MORE than 40 environmental organisations have called on the SNP leadership candidates not to scrap plans that would improve the protection offered to wildlife in Scotland’s waters.

Currently, a consultation is underway on Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) – which would see around 10% of fishing waters around Scotland closed to commercial exploitation and instead fully protected in the interests of improving biodiversity.

As well as fishing and aquaculture HPMAs would also be protected from infrastructure developments such as new ports, harbours and offshore wind.

Offering higher protection to marine habitat through HPMAs – at least 10% of Scotland’s seas by 2026 – was a commitment of the Bute House Agreement with the Scottish Greens.

READ MORE: Forbes vows to scrap fishing ban proposals and commission study

But leadership candidate Kate Forbes has said she would scrap the plans and instead commission a feasibility study into devolving marine protection and inshore fisheries powers to local authorities.

She called the current proposals “an example of how not to do government” and said that since no other European country had implemented HPMAs there was no evidence to demonstrate that they achieved their aims.

But Scottish Environment LINK, an umbrella which represents more than 40 environmental organisations including WWF, the Marine Conservation Society, and the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, have pleaded with the candidates to follow through on the government’s commitment to HPMAs.

They say that, if implemented correctly, the areas would support recovery of the world’s oceans and benefit local communities.

The National:

Calum Duncan, head of conservation in Scotland at the Marine Conservation Society and convenor of Scottish Environment LINK’s marine group said: "We all rely upon a healthy ocean, coastal communities most of all.

"We’re in the midst of an ocean emergency and all governments of the UK have failed to halt the decline of nature at sea, with declining seabed conditions and plummeting seabird populations of particular concern.

“Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) are a simple measure, proven worldwide to support ocean recovery, doubling sealife within their boundaries, overspilling into surrounding waters to benefit local fishers. Sustainable wildlife watching, education, research and enjoyment can also take place within such zones.

READ MORE: The charity 'seawilding' a Scottish sea loch with native oysters

“Failing to implement HPMAs would be a massive backwards step. If we are to reverse the alarming decline of nature at sea, we must boost ocean recovery and support coastal communities long into the future."

Earlier this month The National spoke to conservation charity Seawilding, whose CEO described current Marine Protected Areas in Scotland as “nonsense” due to the continued presence of environmentally damaging commercial activity, such as scallop dredging, within them.