Howard Wood
Howard Wood

Howard Wood

2015 Goldman Prize Recipient

  • Scotland
  • Marine Conservation

Howard Wood 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 plowing 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, marveling 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 Wood decided they would establish similar areas of marine conservation around Arran.

Wood and his friend 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.

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

With his colleagues at COAST, Wood 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 dotted 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.

Wood 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.

Building on this momentum, Wood led COAST to submit 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. Wood 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. Wood and his team at COAST are now working with the government to set a policy that legally recognizes 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.

Wood 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.

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