COAST is an inspirational and world renowned community-led organisation working for the protection and restoration of a diverse, abundant and beautiful marine environment.
It started in 1995 when two local scuba divers, Howard Wood and Don MacNeish, set up COAST after witnessing the destruction of Arran’s marine habitats and dramatic decline of fish stocks due to decades of unsustainable fishing.
The decline was largely due to the havoc wreaked by inshore bottom trawling and scallop dredging; a problem exacerbated by the removal of the 3 mile limit in 1984, allowing trawling to now occur within 3 miles of the shore. The decimation of the fish stocks had an evident impact on Arran’s community, which hosted its last international sea-angling festival in 1994, with catches down by 96 per cent.
Today, COAST is an inspiring example of how communities can lead the protection of local habitats for the benefit of everyone. The community was responsible for the establishment, in 2008, of Scotland’s first No Take Zone in Lamlash Bay, home to one of the largest maerl beds in Scotland. This pioneering 2.67km2 marine reserve is the first of its kind in Scotland, completely protecting the waters, seabed and inhabitants from all forms of fishing. Increasing concerns regarding the degradation of the Firth of Clyde marine ecosystem led to studies being conducted by the Scottish Government, which ultimately resulted in the South Arran Marine Protected Area (MPA) being designated in 2014, with fisheries management measures – that promote sustainable fishing – being implemented in 2016. The NTZ sits within this 280km2 MPA, and together these reserves are boosting sea and community life.
Studies have shown that marine life has returned at dramatic levels in these waters, with some species increasing by nearly 400% since protection measures have been brought in. Pronounced biodiversity recovery has been witnessed in commercially important species such as lobsters and scallops, and the seabed is recovering with the growth of structurally complex “nursery” habitats and key “blue carbon” habitats showing particular recovery, which further supports the recovery of commercially important fish species.
The COAST project enjoys widespread support on Arran and beyond. Its mission is to ensure that coastal communities have a say in decisions that affect their seas. The work on Arran has been recognised with a series of environmental awards, it has influenced national marine protection policy, and has highlighted the importance of community involvement in marine protection projects. Most importantly, COAST’s work shows that with community support, strong science and political will, we can start to recover our seas.
Nature Based Enterprise
Central to the COAST project is its education and outreach programme. The COAST Discovery Centre was opened in 2018 - Scotland’s first Marine Protected Area Visitor Centre. Led by the community, this was created to engage locals and visitors in marine-based activities and learning. The project continues to promote marine rewilding through the creation of many documentaries to raise awareness and inspire others to act for nature recovery in our seas. The recovery of nature within the bay has helped sustain the livelihoods of those dependent on fishing and tourism (including diving and watersports).
In 2008, the first community-led No Take Zone in Lamlash Bay was established, where no fishing or extraction of any sort is permitted. This now sits within the the South Arran Marine Protected Area, established in 2016 which excludes scallop dredging and limits prawn trawling activity. These actions encouraged natural regeneration of habitats in the area, and the recovery of wildlife populations.