I have often painted the scattered craggy islands and cloudscapes of the West Coast, but have only been vaguely aware of the richness underneath, and its precarious, threatened future. Divers in Scotland’s waters have long appreciated the wonders of the sea floor’s delicate, biodiverse ecosystems, and now scientists are discovering the extent to which thriving ocean systems sequester carbon. Seagrass, maerl beds and kelp forests lock it away, and the seafloor itself is the largest carbon storehouse on the planet. Carbon rich organic matter - dead sea creatures - sink to the bottom, settle and eventually turn to stone.
In 1984, following pressure from commercial trawlers, the government removed the ‘Three Mile Limit’, allowing our inshore waters to be devastated by a growing industry of bottom trawling and scallop dredging. Delicate reef structures and the breeding grounds for many species are completely destroyed by these methods, and will take hundreds of years to recover. Dredging also disturbs sediments and interrupts their carbon sequestration. Although we have a network of ‘Marine Protected Areas’ these are poorly policed and in reality less than 5% of our seabed is protected from damage to the sea floor. Scallop dredgers have illegally ploughed up areas of seabed and reef structures in the supposedly protected Firth of Lorn, perhaps under the calm waters shown in this painting. The Scottish government have not yet taken meaningful action.
Proper protection could enable the restoration of our beautiful underwater habitats and allow a return of abundance to our seas. ‘The Our Seas Coalition’ are campaigning for a return of the inshore limit on bottom-contact fishing. Greenpeace’s ’30 x 30’ campaign and National Geographic’s ‘Pristine Seas’ campaign are calling for the creation of many more reserves world wide with proper protection from industrial fishing.