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How people power can help to turn the tide


WHEN a group of people on Arran decided in the mid-1990s to start campaigning for a marine reserve in Lamlash Bay, they found "people looked at us as if we were mad".

But in the intervening years, increasing numbers of people have come round to their point of view and the Community of Arran Seabed Trust - or COAST - now has a membership of more than 1,700 compared to the island's population of fewer than 5,000.

They are currently in negotiations with government officials and fishermen, but are hopeful of finally succeeding in their aim of creating a marine protected area in the bay.

It is an example of how people power can be mobilised to change the prevailing political mood which, if replicated across the country as a whole, would almost certainly guarantee an effective Marine Bill being passed by the Scottish Parliament.

And those with a care for the marine environment can also take direct action themselves to help improve the condition of the marine environment and our knowledge of what happens beneath the waves.

Eating sustainably caught fish, taking litter off the beach on every visit, getting involved in organised clean-ups and reporting sightings of interesting wildlife are all things ordinary people who visit the seaside or go out on to the sea can do.

Lamlash Bay was home to a sea angling festival where catches as large as 5,000 fish, weighing up to a total of 16,000lb, had been recorded, but in 1994 - the last year this was held - the catch had slumped to 200lbs.

Partly because of this, a group of divers and other interested people decided to campaign to get the area closed to commercial fishing in the hope its sealife would be able to regenerate.

"It's been a long, long fight but we think we are coming to the end of the road," said a spokesman for COAST.

"At one time fishing was one of the main economies of Arran - 40 or 50 years ago when Arran almost survived on fisheries with agriculture, not that long ago.

"We needed to do something. It needs to start somewhere and we thought it could start with us. When we started 13 years ago, people looked at us as if we were mad. Even two years ago."

The group believes the no-take zone will help marine life regenerate - both within the bay and outside it as fish and other creatures spread out - and also attract tourists to the area.

Any official no-take zone requires the agreement of the Scottish Government; voluntary schemes have been tried in the past with only very limited success.

The Marine Conservation Society runs a number of campaigns - including Adopt-a-beach and Beachwatch, which are designed to remove and monitor litter, and Seasearch to record marine habitats and animals - which rely on support from members of the public.

Calum Duncan, the group's Scottish conservation manager, urged people to get involved.

"The beach litter projects are a great opportunity for people to show they care about their local stretch of coast or favourite stretch and clean it up," he said.

"Divers can take part in the Seasearch and be our eyes under the water to record species. And anybody at sea or on the coast, looking out to sea, can send us basking shark sightings to help protect this gentle giant.

"Sea users can also report sightings of turtles and we're also encouraging people to record jellyfish. If we understand their distribution, it can give us an insight into leatherback turtle distribution."

Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) was one of the first people-power movements to campaign for cleaner seas - for obvious reasons. Richard Hardy, SAS campaigns director, said since then it had expanded its remit to cover the marine environment generally and is pushing for effective marine legislation.

The campaigners at COAST on Arran hope Lamlash Bay will provide a good example of the kind of transformation in environmental well-being that could be achieved on a wider scale by a network of marine protected areas round Scotland's coasts.

Its spokesman said: "Perhaps in 50 years' time we'll get back to what we had in the sea 50 years ago. It will be a long, long process, but we need to do something."


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