Case study

Protecting the world’s marine ecosystems

Our research into the recovery of marine life in a protected area on the west coast of Scotland is just the latest example of our important work at the forefront of worldwide marine conservation and protection.

Marine biologists on a boat at sea in Scotland
Dive surveys underway in Lamlash Bay No Take Zone, an area fully protected from fishing

The issue

Overfishing and the resulting loss of diversity in the Firth of Clyde were first highlighted by our researchers in 2010.  During the same year, they began monitoring the effect of the Lamlash Bay No Take Zone (NTZ) – an area fully protected from fishing – which was introduced in 2008, as Scotland’s first, and only, highly protected marine reserve.  

Working with the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) and other key organisations, the York team sought evidence to support the expansion or designation of new NTZs and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) within Scotland.

As a further result of our recognised expertise in the area of marine conservation, in 2016 York academics were asked by the Pew Charitable Trusts to review the United Nation's (UN) global target for MPAs which was then to protect 10 per cent (or more) of the world’s oceans by 2020. 

The research

Working with COAST, York’s monitoring of biological recovery in Lamlash Bay NTZ has expanded to include analysis of seabed photos and remote videos, and work with local creel fishermen to survey lobster and crab populations. Our research demonstrated strong recovery of seabed habitats and certain species, including valuable scallops and lobsters. The work provides important information about how species react to habitat recovery, and how different species interact with each other. 

To establish whether the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity target for MPAs of 10 per cent was sufficient, York academics reviewed 144 studies, assessing if the target would achieve six key environmental and/or socio-economic objectives.  The results consistently showed that protecting a higher percentage of the sea is needed, much more than the then 2.2 per cent protection and the 10 per cent target.  The report recommended that increasing coverage to at least 30 per cent of the oceans would be more likely to meet conservation and management goals.

The outcome

Our research in the field of marine protection has had significant impact, locally, nationally and internationally, influencing policy through scientific evidence, and demonstrating positive environmental outcomes of MPAs.

Following the introduction of the Lamlash Bay NTZ, where we demonstrated the recovery of biodiversity and commercial species, COAST successfully proposed a 250km² MPA in South Arran.  This encouraged the formation of the Coastal Communities Network, a network of 23 groups who campaign for improved management of Scottish coastal areas. York’s research was referenced during Scottish Government consultations on MPA management, and proposals to increase NTZs. 

The UK Government’s 2019 Benyon Review into the introduction of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) used Lamlash Bay NTZ as a key example of good practice. The final report recommended at least five new HPMAs be established in English waters. 

Pew Charitable Trusts used our research to support their motion at the 2016 International Union for Conservation of Nature congress. An 89 per cent majority supported the recommendation of at least 30 per cent ocean protection by 2030. The study has also influenced the objectives of the UK government-led Global Ocean Alliance and a large coalition of conservation organisations who are currently campaigning for the 30 per cent target, including Greenpeace, Conservation International, Oceans 5, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Featured researcher

Dr Bryce Stewart

Senior Lecturer

Dr Stewart conducts research on the biology, impacts and management of marine fisheries with a particular focus on examining the utility of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) 


View profile