Wind Turbines & Fish Farms - Basking Sharks are Saved (for now)!!

It was christmas come early yesterday with news on two fronts! Two industrial proposals for the shark hotspot have been scrapped or shelved. Great news for this Hebridean environment and basking sharks. 1) The Argyll Array See here for BBC report (link), but plans have been dropped for the massive offshore windfarm off the SW coast of Tiree. Although we are in favour of long term renewable energy (as fossil fuels aren't going to last for ever, along with climate change etc etc - but thats for another time) the site choice here  highly concerning from both an environmental and visual point of view. Given that there are current plans for a marine protected area here, a huge industrial power site wouldn't really fit within the landscape of a marine park which people want to visit for stunning coastal vistas and wildlife! This is from a tourism operator perspective, as we don't live on Mull or Tiree we can't comment from their view. However enjoying an idyllic island lifestyle in the sunniest place in whole of the British Isles i'm sure does't marry well with a huge wind farm just off the coast. Secondly the planned wind farm was in the area highly frequented by basking sharks. Although there has been a benefit to the proposals, which has meant there has been a lot of extra study on the sharks and the area itself. Information that we would unlikely have had if there was no proposal. Studies were undertaken in the area south west of Tiree and almost unbelievably, on one day in August 2012, 918 sharks were sighted! Yes thats right - 918!!!! As far as we are aware this is numbers never seen elsewhere in such a short space of time in the whole world and on the face of looks like the area could be of worldwide importance for the sharks. As such the area needs protection and there should be onus from the rest of the world, not just for our own consideration. [caption id="attachment_1532" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Basking Shark Scotland, Tiree Array, Argyll Array, Coll, Mull Basking Sharking Feeding near the Tiree Array[/caption] A large scale windfarm in this area, with the associated installation, maintenance and underwater electrical fields could have had serious implications for the shark population. How mitigation would be proposed for this is anyones guess, our opinion is that there would be no way to understand the effects given we know very little of the sharks behaviour and distribution. However given that sharks are highly sensitive to electrical and magnetic fields then it's very easy to understand that they could be effected by such an installation. The power company have said the project has been shelved for this decade, but by then hopefully we will have a far better understanding of the sharks to ensure planning considerations fully consider these protected species. Maybe by then the Skye to Mull marine protected area will have no such threat from industrialisation! 2) Coll Fish Farm On the same day, another proposed industrial site was also scrapped for the foreseeable future, two wins on one day!! This time a large salmon farm was proposed for the NE coast of Coll, an area we visit most frequently for many reasons. This an another area of sharks, and we did see many along this stretch of coast this year. It's also an area where many species of Cetaceans have been spotted, Killer Whales, Minke Whales, Common & Bottlenose Dolphins, along with Common & Grey Seals. We were not in favour of this as we visit this area for it's natural beauty and wildlife, not to look at salmon cages. The proposed area has really good diving sites too with excellent soft coral reefs, almost next to the proposed farm. Those who know the effects of intensive fish farms will know about the damage they cause to the surrounding seabed. The effect of seals being attracted to the farm and potentially being either caught in nets or shot was also a large concern. Given there is a large seal colony nearby which we visit on almost every trip means they would likely have been attracted to the farm. It's existence would have likely altered their natural behaviour and caused a pest problem to the farm, ending badly for the seals. Again for an area under consideration for a MPA due to the outstanding wildlife, it makes no sense to have such a facility there. [caption id="attachment_1654" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Inquisitive Common Seal Inquisitive Common Seal[/caption]   Hopefully the information that has been gained from both exercise will now provide a more robust case for a large scale MPA in the area which can be the world stage as a haven for wildlife. Enhancing both the environment, bringing jobs through eco-tourism and money into the Scottish economy. Why not have a Galapagos style marine park for Scotland, where else has seen 918 shark in one day!!! [caption id="attachment_2316" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Skye to Mull MPA, Search Area, Basking Sharks Skye to Mull MPA Search Area[/caption]        

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