CURRENT levels of wildlife protection in Scotland's seas are too weak, with two in five Scots perceiving that the state of the nation's coastal waters have worsened in the past ten years, a new survey has found.

The analysis found Scots believe that litter pollution, chemical or sewage pollution, the impacts of climate change and industrial fishing are the greatest threats to the health of then nation's coastal waters.

The opinion poll gauging the views of Scots on the health of the marine environment found three in four think that marine industries should be obliged to contribute financially to marine conservation efforts.

The survey has been carried out by Scottish Environment LINK (SEL), a coalition of more than 30 Scots environmental and conservation charities and groups which has been calling for more action to protect the nation’s natural environment, wildlife and air and water quality.

The survey of over 1000 people carried out by pollsters Survation being published exactly eight years on from the designation of the first suite of nature conservation marine protected areas (MPAs) in Scotland, areas designed to restrict activities that damage species and habitats, thereby enhancing ocean health.

SEL say many of these MPAs still remain open to industrial activities, which pose a risk to the species and habitats they were set up to protect.

There are estimated to be around 39,200 species in the seas around Scotland, including valuable inshore and offshore fisheries and internationally important populations of basking sharks, seals, seabirds, whales and dolphins. They are also home to “blue carbon” habitats such as seagrass meadows, kelp forests, shellfish beds and maerl beds, which absorb and store atmospheric carbon dioxide or are a vital pathway to long-term storage.

Over three-quarters of respondents to the poll said that they support marine protected areas and that these MPAs should be highly or fully protected from damaging activities.

Almost a year on from the Bute House Agreement, in which the shared policy programme of the Scottish Government and Green Party committed to completing much-needed yet delayed protections for the MPA network and introducing Highly Protected Marine Areas across at least 10% of Scotland’s seas, SEL say "it is clear" there is strong public appetite for these actions to demonstrably improve the health of Scotland's seas.

HeraldScotland:

Calum Duncan, convenor of SEL's marine group and head of conservation in Scotland at the Marine Conservation Society said: “This polling shows overwhelming public support for urgent and stronger protection of Scotland's marine protected areas, which is appropriate considering that the oxygen, climate regulation and other essential services provided by a healthy ocean benefit everyone.

"Responses to the poll presaged recent global scientific recognition that the intertwined climate and nature crises equate to an ocean emergency.

"Marine protected areas must be just that, protecting wildlife from the most damaging industrial activities, such as industrial fishing and intensive aquaculture. Proper protection of Scotland's MPA network is essential to help underpin a just transition to sustainable climate and nature-friendly use of Scotland's share of the global ocean.”

The survey found that three in four think Scotland should commit to a target of having 30% or more of the sea protected from extraction activities.

In May leading public health and environment representatives warned that discarded cigarette butts and disposable vaping products were having "devastating" impacts on Scotland’s beaches and waters.They say They say that almost all of the 3.65 billion cigarettes smoked in Scotland each year are made of the plastic cellulose acetate.

And the group say the plastic cigarette butts can take more than 10 years to decompose and leach thousands of toxic chemicals; polluting seas and harming marine life.

Environmental and health organisations, such as ASH Scotland, the Marine Conservation Society, Zero Waste Scotland, Scottish Water and Keep Scotland Beautiful, have been calling on the Scottish Government to take world-leading legislative action to tackle the negative impacts of plastic cigarette filters and include the items in a single-use plastic ban.

A Greenpeace ship toured around Scotland five years ago taking in two months of stunning views, beautiful wildlife and "shocking scenes "of plastic pollution

The Marine Conservation Society said during last year’s Great British Beach Clean, an average of 9.4 cigarette stubs were recorded for every 100 metres of Scottish beach surveyed.

Last week it emerged that scientists found microplastics on the surface of 80% of the waters they tested off the Scottish coast in 2021 and 2022.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government is determined to make a step change in marine protection and to deliver on our shared commitment to achieve and maintain good environmental status for all of Scotland’s seas, offshore and inshore. The Bute House Agreement sets out a range of commitments to do just that, including the designation of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) covering at least 10% of Scotland’s inshore and offshore waters by 2026. This is a world leading commitment.

“Scotland’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) network already covers in excess of 37% of our sea area, exceeding the proposed new global target of 30% coverage by 2030. Management measures are designed to protect the specific features of each site and vary between MPAs and we are committed to completing management measures for our extensive MPA network by 2024.

“Sustainability, support for biodiversity and consideration of the wider ecosystem is at the heart of how we manage Scotland’s waters and fisheries. Our Fisheries Management Strategy sets out policy initiatives for the next ten years, which will protect the environment, and ensure that we manage our sea fisheries in a responsible and sustainable way.

“This year we will publish our refreshed Marine Litter Strategy with an action plan to further reduce sources of marine litter, including macro and microplastics.”