Howard Wood and colleagues in COAST, with the Lamlash Bay 'no take zone' in the background. Photo: COAST.
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Saving Lamlash Bay - and over-exploited seas everywhere
20th April 2015
A coveted award has put the campaign to protect and recover marine life in the Firth of Clyde, Scotland, into the international limelight. Goldman Prize winner Howard Wood explains how Arran Islanders' efforts to keep scallop dredgers out of Lamlash Bay has brought life, and fish, back to the sea.
Hopefully we can inspire other communities to take control and challenge government to protect their coastal waters as a vital public resource. Our marine life needs all the attention we can give.
The call from California to the small offices of COAST in Lamlash on the isle of Arran (Scotland) came as a bolt from the blue.
Our organisation, founded in 1995 to restore and protect the marine environment that is a vital source for both the island's economy and its culture, had caught the attention of the Goldman Environmental Prize and I was to be presented with the world's largest prize for grassroots environmental activists.
It was, without question, a huge honour. This is the first time the Prize has come to Scotland.
And although - unlike other winners - I have not been shot or jailed as a consequence of trying to stand up for the environment; it doesn't mean the threat faced by the marine environment here is any less real.
When I first started diving in the waters off Arran the attraction was partly the adventure - exploring the unknown. Perhaps more importantly, it was also a chance to catch fish for tea.
When ancient protections were stripped away, the decline was precipitous
The largest island in the Firth of Clyde on the west coast of Scotland was once renowned for its fishing. Anglers would flock here from across the world for its annual fishing festival. The waters, particularly Lamlash Bay, teamed with flatfish, crabs, scallops, you name it. It was like a well-stocked aquarium.
Laws introduced in 1889 at the instigation of fishermen had prevented bottom trawling for nearly a century, but in 1984 the last remaining legislation was revoked. Its impact on marine life was incredibly fast. In three or four years species that were once found in abundance had either rapidly decreased or vanished altogether.
As divers we saw these effects first hand, but in those early years the general reaction among us was to shrug our shoulders and say "there's not much we can do."
But in 1989, a close friend and fellow diver Don MacNeish returned from a trip to New Zealand having seen the country's first marine reserve at Leigh. He was adamant that we had to do this here too. More than 20 years later we are only part of the way there.
The first piece in the puzzle
In 2008, a No Take Zone (NTZ) was established in Lamlash Bay, meaning no fishing was permitted whatsoever - except by special scientific permit. It was a hard-fought battle and a great victory for the community, but we knew it was only a piece in the overall puzzle as it did not include our proposed Marine Protected Area (MPA) for the rest of Lamlash Bay.
In 2012 we reapplied for a larger South Arran MPA and in July 2014 our proposals were included as one of 30 new Marine Protected Areas by Scotland's environment secretary Richard Lochhead. Again, it was a huge achievement, not least because it had come from genuine community involvement, not just from the top down.
But still, we felt short-changed. Without proper management of the MPAs they run the risk of being 'paper-parks' where damaging fishing practices can carry on unabated and will achieve nothing.
Without proper protection it is unlikely MPAs can contribute significantly to the recovery of marine ecosystems and the fish stocks upon which coastal communities depend. So our campaign continues.
I'm not a marine biologist, a scientist, a lobbyist or a politician, but since Don and I founded COAST, I have had to learn to perform all these roles as we worked hard to win community buy-in, get the local politicians on board, then force senior members of government to listen.
When a committee of MSPs who were considering our petition for better protection came to Arran in 2006 we pulled out all the stops.
First we put them aboard a boat and took them to a good spot in Lamlash Bay for me to dive down and come up with a tray laden with creatures from below. Then we showed them footage filmed by cameraman Doug Anderson who has worked on programmes including Blue Planet and just so happened to be Don's nephew.
They were gobsmacked and within ten days an inquiry had been called in Parliament about setting up the No Take Zone.
The continuing campaign
This summer the Scottish Government is due to announce its plans for management in the MPAs and it should take note of the results already achieved.
A recent study from the University of York published this year in the journals Marine Biology and Marine Environmental Research shows an increase in the size and reproductive capacity of adult scallops as well as significantly more juvenile scallops, while marine life is starting to flourish once again. (See Ecologist article here.)
With less destructive methods such as creeling, hand-diving for scallops, and angling, instead of scallop-dredging and bottom-trawling a lot can be achieved to recover the seabed.
The reason why COAST has been successful I believe is that it has come from the community. We have not been perceived as outsiders coming in and telling islanders what to do. So while the Goldman Prize may be in my name, it is really one for the community. The success that we have seen so far could not have been achieved without it.
Not only does the Prize mean more recognition for what we are trying to do, but a generous grant of $175,000 to help us fund the project to get there.
Hopefully COAST can now demonstrate just what can be achieved and inspire other communities in Scotland and around the UK, to take control and challenge government to protect their coastal waters as a vital public resource. Our marine life needs all the attention we can give.
More information on the Goldman Prize.
Petition: 'Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Scottish Government : Stop dredging and bottom trawling in Scotland!' (hosted by Avaaz).
Also on The Ecologist: 'Strong marine protection works for fisheries and wildlife!' by Bryce Stewart & Leigh Howarth.
Donate to COAST via its website.
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