A SCOTTISH diver has won one of the world’s most prestigious environmental awards in recognition of his work over 20 years to protect an island’s marine life.

Howard Wood spearheaded a campaign to establish the first community-developed marine protected areas (MPAs), giving locals on the isle of Arran a voice in a debate dominated by the commercial fishing industry.

Wood was one of the founders of the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (Coast) and played a key role in the campaign to set up the country’s first no-take zone, which prohibits fishing in part of the island’s Lamlash Bay.

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He was the first Scot to receive the Goldman Environmental Prize at a ceremony in San Francisco yesterday and was presented with prize money worth £117,000 to spend on pursuing his “vision of a renewed and protected environment”.

Before leaving for the US, he said news of the award had come “completely out of the blue”.

Wood added: “The work of Coast goes back to before 1995, when we could see that the seabed around Arran was being basically dredged away. We wanted to have a trial area to find out what happens when you close a small area to all fishing.

“It took us years to get there, but we did get there in 2008.”

Since then, the no-take zone has allowed the seabed to regenerate, with a recent study showing an increase in the size of scallops and an increase in the number of juvenile scallops in the area.

Coast is actively promoting sustainable fishing methods such as creeling, hand diving for scallops and angling.

Coast is also calling on the Scottish Government to implement tougher restrictions for effective protection of the South Arran Marine Protected Area.

A network of MPAs was designated in Scottish waters in July 2014, but campaigners insist very few statutory measures to manage the damaging effects of bottom-towed fishing have been implemented for these areas.

Wood said: “Scotland has a legacy of vested interests controlling access to public marine resources and there is still a great deal of work to be done to overturn decades of mismanagement.

“If people really understood how Scotland’s marine resources have been plundered over the years, they would be appalled.”

The Scottish Government congratulated Wood on his award. A spokesman said: “Scotland’s Marine Protected Areas network, which includes the largest MPA in the EU, helps protect and enhance our marine environment so that the rich diversity of life in the waters around Scotland, and the benefits they bring, can be enjoyed for generations to come.

“We recently consulted on potential management measures for MPAs and will shortly implement measures that take account of all views received.

“The current preferred management approach would achieve the conservation objectives of the protected features and reduce the footprint of trawling and dredging considerably.”

Wood is one of six winners of the Goldman prize. The others are from Kenya, Myanmar, Haiti, Canada and Honduras.