Almost three quarters of Irish people believe the protection and restoration of marine wildlife populations and their habitats must be a priority for the Government, according to a survey released by the Fair Seas campaign.
Coinciding with the opening of an international conference on marine protected areas (MPAs) in Cork on Thursday, the Red C poll found 77 per cent of respondents agree that restoring Irish seas and oceans will protect marine biodiversity and help to tackle climate change.
More than half of people surveyed say they would be more likely to vote for a party or candidate that “takes an interest in the health of our seas and ocean”.
MPAs are areas of seas and ocean legally protected from human activities that damage habitats, wildlife and natural processes. Legislation to provide a statutory basis for the identification, designation, and management of MPAs in Ireland’s maritime area is being prepared by the Government.
The survey of more than 1,000 adults found 39 per cent of people believe Irish seas are healthy, while 62 per cent believe they have worsened in the past decade.
Some 74 per cent of respondents believe up to 10 per cent of Ireland’s MPAs should be fully protected “where no damaging activities occur”, while 72 per cent agree “all fishing activities in Ireland should be low impact and within scientific advice limits”.
Fair Seas campaign manager Aoife O’Mahony said: “It’s amazing to see that most people care for, value and respect our seas and ocean, with the majority of people saying in repeated surveys that they want to see more and improved protections for Ireland’s marine habitats and species.”
“Ireland’s new marine protected area [MPA] legislation is due before the Oireachtas in the coming weeks. This will allow Ireland to meet its national and international target of protecting at least 30 per cent of our waters by 2030,” she added.
This legislation must not only detail how any new MPAs are effectively managed in the future, she said, but also “how we better implement protected sites that currently exist”.
“It’s only by having effective MPAs and using all our sea and ocean areas sustainably, that we can address the biodiversity and climate emergency,” Ms O’Mahony said.
The Fair Seas World Ocean Day Conference will hear from leading ocean economist Prof Rashid Sumaila from the University of British Columbia and Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan. There will be online addresses from environmentalist and former US vice-president Al Gore and Dr Sylvia Earle, National Geographic explorer and Mission Blue founder.
Speaking in advance, Prof Sumalia underlined the need for urgent action. “Our fisheries are vanishing and the ocean is in trouble for all sorts of reasons. We have to abandon the notion that we can take everything, from everywhere, all at once.”
“We have enough agreements and laws, now we need action. Environmental NGOs, civil society, scientists and business all need to come together to make sure we implement the agreements that have been reached. We have the capacity, we have the brains, the resources and empathy to turn things around and make the ocean sustainable. It’s not impossible, let’s just get going,” he added
Karen Ciesielski, chief executive of Irish Environmental Network, said Ireland had a once in a lifetime opportunity to get marine protection right and to show leadership by adopting legislation that will protect marine habitats and species for generations to come. “We are calling on Minister Malcolm Noonan to deliver the ambition that the Irish people are clearly demanding through robust legislation without delay.”
The Fair Seas campaign is led by a coalition of environmental NGOs and networks including Irish Wildlife Trust; BirdWatch Ireland, Sustainable Water Network, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Coomhola Salmon Trust, Irish Environmental Network and Coastwatch.