7 July 2021
Minister of State Malcolm Noonan met with protesters today outside the Dáil who are demanding the State act urgently on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
Representatives from Extinction Rebellion Ireland, Irish Wildlife Trustl Flossie and the Beach Cleaners, and Solutions not Pollution brought symbolic fishing nets and marine-inspired artwork to Leinster House and urged the Minister to act more swiftly on protecting marine species in order to address the dual biodiversity and climate crisis as part of their #SeaChange campaign.
The State had previously committed to designating a protected status to 10 per cent of Irish waters by 2020. To date, just over 2 per cent are considered MPAs.
Under the OSPAR Convention to Protect the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, Ireland committed to establishing MPAs to protect biodiversity when it signed on back in 1992.
However, no legislation currently is in place in Ireland to legally underpin protected areas in line with these commitments.
Minister Malcolm Noonan spoke with demonstrators about the importance of MPAs, and stressed to The Green News that the Government, “wants to protect our seas and wants a coherent network of MPAs that work for communities and nature as well.”
Irish Wildlife Trust Campaign Officer and ecologist Padraic Fogarty said that he was “delighted” that the Minister is on board with the campaign, but added that what is needed is action rather than further reports and consultations.
“We have nothing to show for the last year in Government in the marine environment where we can say progress is being made, and that’s unfortunate,” he told The Green News.
The campaign is asking for a number of measures to be put in place, such as an end to practices such as bottom trawling, pair trawling and tangle nets being carried out by fishing vessels inside Irish territorial waters.
“Trawling for small fish such as sprat removes the principal food source for sea life, whether its whales, dolphins or larger fish. Keeping sprat in the water is essential if we are to protect the wider health of our seas,” an Extinction Rebellion spokesperson said.
“Once destroyed, these ancient and ecologically vital communities may take decades or longer to recover,” they added.
Origins of the campaign
The #SeaChange campaign officially launched last month and aims to encourage people to pressure the Government into expanding and protecting MPAs.
Campaigners are also insisting that these areas must have strict no-take zones, whereby no extractive activity is allowed, in order to ensure marine restoration.
Speaking to The Green News earlier this year, Extinction Rebellion member Natasha Ariff highlighted Ireland’s poor record on MPAs and said that even the protection offered within Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) fell flat.
SACs are designated to be protected under the EU Habitats Directive, which Ireland is legally required to comply with.
The campaign aims to accelerate the process of defining MPAs in Irish law, but for this to be successful, campaigners believe that there needs to be an open consultation process and ongoing conversation with coastal communities and small-scale fishers.
By Kayle Crosson and Sam Starkey