Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) - site selection: draft guidelines

Guidelines describing the proposed process for identifying and selecting Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) in Scottish waters. These were drafted by our statutory nature conservation advisors, NatureScot and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).

2 Background to Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs)

Across the globe, there are an increasing number of examples of different forms of marine protection, including strictly or highly protected areas, recognised internationally as 'marine reserves'. Protected area networks often comprise sites ranging from fully protected to those that allow some socio-economic uses (also known as 'multiple use' MPAs) - either within zoned areas or across the whole site. Zones of differing protection levels are also common within individual MPAs. An example of an area comprising a marine reserve around a central, multiple-use fishing zone is the Rapa Nui MPA in Chile[4].

Most existing MPAs in Scottish waters have been developed around the concept of sustainable use, allowing activities that do not adversely affect the protected features to continue. However, evidence suggests that using HPMAs to deliver an ecosystem approach provides an opportunity to deliver improved conservation outcomes.

Given the twin biodiversity and climate crises, implementing HPMAs as an added component to the Scottish MPA network will help to support the recovery and resilience of Scotland's seas.

The Scottish Government's commitment to introduce HPMAs aligns with the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, which proposes that 10% of our seas should be under strict protection by 2030. Within the IUCN Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories to MPAs, such 'strict' or 'highly protected' areas are often associated with the definitions of categories Ia, Ib and II that seek to 'leave natural processes essentially undisturbed to respect an area's ecological requirements'.

2.1 Definition

HPMAs can be defined as 'designated areas of the sea that are strictly protected from damaging levels of human activities, allowing marine ecosystems to recover and thrive. These areas safeguard all of their marine life for the benefit of the planet and current and future generations; providing opportunities for carefully managed enjoyment and appreciation.'

2.2 Aims of HPMAs

HPMAs are one of the measures available to protect Scotland's seas and to help deliver the Scottish Government's vision for the marine environment. HPMAs aim to:

  • Facilitate ecosystem recovery and enhancement via the removal of pressures and/or active restoration
  • Enhance some of the benefits that coastal communities and others derive from our seas
  • Contribute to the mitigation of climate change impacts
  • Support ecosystem adaptation and improve resilience, including to climate change

The designation and management of HPMAs will take a whole-site approach. All marine biodiversity, the supporting environment and associated ecosystem services within the boundaries of an HPMA will be protected from damaging levels of human activities.

The Bute House Agreement stipulates the development of a policy and selection framework that provides for:

  • Balanced representation of the ecology of Scotland's seas and their geographical spread from the coast to the deep sea
  • Ecosystem recovery and biodiversity enhancement, including protection of blue carbon and essential fish habitats
  • The recovery of Priority Marine Features (PMFs)
  • Coverage of at least 10% of Scotland's seas

The HPMA selection process outlined in Section 4 provides the framework to meet these principles, with further detail provided in Annex A. The key functions and resources of significance to Scotland's seas that will underpin site identification are summarised in Annex B.

2.3 Taking account of economic, cultural and social factors during site selection

During the HPMA site selection process NatureScot, JNCC and Marine Scotland will take account of socio-economic factors affecting the resilience and viability of marine industries and the coastal communities that depend on them. Stakeholder engagement will form a cornerstone to the work undertaken by NatureScot, JNCC and Marine Scotland to identify HPMA search locations: from playing a role in shaping the HPMA policy and selection framework through to stakeholders being given the opportunity to propose areas for consideration as HPMAs.

NatureScot, JNCC and Marine Scotland will work with stakeholders to better understand how they use the marine space, with a view to patterns of activity informing HPMA siting and design. Where possible, this will be used to limit socio-economic impacts.


Email: HPMA@gov.scot

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