Scotland has around 18,000 km of coastline (when measured at 1:10,000 scale). The area from the coast to our EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) limits (462,263km2) is around six times the size of the land area of Scotland.

A detailed assessment of Scotland’s Seas was made in Scotland’s Marine Atlas (2011). You can find updated data sets used as part of the 2011 Atlas assessment on Marine Scotland MAPS (NMPI).

Future assessments due:

  • OSPAR Intermediate Assessment (published June 2017) based on Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) Common Indicators
  • UK MSFD Updated Assessment (2018) based on MSFD national indicators
  • Scotland’s Marine Atlas type assessment to support a future national marine plan (following review of the current Plan in 2018)
  • Scottish Marine Planning Partnerships (MPPs) will be preparing regional assessments based on Scottish Marine Regions (SMRs) in coming years to support the first round of statutory regional marine plans.

Key messages

Most of our seas, coasts and estuaries are in good or excellent condition that is clean and safe. There are localised areas of concern, but pollution problems caused in the past have largely been addressed. Our seas are healthy and biologically diverse, supporting around 6,500 species of plants and animals and nationally and internationally important populations of certain species. Our seas also contribute to the economy, supporting a wide range of human activities, e.g. offshore renewable energy and leisure and recreation such as diving, yachting and some wildlife watchings.

The two widespread significant pressures on offshore waters are:

Many competing human activities have resulted in the first National Marine Plan being published in 2015 following the passing of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010.

Almost all (97%) of Scotland’s coastal waters are in good or high condition as assessed under the Water Framework Directive (WFD), but there are local impacts from commercial fishing, aquaculture and diffuse pollution.

Growth in industries such as aquaculture and renewable energy may increase pressure on coastal waters.

Scotland has approximately 48,000 km2 of coastal waters (internal waters and sea within the three mile limit used for WFD) which vary from sheltered sea lochs to exposed shoreline.

The overall status of 97% of Scottish coastal waters is ‘high’ or ‘good’, with only 3% rated as ‘moderate’.

Scotland’s seas extend from the coastline to the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) limit, generally about 200 nautical miles, covering a sea area of 462,263 square kilometres (km2). Beyond the EEZ is the seabed forming the continental shelf.

Scotland’s seas range from shallow shelf seas (less than 200 m deep) to deep oceans (more than 2000 m deep). The shelf seas contain features like banks and deep channels, whereas the deep oceans have complex, varying depths broken up by steep ridges, seamounts (mountains under the sea) and banks.


View the quality of Scotland’s coastal waters

View the full data analysis application for further information about the water body classification

View the quality of Scotland’s bathing waters

View the full data analysis application for further information about bathing waters

Marine Scotland gathers and uses a wide range of data and information as part of its work.

Marine Scotland INFORMATION (MSI) Marine Scotland’s new integrated web portal that provides access to descriptions and information about the Scottish marine environment while providing links to datasets and map resources that are made available by Marine Scotland and partners. Content is grouped into 3 types: information, maps and data.

Marine Scotland MAPS (NMPI)  an online, interactive GIS-based tool allowing you to view different types of information (as layers) at a scale of your choice. Marine Scotland MAPS (NMPI) content is managed by Marine Scotland working with Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (MASTS).

All users can create maps for printing and download certain data (subject to a licence agreement). New data are regularly being added and are structured around the Government’s vision for the seas of clean and safe seas, healthy and biologically diverse seas and productive seas. Additional sections cover physical characteristics, climate change, administrative data and regional layers to support regional marine planning. Marine Scotland MAPS (NMPI) is closely integrated with Marine Scotland INFORMATION.

Marine Scotland Information (MSI)

Marine Scotland DATA is a single point of access to Marine Scotland’s published data, and allow everyone to explore, download, share and cite those data. It is closely integrated with Marine Scotland INFORMATION.

Scotland’s Marine Atlas Information for the National Marine Plan is an assessment of the condition of Scotland’s seas, based on scientific evidence from data and analysis, supported by expert judgement. It was published in 2011 and prepared by Marine Scotland working with Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (MASTS).

What are we doing?

The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 included measures for:

  • Marine planning  - a new statutory marine planning system to sustainably manage the increasing, and often conflicting, demands on our seas. The first National Marine Plan was published in March 2015.
  • Marine licensing -  a simpler licensing system, minimising the number of licences required for development in the marine environment to cut bureaucracy and encourage economic investment.
  • Marine conservation  - improved marine nature and historic conservation with new powers to protect and manage areas of importance for marine wildlife, habitats and historic monuments.
  • Seal conservation -  much improved protection for seals and a new comprehensive licence system to ensure appropriate management when necessary.
  • Enforcement -  a range of enhanced powers of marine conservation and licensing.

Marine Scotland also has responsibilities for fisheries management, aquaculture and marine science through its laboratories.

Regional planning

The Marine (Scotland) Act in 2010 also introduced regional marine planning. Eleven Scottish Marine Regions have been created which cover sea areas extending out to 12 nautical miles. Regional Marine Plans will be developed in turn by Marine Planning Partnerships, allowing more local ownership and decision making about specific issues within their area.

You can view data by Scottish Marine Region, in the following data analysis applications:-

Policy and legislation

There is legislation at various levels that contributes to planning Scotland’s seas.


More details are available from The Scottish Government website.


More details are available from The Scottish Government website.


More details are available from The Scottish Government website and the Marine Scotland Marine Plan Topic Sheet.

This page was added on 03 Oct 2016

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Useful contacts

Crown Estate Scotland - one of the UK’s largest coastal landowners, managing and investing marinas, moorings, around half the UK’s shoreline, and hundreds of aquaculture sites, which provide more than 6,000 jobs in Scotland.

Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (MASTS) - a consortium of organisations engaged in Marine Science.

Marine Conservation Society in Scotland

Marine Scotland - Marine Scotland is a Directorate of the Scottish Government and is responsible for the integrated management of Scotland's seas.

Scotland’s Beach Awards - rewards clean, well-managed and sustainable beaches. Awarded beaches will demonstrate excellent beach management and environmental best practice ensuring the maintenance of high standards.

Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) - marine science organisation, dedicated to delivering marine science for a healthy and sustainable marine environment through research, education and engagement with society.

Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) - Monitors Scotland’s bathing waters and the wider aquatic environment, regulates the Aquaculture sector - ensuring that water quality is suitable for the production of wholesome shellfish.

Scottish Natural Heritage