The UK's largest ferry network operator, Caledonian MacBrayne, has commissioned a report by MacArthur Green and University of West of Scotland on the likely changes within the Scottish marine environment over the next 25 years.
The hope is that the report will feed into the development of Scotland’s first ever National Marine Plan and into the Regional Marine Plans for the Argyll and Clyde sea areas.
Until recently each different marine industry, such as fishing, or transport, or aquaculture, developed separately. Each one faced challenges and took advantage of opportunities on its own. The National Marine Plan (NMP), launched in March last year, is designed to change all that.
The NMP basically creates a planning framework for all marine activity in Scottish waters. It brings the full range of marine industries together, so that the requirements of all sectors can be considered and supported under one plan. It also ensures that environmental protection – including climate change issues - is taken into account in all marine decision making.
Locally focused Regional Marine Plans are also in the pipeline, one for each of the eleven Scottish Marine Regions. They will be created by local Marine Planning Partnerships made up of key local stakeholders, but so far only one has been set up – in Shetland. The second Partnership, for the Clyde region, is in the process of being established.
The new framework is, however, dependent on everyone working together. Key stakeholders from a wide range of marine industries will have to work in partnership to identify common goals and areas of conflict – and resolve them.
As part of this, Caledonian MacBrayne has published a report looking at the opportunities and challenges that the marine economy is likely to face now that the NMP is in place.
The Caledonian MacBrayne report
The report focuses on the two marine regions of Argyll and Clyde, which together make up the bulk of the west coast of Scotland. This is an extensive area: Argyll alone has a coastline longer than that of France. The report also concentrates on three specific marine industries: aquaculture, tourism & recreation and marine traffic.
It looks at the framework of laws and policies that applies to these sectors and asks ‘where are we now?’ in terms of marine economic development. It examines current research and projections and sets out the forecasts for each sector. It then considers the opportunities and challenges revealed by these forecasts and recommends actions that will support future sustainable development.
In the aquaculture sector, for example, researchers from environmental consultancy MacArthur Green found a number of serious challenges. These include the industry’s reliance on only two major products (salmon and blue mussel) and planning constraints in getting new developments approved.
But the report also identifies a number of key opportunities, which could help to overcome the challenges and make Scottish aquaculture more sustainable.
It suggests that better marketing would be beneficial, raising awareness of the cleanliness of Scottish marine environment, while diversification into new products such as sea snails, sea urchins or sea weeds would make the industry more secure. Research and development into aquafeeds could help too, by reducing costs and improving nutritional value, while proper monitoring would provide early warning of dangerous algal and jellyfish blooms.
The report even suggests that this monitoring could be carried out by other marine users, such as ferry operators, in partnership with the aquaculture sector.
Tourism & recreation
Researchers from the University of the West Coast of Scotland (UWS) assessed the issues relating to tourism & recreation and marine traffic for the report.
They found that tourism & recreation offers many opportunities for future growth, particularly in relation to sailing tourism, wildlife tourism, cruise ship tourism and adventure tourism.
However, this is likely to result in greater competition for resources, such as access to shore front or to fish stocks, says the report. It is also likely to result in more damage to the environment, and will be hampered by a lack of provision of services, such as access to the internet, and a lack of affordable housing for local residents. There are also likely to be difficulties in developing the necessary infrastructure.
The report suggests that these problems could be mitigated or overcome by improved planning in this area. A comprehensive marketing strategy would also help, raising awareness not only of visitor attractions, but also of the environmental impact of tourism and what visitors can do to help.
Turning to marine traffic, the report finds that this is likely to increase in the Clyde and Argyll region over the next 25 years. Much of the growth is likely to be caused by the development of the cruise ship and sailing tourism sectors, but could also be a possible consequence of climate change. The report suggests that new international shipping routes may open up if the arctic ice mass reduces much further – and Clyde and Argyll are ideally placed to exploit them.
This growth will inevitably cause problems. According to the UWS researchers, an increase in marine traffic could result in congestion and an increase in marine noise pollution and emissions, not to mention the need for substantial infrastructural port development to meet growing demand.
The report warns that proper planning will be essential in order to manage these risks and phase in the necessary developments. Research into greener technologies will also help to reduce noise and emissions.
The report concludes by recognising the difficulties ahead: it will not be easy to create regional plans in an industry with such a diverse range of sectors, each with their own interests and needs. It suggests the use of mental modelling as way forward, helping to understand and resolve any conflicts, and to identify areas of common mutual interest.
At stake, after all, is the Scottish Government’s Vision for the marine environment: “Clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas; managed to meet the long term needs of nature and people.”
Caledonian MacBrayne, along with many other stakeholders, is working towards that goal.
Read the report here.