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Scotland's International Marine Conference: Summary

Scotland, which is surrounded by over half of the UK’s coastal waters, is well placed to lead the way in taking action for marine sustainability because of its inherent ties to the sea, culturally and economically - Scotland benefits enormously from industries such as fishing, marine tourism, aquaculture and energy.

The management of our seas is central to the health, well-being and prosperity of the Scottish population, and of everyone across the UK. Scotland’s vision is for clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas that are managed to meet the long term needs of nature and people. This is only achievable through strong national action and international cooperation. Therefore, Scotland’s first International Marine Conference, funded by the Scottish Government, focused on current national and international actions to protect the marine environment - and over 10 nations were represented.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon opened the event, introducing the key themes for the conference - MPAs, Blue Carbon and Marine Litter. What hearteningly came across during the conference was the government's commitment to the marine and coastal environment. As well as the First Minister, speakers included; Lewis Pugh, who gave an inspiring keynote speech on his 1km swim across the Geographic North Pole; Rosanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform; Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (via video address) and a written message from HRH Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay.

Below are some of the key takeaway points:

The Scottish Government are going to consult on the creation of two new Historic Marine Protected Areas (HMPAs) at Lerwick and Scapa Flow and are looking to create a new marine reserve in the north east Atlantic. This proposed reserve is almost 150,000 square kilometres, which is almost twice Scotland’s landmass. This addition would almost double the overall size of Scottish marine protected areas – with MPAs making up 42% of Scotland’s territorial waters (currently 22%). 

In terms of Blue Carbon, 2,000 million tonnes of carbon is stored in the seas around Scotland, which is equivalent to 200 years worth of our current carbon emissions. Research by St Andrews University suggests that the sea stores more carbon than the forest and peatland put together (just one sea loch on the Ardnamurchan peninsula – stores almost 27 million tonnes of carbon) so safeguarding its storage capacity and increasing research and innovation in Blue Carbon should be a priority. Marine Scotland launched a research programme for Blue Carbon which began in 2018. Focus revolves around ‘measuring the ability of various habitats to sequester carbon, understanding how it is stored for the long term, and building an evidence base on the effects that human activities may have on these process’ (Marine Scotland, Researching Blue Carbon). Last year, the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum was also established.

In January this year, an extra £4m was committed to the government scheme to tackle period poverty by granting free access to sanitary products for those in education. More environmentally friendly reusable options are available and they will be looking to expand the provision of reusables. The Government are also working with Zero Waste Scotland on a promotional campaign for the use of reusable sanitary products more widely.

In ‘Making Things Last: a circular economy strategy for Scotland’ the government set out their plans to build a strong economy, protect resources and support the environment. Through Zero Waste Scotland’s Resource Efficient Scotland programme, they are supporting businesses, third sector and public sector organisations to boost productivity by using energy, materials and water more efficiently.The government intends to engender a shift away from single-use materials completely. Leading by example, single-use hot drinks cups have been banned in all Scottish Government buildings, which will prevent 450,000 cups being thrown away per year.

In 2014 the Scottish Government published a strategy for reducing marine litter which includes more than 40 actions for direct litter reduction and behaviour change. Last June, a ban on micro-plastics in personal care products came into force and the Scottish Government were the first government in the UK to commit to banning plastic-stemmed cotton buds.

On 21st Feb the Government published a detailed analysis of the consultation responses received on how to introduce a deposit return scheme for bottles and other containers.

A discussion paper on the future of fisheries management in Scotland will soon be published – this will focus upon how to establish throwing litter overboard whilst at sea as an offence for vessels of all sizes.

A £1 million fund has been set up it collaboration with Zero Waste Scotland for innovative waste solutions. This aims to benefit sites which are being affected by litter sinks (such as Loch Long on the Firth of Clyde) and there is hope that the fund will enable the plastics which are found to be reused.

KIMO’s Fishing For Litter Scheme – a project which involves the fishing industry in marine litter removal and highlights the importance of good waste management amongst the fleet - has been supported by the Government since 2005, and the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) - a cross stakeholder alliance of fishing industry, private sector, corporates, NGOs, academia and governments focused on solving the problem of lost and abandoned fishing gear – also receives support.

Keep Scotland Beautiful is running its Upstream Battle project, an initiative that - due to the fact 80% of marine litter comes from land – takes the issue of marine litter back inland and aims to change behaviour and prevent marine litter at source. It is focused on the length of the River Clyde and its tributaries and aims to raise awareness, gather evidence and inspire action. Whilst many initiatives tackling marine litter are targeted at cleaning up beaches or trying to remove litter from the sea, this project aims to complement by connecting together people along the river's length; from its source in the Lowther Hills, along its major tributaries (such as the rivers Kelvin and Leven), along the Forth and Clyde canal, and around the Firth of Clyde, with the goal preventing litter from entering the water.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addressing the audience.

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