Our Story
Why we challenged the status quo, why we need to protect our seas

COAST documentaries: “Caught in Time” and “The Bay” were made in 2006 to raise awareness of the diversity of sea life around Arran and the impacts of destructive fishing in the Clyde.

Lochranza fishing fleets
Area fishing closed
The decline had largely been caused by the 1984 removal of the ban on bottom trawling and scallop dredging within three miles of the UK coast.


For the past three decades the people of Arran have campaigned to stop mobile fishing that damages our seabeds, jeopardising future livelihoods and wildlife.

Our community proposed and achieved protection, in 2008, for the first community-led No Take Zone in Lamlash Bay (NTZ). In this small area of 2.67 sq. km no fishing of any sort is permitted. Look at the NTZ case study from Kerri Whiteside, FFI’s Project Manager, of the Scotland Marine Community Support Project, for a full history behind this campaign.

In 2016, the South Arran Marine Protected Area (MPA) extended this area to nearly 300 sq km to exclude scallop dredging but allow for other, potentially more sustainable, fishing methods in various zones.

Despite this protection, salmon farming, illegal fishing, electrofishing, pollution and ineffective management still pose a risk to our waters, protected or not. This is why we are active partners of the Clyde Marine Planning Partnership and heavily involved with consultations and campaigns. We want to share our local knowledge and experience to improve the way our seas are managed.

In 2018 we opened the COAST Discovery Centre, Scotland’s first MPA Visitor Centre, led by our community to engage more locals and visitors in coastal and marine activities and learning. 

COAST has made many documentaries, such as “Caught in Time” and “The Bay”, and continues to produce short videos to raise awareness of the diversity of sea life around Arran and the impacts of destructive fishing in the Clyde. These can be viewed on the COAST Youtube channel.

Keep reading below for a fuller account of our story compiled from the Goldman Environmental Foundation.


In 1995, two Arran divers (Howard Wood and Don MacNeish) set up the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) with the aim of reversing the decline in Arran’s marine habitats.

The decline had largely been caused by the 1984 removal of the ban on bottom trawling within three miles of the UK coast. The decimation of the fish stocks had an evident impact on Arran’s community, its last international sea-angling festival was held in 1994, which saw catches down by 96%.

COAST spearheaded a campaign that established the first community-developed Marine Protected Area in Scotland, giving citizens a voice in a debate that has been dominated by the commercial fishing industry.

The Firth of Clyde was once known for plentiful fishing of herring, cod, haddock, and turbot. Small-scale traditional fishing provided a source of livelihood for generations of families in the Clyde and Arran, who were able to fish sustainably thanks to long-standing laws that banned practices that towed fishing gear along the seabed.

However, growing international demand for seafood and sustained lobbying by powerful commercial fishing interests in the 1980s led the British government to repeal various seabed protection measures. Coupled with technological advances in fishing, the new industry- friendly policies opened up the Firth of Clyde to the more destructive fishing practices.

Fisheries quickly collapsed, and the industry moved on to exploit what little remained of marine resources in the area: scallops and prawns. The commercial fishing industry began indiscriminately ploughing through the seabed with scallop dredges, repeatedly passing over the same area to maximize their catch. They damaged the seafloor and maimed coral and kelp forests — vital nursery grounds for fish and shellfish — crippling the habitat necessary for a healthy marine ecosystem.

Howard Wood was a teenager when his family moved back to the Isle of Arran, where his father spent much of his youth. He worked at the family’s plant nursery and spent his free time diving in the local waters, marvelling at the sea life below. Over the course of hundreds of dives a year, he witnessed firsthand the destruction of marine wildlife brought on by irresponsible fishing practices.

In 1989, Don MacNeish, a close friend who often joined Wood on his dives, came back from a trip to New Zealand enthused about the Marine Protected Areas he had seen there. He and Howard decided they would establish similar areas of marine conservation around Arran.

Howard and Don used their own personal savings and in 1995, co-founded the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST), a citizen group of volunteer activists committed to protecting the local marine environment. While Wood had no formal training as an environmental activist, he understood his responsibility as a member of the tight-knit community in Arran to restore and protect a resource that had been a source of cultural identity — and economic sustainability — for the people on the island.

COAST set out to champion sustainable management of marine resources for the benefit of all. In doing so, they faced an uphill fight against a deeply entrenched history of poor marine management.

COAST launched a grassroots campaign to establish Scotland’s first No Take Zone (NTZ) in Lamlash Bay, an area they had identified as key habitat for regenerating marine wildlife. After 12 long years dogged by numerous setbacks and progress, meetings with public officials, local fishermen and scientists, community rallies, and petitions to the Scottish parliament, Wood celebrated the establishment of the NTZ in 2008.

COAST enlisted local divers to work alongside academic scientists to monitor the coastline to enforce the new rules, an effort that would yield dramatic recovery of seaweed beds, corals and juvenile scallops in just a few years.

COAST submitted a proposal in 2012 to designate the South Arran Sea as a Marine Protected Area (MPA). The proposal was developed in close consultation with local communities on different methods of fishing and relied on meticulous survey data from divers and researchers. COAST led community education efforts and rallied citizens to keep the issue on the political front burner in Scotland.

In July 2014, the Scottish government announced 30 new Marine Protected Areas in Scotland including the South Arran MPA, the first and only community-developed MPA in the country. COAST is now working with the government to set a policy that legally recognises the community’s right to have a stake in the management of its seas and ensures that the area is protected from destructive fishing practices. The approach marks a significant departure from previous debates where the commercial fishing industry has been the only stakeholder at the table.

COAST is also working with other coastal communities in Scotland to develop similar proposals and promote sustainable marine management policies that will allow fishing communities to keep their culture and livelihoods for generations to come.

Today, COAST is recognised worldwide as one of the UK’s leading community marine conservation organisations, enjoying widespread support on Arran and beyond. COAST promotes sustainable marine management, delivers education programmes and maintains strong links with universities to ensure independent scientific research.

You can also browse through media coverage of COAST’s story and more recent news.