Minke whale, basking sharks and Risso’s dolphins will be among a range of animals to be safeguarded under new protected marine areas.
Four new sites have been awarded the special status, which is designed to give extra security to some of Scotland’s most vulnerable species and habitats.
The latest Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) include north-east Lewis, Sea of the Hebrides, Shiant East Bank and Southern Trench.
Holyrood’s natural environment minister Mairi Gougeon said: “These designations continue Scotland’s commitment to lead by example on environmental protection.
“Not only are our seas fundamental to our way of life, they provide habitats for a hugely diverse range of marine wildlife and it is vital that we ensure appropriate protection for them.
“Scotland’s waters are home to many unique species and these designations ensure our MPA network is fully representative of our marine diversity, exceeding the proposed international target to achieve 30% of global MPA coverage by 2030.”
A further 12 sites have been given Special Protection Area (SPA) status, providing additional protection to Scotland’s vulnerable marine birds including sea ducks, divers and grebes.
It brings the total number of locations subject to marine protection measures to 230, covering around 227,622 square kilometres – 37% – of Scotland’s seas.
Natural conservation charities have welcomed the latest MPAs and SPAs to be introduced, although RSPB Scotland has raised concerns over why sites around Orkney were not included.
Alex Kinninmonth, head of marine policy at RSPB Scotland, said: “We certainly welcome the protected areas declared today but any joy is tempered by what is missing in Orkney.
“We are requesting urgent clarity from the minister on her intentions, as we are at a loss to understand why after receiving robust scientific advice from her nature advisers supporting the sites, she has chosen to add yet further delay and uncertainty.”
The National Trust for Scotland said it is pleased with the seas around St Kilda being designated as an SPA, but also raised concerns about the status of Orkney’s waters.
Charities have been campaigning for these new protections to be introduced, with the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Marine Conservation Society joining forces in 2019 to support the creation of the Sea of Hebrides MPA.
Both organisations welcomed the move but called for effective management measures so they achieve their aims.
Susan Davies, chief executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre, added: “We’re absolutely delighted that the Scottish Government has designated a number of new special protected areas.
“This is a huge and important step towards halting and reversing the decline of some of Scotland’s important seabird species, especially the Forth’s enigmatic puffin population, guillemots feeding in the seas north of St Kilda, and the long-tailed ducks wintering on the coastline of the Moray Firth.”
The Scottish Green Party claimed the introduction of the measures is due to its budget negotiations with ministers.
Mark Ruskell MSP said: “This is a major step towards protecting our marine environment and we are delighted to see this commitment to the Scottish Greens delivered.”