EDINBURGH - Special protections are planned for minke whales and basking sharks in their feeding grounds around Scotland.

A consultation has been launched on creating four new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) covering 5,000 square miles of sea. The Scottish government said the proposals were a world first and would also protect Risso’s dolphins and a wide range of other biodiversity.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation charity said it was “delighted.” The proposed sites are at the southern trench in the outer Moray Firth, north east Lewis, the Sea of the Hebrides and Shiant East Bank.

MPAs are sometimes referred to as the “blue belt”. There are areas of sea in which species and habitats benefit from special protections such as prohibiting fishing or dredging.

The management of each zone differs depending on the requirements of marine life and local people, including fishermen. The first modern day MPAs were introduced following the Marine (Scotland) Act of 2010.

There are now 231 - including historic ones - covering 22% of the seas around Scotland. The Scottish government’s aim is that by the end of 2020 Scotland’s MPA network will be complete. Details of the specific restrictions to accompany the proposed four new MPAs will be finalised at a later stage.