Marine Protected Areas

A Marine Protected Area is an area which has either/both marine biodiversity (species and habitats) and geodiversity (the variety of landforms and natural processes that underpin the marine landscapes), offering long-term support for the services our seas provide to society.

The Marine (Scotland) Act and the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act both contain new powers to designate Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) - a network of areas. These contribute to a range of measures to manage and protect our seas for current and future generations, or to allow them the space from human activity to recover to the state they should be to remain healthy and productive.

In Scotland there are already many existing protected areas in our seas.  These range from:

  • 45 Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for colonies of seabirds such as puffins and kittiwakes
  • 46 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for species and habitats such as bottlenose dolphin, coral reefs and seals (one of these, Hatton Bank for reefs, is the largest in Europe)
  • 61 Sites of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI) for the further protection of species from seabirds and seals to habitats from sea caves and rocky shores.


Our aim is to achieve a well-managed network of Marine Protected Areas based on the principle of sustainable use. To better achieve this objective, Marine Scotland undertook a 16 week consultation from July to November 2013 to seek views on the proposed network of MPAs as part of the wider Planning Scotland's Seas consultation. The consultation is now closed and thank you for your responses.

To see the consultation documents, which will remain available for reference, please visit the Planning Scotland's Seas consultation pages and for more details on the individual pMPAs please visit SNH and JNCC MPA Consultation pages.

In brief:

  • 33 Nature Conservation possible Marine Protected Areas (pMPAs) which include options and alternatives for the representation of certain features and a further four MPA search locations remain to be fully assessed.
  • Were every one of these proposals taken forward for designation, the new MPAs would represent 11% of the area of Scotland’s seas.
  • Of the 41 MPA search features listed in the MPA Selection Guidelines, 38 are adequately represented by the evolving MPA network. Work intended to address the adequacy of the remaining three features will continue.

Joint Statement by UK Administrations on Developing an Ecologically Coherent Network

The UK administrations are committed to establishing an ecologically coherent network of MPAs. A statement, agreed with all administrations, has been produced to explain what this means in the UK.

Scottish MPA project – Fisheries displacement study

The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the 33 possible Marine Protected Areas (pMPAs) identified that fisheries displacement could occur as a consequence of implementing management measures. This displacement could have both positive and negative effects on the environment. Fisheries displacement study

Fisheries Management Proposals for Offshore Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)

Scotland has 11 offshore SACs. Under Article 6 of the EU Habitats Directive member states are obligated to prevent deterioration of the protected feature(s) of the site(s). The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) permits vessels from other member states, and also third countries like Norway, to fish in Scottish Waters. When there is a need to manage fishing activity to comply with Article 6, member states must submit  proposals to the European Commission (EC). Fisheries management proposals are being developed for offshore SACs.