RSPB Scotland's Allie McGregor shares 5 things you should know about Scotland's awe inspiring marine wildlife and environment.

5 things you should know about Scotland's marine environment

1) 70% of the UK’s breeding seabirds are found along Scotland’s coasts

There are 5 million breeding seabirds in Scotland. Our marine environment is internationally important for birds like kittiwake, razorbill, Arctic tern and the endearing puffin. Scotland is a seabird hotspot, one of the very best in Europe, but many of our seabirds are disappearing at a rapid rate.

Some of the key pressures to our remarkable seabirds are climate change, invasive species, developments at sea, lack of food, and seabird bycatch. Seabirds need to have safe places where there is plenty of food for them and their chicks and where threats or pressures are removed or managed.

 scotland seabird decline infographic

2) Scotland’s waters are home to more than 20 species of dolphin, whale, and porpoises

Some of our more common species which are easier to spot from our coasts include include bottlenose, Risso’s and common dolphins, as well as minke whales, orca, and harbour porpoises.

Travelling between Scotland’s islands provides wonderful opportunities to see some of these species. You could check out the new Hebridean Whale Trail which includes some of our reserves and we are, of course, partial to our very own Dolphinwatch, which has had amazing success already this summer!

3) Our seas are a brilliant place to see the UK’s largest shark

Many people are understandably fascinated by the enormous basking shark. Adults reach lengths of around 20-25 feet and might weigh more than 5 tonnes!

How does it grow so big? By eating some of the smallest creatures in the sea, plankton. It feeds by slowly swimming along with its giant mouth wide open, filtering out the tiny but nutritious plankton, often on the surface and hence its name.

Summer is the best time to see basking sharks, especially along the west coast, where recent research suggests they might even breed!  they tend to disappear from our coasts in winter.

basking shark fins showing above water
Basking sharks. Photo Credit: John Bowler

4) Climate change is having a huge impact on our marine life

Climate change is the biggest single threat to our marine environment, not only is it having huge impacts on our seabirds, but all our other remarkable marine wildlife and the ecosystems they rely on. The seas absorb most of our CO2 emissions and they are reaching a tipping point.

One of the immediate impacts of climate change on seabirds is its impacts on their prey, like sandeels. Warming of the sea has caused changes in the marine food chain. This is affecting the ability of many of Scotland’s seabirds to bring food back to feed their chicks, resulting in widespread breeding failures, and it’s not just seabirds it is affecting but the whole marine ecosystem.

 sandeel and seabird infographic

5) Our Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

Scotland has breath-taking and diverse marine ecosystems – wildlife and their habitats. Around 22% of our seas are covered by the Scottish MPA network which aims to contribute to the protection of important and vulnerable habitats and wildlife from rocky shores to the deep sea and from porpoises to puffins and even ocean quahogs.

Marine Protected Areas are recognised globally and used here in Scotland as one way to support our marine environment. RSPB Scotland is very supportive of a network of well managed and properly resourced protected areas for marine birds and other wildlife and habitats both on the coast and at sea. While there has been some good progress, foraging sites for seabirds at sea have yet to be fully classified. We continue to work to ensure this happens and we are calling on the Scottish Government to classify the 13 proposed Special Protection Areas for seabirds that were first proposed three years ago, and which have been proven to be amongst the most important sites in Scotland for marine birds.

If you would like to support the current consultation on 4 Nature Conservation MPAs in Scotland for basking sharks, minke whales, Risso’s dolphins, sandeels and others, you can support the Basking Shark campaign or go directly to the governments consultation website here.