Sea's wealth will be best harnessed by a dedicated State department

OPINION: IRELAND IS a small island economy with an extensive marine resource of over 900,000 sq m.

OPINION:IRELAND IS a small island economy with an extensive marine resource of over 900,000 sq m.

Unfortunately, we have, in the words of Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney, traditionally “turned our backs on the sea”. With the launch of Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth: An Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland, on July 31st, the Government hopes to reverse this trend.

The development of this plan is a vital step towards re-engaging with the sea. It presents a “roadmap” for achieving the Government’s ambitious targets for our maritime sectors. These include exceeding €6.4 billion turnover annually by 2020, and doubling their contribution to gross domestic product to 2.4 per cent by 2030.

The implementation of the plan will be challenging.


Due to the predominance of the “sector by sector” approach to marine management, many government departments and agencies have overlapping and sometimes conflicting governance frameworks. In Ireland, maritime governance is fragmented across departments.

The Government recognises that integrating the management of these separate activities can promote the sustainable use of our marine resources. Unfortunately, Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth states that integrated marine management will be implemented through the Interdepartmental Marine Co-ordination Group rather than by merging these competencies into one department.

The co-ordination group brings together representatives of relevant departments to discuss maritime issues that require interdepartmental action. Although this provides a forum through which departmental activities can be co-ordinated, international experience indicates that entrusting all marine competencies to one department is the best way forward.

The implementation of integrated marine management in Canada, for example, was greatly impeded as the lead department was tasked with co-ordinating the efforts of other departments.

Furthermore, assigning all marine competencies to one department would ensure the long-term sustainability of the initiative by protecting it from the vagaries of future governments.

The plan also endorses the development of a maritime spatial planning framework and a national marine spatial plan. That maritime spatial planning is a process that promotes the rational use of marine space by locating maritime sectors in the most appropriate areas. This reduces conflict among marine sectors and their impacts on vulnerable ecosystems.

The adoption of maritime spatial planning, and the recognition of the need to engage with stakeholders and experts is to be applauded. Maritime spatial planning should be undertaken on a statutory basis is clear from international experience. Moreover, considering Ireland’s poor experience with integrated coastal zone management, there is a strong case for developing enabling legislation sooner rather than later.

Finally, in developing a national marine spatial plan we must not overlook the different opportunities, barriers and pressures present in our various sea areas. We must recognise that a plan for the Irish Sea will be considerably different from one for the Atlantic area.

The Government is to be commended for developing the plan. It is a welcome turning point in our relationship with the sea. As outlined, mobilisation of our vast ocean resource will require “new ways; new approaches; new thinking”. This maxim does not apply solely to the Government; maritime sectors and coastal communities need to actively engage with marine planning processes if we are to realise our ocean wealth.

Dr Wesley Flannery is a part-time lecturer in the school of geography and archaeology, NUI Galway