Seanad motion to call for marine protected areas off Irish coasts

Senator Grace O’Sullivan says vulnerable areas should be first to be protected

A motion calling on the Government to meet its international obligations by designating extensive coastal areas and seas around Ireland as "marine protected areas" (MPAs) is to be put before the Seanad on Wednesday.

Green party Senator Grace O’Sullivan, who is to table the motion, has said the seas around Ireland offer immense potential to enhance the livelihoods of coastal communities, while the oceans have “incredible ability to capture carbon” – and to play a critical role in countering climate change, provided they are maintained in a healthy state.

Speaking at a briefing in advance of tabling the motion, she said never in the history of humanity has the health of the oceans been more threatened.

“The costly decline of ocean health impacts [on]people, such as fishermen struggling to feed their families, and is made worse by the disastrous effects of climate change,” she said.

This motion calls on the Government to protect 50 per cent of Ireland’s seas and ocean with “community-driven MPAs”. This would also put stakeholders such as fishermen, conservationists and those reliant on the seas “at the core of designating such sites”, Ms O’Sullivan said.

Ireland has committed to having 10 per cent of coastlines and seas designated by 2020 under various climate and marine agreements it has already signed up to but currently has only achieved a level of 2 per cent.

It had one of the largest marine areas in the EU by proportion to its size, and thus had the “opportunity to protect key areas of ecological importance in the north east Atlantic”, Ms O’Sullivan added.

Vulnerable areas

She also said she believed MPAs were being “deprioritised because of a perception that engagement with coastal communities will be difficult”.

While Irish waters were heavily fished by EU member states, the Marine Institute had identified vulnerable areas, which should be the first to be designated, she suggested.

At the briefing, the motion was strongly supported by Irish Wildlife Trust campaigns officer Padraic Fogarty, who said the abundance of Irish fish stocks evident in the past had long disappeared. This was a biological, social and economic tragedy, he said.

Norway in contrast had used the MPA mechanism to protect and restore its cod populations, but in Ireland there was indication such a move was not a Government priority at present.

Mr Fogarty said most bays and estuaries should be designated, but notably in his view Galway Bay; Tralee Bay, Donegal Bay and Roaring Water Bay in Co Cork.

Environmental campaigner Mike Walker of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance underlined the importance of full protection MPAs backed by "no take" regulations; no extraction of fossil fuels and no harvesting of fish.

Senator O’Sullivan said she hoped the same cross-party support for a Bill proposing an end to the granting of licences for fossil fuel exploration and extraction in Ireland, which was passed in February in spite of Government opposition, would support her motion.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times