Campaigners call for MPAs to be enshrined in law

17 May 2021

Extinction Rebellion Ireland are demanding the Government enshrine Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) into Irish law through a newly launched initiative.

Their #SeaChange campaign is encouraging people to pressure the Government to expand and protect MPAs by creating crafted art pieces with written calls for their legal recognition.

They are also insisting that these areas must have strict no-take zones, whereby no extractive activity is allowed, in order to ensure marine restoration.  

The campaign was launched to bring attention to Ireland’s continued failure to manage and protect biodiversity.

Speaking to The Green News, Natasha Ariff from Extinction Rebellion, recounted Ireland’s poor record and said that even the protection offered within Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) falls flat.

SACs are designated to be protected under the EU Habitats Directive, which Ireland is legally bound to adhere to.

These areas are “not really properly managed”, according to Ms. Ariff, so Extinction Rebellion are calling for strict no-take zones as the restorative marine solution.

The group is also highly critical of industrial fishing practices like pair trawling, bottom trawling, and tangle nets with immediate effect.

These practices create extensive damage on the seafloor and have led to the collapse of many common fish populations in Irish waters.

The overall goal of the campaign is 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.

Ireland’s record on marine biodiversity

In 2010, Ireland committed to designating 10 per cent of its seas to MPA status by 2020 and then ramping up the figure to 30 per cent by 2030.  

However, Ireland fell well short of last year’s target as Irish MPA coverage is currently around 2.4 per cent, one of the lowest in the world.

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.

But no legislation currently exists in Ireland to legally underpin protected areas established to fulfil these commitments.

On May 11, expert marine witnesses came before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action (JOCCA) and warned that not only was legislation to designate areas as MPAs two years away, but also that MPA rollout in Ireland was a decade behind. 

Under the Heads of the Marine Planning and Development Bill, MPAs remain notably absent.

However, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage recommended specifically designating and creating interim protected areas following pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill.

Extinction Rebellion protest on overfishing, December 2019 Photo: Kayle Crosson

Speaking to The Green News, Regina Classen, project officer with the Irish Wildlife Trust said that “comparing Ireland’s [MPAs] to other countries is a little bit different because other countries aren’t doing great either.

They might have 20, 30 or 40 per cent protected, but the actual management isn’t great.”

Ms. Classen noted that the lack of MPA designation is a problem across the board in the EU, but stressed that “Ireland in particular has been pretty systematically disregarding and really trying to find loopholes and ways to continue damaging activities.”

She also highlighted that in the face of rapid habitat and species decline, Ireland is relying on well-managed MPAs for any sort of recovery.

“Biodiversity loss is widespread in the sea, just like on land,” she said. 

By Shauna Burdis