As consumers, what can we do to protect the ocean?

Spend It Better: Fair Seas is a new campaign advocating for our seas and shores

Our role as consumers trumps everything. It sometimes feels as if “consumer” is where our identity lies. Forget being parents, siblings, thinkers, doers, worriers. Yes, we have power as consumers. But we have arguably more power as citizens and voters. We can act in both capacities. Both are necessary. The important thing is to act.

A new environmental campaign has brought together a variety of groups to protect our seas and shores. Fair Seas is pushing for the Government target of 30 per cent target of Irish waters to be “fully protected” in marine protection areas (MPAs), which would be a dramatic extension of protected areas in the next eight years.

It’s an ambitious timeline and we’re already far behind, according to Fair Seas spokesman Jack O’Donovan Trá. The Government commitment to 10 per cent of waters under protection by 2020 has still seen just more than 2 per cent of Irish waters designated as MPAs.

Like many environmental measures, protecting the seas can help on a number of fronts. It can help tackle biodiversity loss from human activities like dredging and trawling, renewing a stewardship of Irish waters. Disturbing the seafloor and marine habitats also disturbs the ocean’s ability to store carbon. “Seafloor sediments, seagrass meadows and kelp forests are key players in ocean carbon sequestration and storage,” Fair Seas says.

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“MPAs have the potential to sequester enormous amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and keep in line with targets set in the Climate Action Bill.”

Coastal communities

The group will outline the suggested areas for MPAs this summer. Its recommendations will come as more of us take to the waves in boats or on beaches. Cultural and socio-economic benefits for coastal communities are an important part of the picture.

A new book exploring our coastline can take us into places we would never have the time (or sea legs) to reach. Ecologist Richard Nairn has just published Wild Shores: the Magic of Ireland's Coastline. Along with the bird, seal and other sea life featured, Nairn tells human stories here too, like the work done by wardens on the gorgeously-named Rockabill island off Skerries to bring roseate tern numbers back to rude health.

Taking us on a journey around the coast, starting in Northern Ireland and heading down the east coast, the book shows the richness of our shores and seas and how interlinked are their complex systems.

As consumers, we can demand sustainable seafood from fish farms that don’t pollute the water and feed fish harvested elsewhere to their stock. We can avoid eating dwindling wild stocks to the detriment of bird and other sea life. But legally-established marine protection areas will go so much further.