Scotland's Marine Atlas: Information for The National Marine Plan

Scotland's Marine Atlas is an assessment of the condition of Scotland's seas, based on scientific evidence from data and analysis and supported by expert judgement.



The Clean and Safe chapter provides an assessment of whether Scotland's seas are clean, that is, on levels of contamination, and safe, that is, whether there are hazards to marine life in the sea or to human beings using the sea.

Most contaminants enter estuaries and coastal waters from land-based sources. These inputs can be natural, due to weathering, or due to man's activities. Most discharges from industry or sewage treatment works are from point sources, but agricultural run-off and other inputs can be from more diffuse sources. The impacts of sewage discharges on water quality in Scotland's major estuaries are described, and the impacts of inputs of nutrients on estuaries and coastal waters are considered in relation to the risks of eutrophication. The classification of Scotland's estuaries and coastal water for the EU Water Framework Directive ( WFD) are presented.

Contaminant inputs from point and diffuse sources are quantified and reported annually to the Oslo and Paris Commission ( OSPAR), and these are described here. Contaminant groups covered include trace metals and organic chemicals used in industry; these are toxic, persistent and bio-accumulable substances such as cadmium, lead, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls ( PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons ( PAHs) and brominated flame retardants ( PBDEs). Concentrations of these contaminants in waters, sediments, fish and shellfish are presented, together with an assessment of the behaviour, fate and biological effects of these contaminants, to assess whether Scotland's seas can be considered as clean.

Information is presented on some issues which may be considered as having an impact on whether the seas are both clean and safe, such as marine litter and oil and gas spills. The presence of marine litter on a shore may be taken to indicate that a beach is contaminated and therefore not clean. In relation to safe seas, there is evidence that marine life has been damaged by plastic and other debris in the sea, and the uptake of pollutants by microplastics is thought to present a toxic hazard to marine life. Information on oil and gas spills in relation to the oil and gas industry are presented, along with figures on loss of life at sea in maritime accidents.

Whether Scotland's seas are safe is also considered through the assessment of concentrations of bacteria in waters designated as suitable for bathing or for growing shellfish, and levels of algal toxins are reported and assessed.

The information presented is intended to form the scientific evidence base to inform Scotland's national marine plan. It will also serve to highlight key knowledge gaps and help focus and prioritise the deployment of resources in the future.

It is recognised that the information presented is not totally comprehensive. Areas where there is a need for more information are highlighted. These include the introduction of new chemicals to the environment, new policy areas such as marine planning and renewables, changing priorities and the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive ( MSFD). These new challenges together with the current financial situation mean that current monitoring programmes will need to change to continue to provide the required information. In addition, new ways of working will need to be adopted, including more partnership working, to ensure that management decisions are made using a robust scientific evidence base.

Information Sources

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Marine Scotland Science both contribute contaminant data to a national ( UK) database ( MERMAN). This data is submitted to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea ( ICES) to fulfil the UK's obligation for the OSPAR Coordinated Environmental Monitoring Programme. The data in MERMAN is quality assured and has been used for national assessments such as Charting Progress 2. Scottish data in the MERMAN database was used in this report and the data was assessed using internationally agreed assessment criteria where available.

Data not stored in MERMAN was obtained from the relevant competent monitoring authority.

  • The Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Food Standards Agency (Scotland) provided microbiological contamination information collected for the Bathing Waters and Shellfish Waters Directives and EC food hygiene regulations.
  • The Food Standards Agency (Scotland) also provided information on biotoxins in shellfish.
  • The Marine Conservation Society provided beach litter data from their annual Beachwatch surveys.
  • Data on Oil and Chemical spills was taken from The Advisory Committee on the Pollution of the Sea ( ACOPS) annual reports.
  • Radioactive substances information was provided by the Radioactivity in Food and Environment ( RIFE) reports.
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