My name is Helyn Long I volunteer for WDC in Scotland. In my role as MPA (Marine Protected Area) volunteer it is my job to visit the communities that will be affected by the creation of an MPA, inform them of the process and encourage them to take part in the public consultation that will happen this summer. The area that I am covering is the west coast MPA in the Sea of Hebrides and as I live in the central belt I cover the areas in the southern part of the MPA area.
My first visit was to the Isle of Skye and there was a very positive reaction to the proposal of an MPA there. I spoke to locals by holding stalls in the library and Co-Op in Portree and the general consensus was that the protection of marine life around the island was a hugely positive and necessary step. There was a minority who were unsure about the idea of an MPA but from listening to the concerns of these individuals I learned that it is not so much that they disagree with the creation of an MPA just that they are worried about its implementation and what that might mean for locals who rely on the sea for their income.
Another part of my role is to provide school workshops to primary schools. I visited 3 primary schools while I was in Skye and have also carried out the workshop at a school close to my home in Carluke. The purpose of these workshops is to engage children with conservation issues and to broaden their knowledge of the marine wildlife in Scottish waters and what they can do to help to preserve it. All of the classes I have visited have been very enthusiastic about the issues raised and have really enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about them. The children especially love the opportunity to see life size cut outs of whales and dolphins that live in Scottish waters, the minke whale cut out always results in hilarity as it’s often a struggle to hold it up inside a classroom due to its size! I also take objects from whales with me so the kids can get a real hands on chance to learn about how the animals live and hunt, they are often amazed that a minke whale has no teeth but instead has baleen which it uses to filter feed. I am always impressed by how well the children understand the issues that are affecting the cetacean population not only in Scottish waters but in the world as a whole and in doing these school talks I have been meeting a lot of children who hope to work in conservation in the future which is wonderful!
I am currently planning my next trip which will cover Oban and Mull, there I will again be engaging with locals about the issues surrounding cetacean habitats and promoting the opportunity for them to have a say in plans for an MPA. I hope that this trip will be as successful as the last and am looking forward to continuing positive results.
You can find more Scottish MPA info on the Scottish Natural Heritage website (including where the Sea of Hebrides proposed MPA is, and some management advice).
This summer the Scottish government will be asking the public what you think. Please give us your email address so we can let you know when the consultation opens and what you can do, at whales.org/safehomes