September 18, 2008

Environment and Industry Plan to ‘Work in Harmony’

By John Ross

COMPETING interests between industry and the environment on the Cromarty Firth have prompted the launch of a new initiative.

The firth, used as a base for oil rig repairs, is also a haven for dolphins; a port of call for cruise liners; a home for seals; a bulk cargo berth and a habitat for wild birds.

Managing the complex task is the responsibility of the Cromarty Firth Port Authority (CFPA), which is enhancing its green credentials by launching an environmental management plan to cover the next four years.

Unveiled ahead of a marine bill, the plan is seen as vital to the development of commercial activity in the firth while safeguarding its environmental assets.

The presence in the firth of bottlenose dolphins, grey seals and large numbers of resident and migratory birds has seen it recognised with environmental designations, including two Special Sites of Scientific Interest, a Marine Special Area of Conservation and a Ramsar site for the protection of wetlands.

But the waterway is also a thriving industrial hub. It has 800- 900 vessel movements a year, ranging from 500 tonnes to 160,000 tonnes, including 52 cruise ships this year which brought 48,000 passengers into Invergordon.

In addition the port handles more than 4 million tonnes of cargo a year and more than 600 oil rigs have been repaired in the firth since 1973.

Ken Gray, the port manager and harbourmaster, said: "When you have commercial operations in an environmentally sensitive area they must work together in harmony. The whole idea of this document is to assist that."

The plan, which complies with European guidelines, includes targets for the CFPA to cut its energy consumption by 5 per cent by 2012 and also increase recycling by 5 per cent. It will also encourage firth operators to reduce energy, cut air pollution and monitor noise and water quality.

Jimmy Gray, the CFPA chairman, said: "We live and work in an area which has rightly been recognised for its outstanding natural environment. CFPA takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously."

The new plan was welcomed yesterday by environmental groups including the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Moray Firth Partnership.

Colin Craig, Sepa's team leader in Dingwall, said: "We support the work CFPA has put into this management plan, and look forward to working alongside them to maintain a sustainable and healthy port."

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