugar kelp farm at Aird Fada. Seaweed farming is a growing global industry and seaweed is in high demand for a multitude of uses from culinary to agricultural and bio-plastics to cosmetics.

As mentioned in the motion, Seawilding on Loch Craignish is working with all stakeholders to improve the health of the loch, to increase biodiversity and generate green jobs, and to aid community welfare and wellbeing. People who have lived and worked by the sea for generations need to be listened to. Communities must be at the heart of nature restoration and the stewardship of their environment.

At this point, I want to mention the Clyde cod box. On the one hand, I represent the fishers whose livelihoods were being negatively impacted; on the other hand, I recognise that we have a duty to ensure that our seas are sustainable. It is a complex issue that needs balance and needs fishers, environmentalists and scientists to work together.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government has listened and acted on the concerns that were raised, and that a revised Scottish statutory instrument has been laid before Parliament. I, of course, made representations on behalf of my constituents and their interests. A proportionate way forward has been found. I recognise that not everyone is 100 per cent happy with the decision, but I am pleased that the Scottish Government has agreed to continue to work closely with local stakeholders to ensure that the policy meets its intent.

We should be looking to the strengths of coastal communities to help to solve the problems, rather than trying to solve them centrally. As Seawilding says, the sea belongs to all of us.