11 May 2021
Ireland has lost a full decade in its rollout of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), an Oireachtas Committee heard today.
Expert marine witnesses came before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action (JOCCA) and warned that legislation to designate such areas was two years away amidst the ongoing push for offshore wind development.
Policy Officer for the Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) Ellen McMahon stressed that the marine environment is in a “completely degraded state and going on a downward trend in a lot of areas”.
The National Marine Planning Framework is facilitating that disparity and the impending Marine Planning and Development Bill will also contribute to it, she stressed.
MPAs are not included under the current Heads of Bill, but the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage did put forward recommendations to specifically designate MPAs through the Bill and to create interim protected areas in the meantime.
The Marine Planning Framework is Ireland’s first maritime spatial plan and is required under the EU Maritime Spatial Planning Directive which came into force in 2014.
Marine biodiversity restoration opportunities
Stephen Kavanagh of Native Oyster Reef Restoration Ireland (NORRI) also noted that the immediate coastal area of one to two kilometres from the shore is a vital nursing ground for marine biodiversity.
Creating belts of seaweed in these areas would also greatly benefit fisheries and sustainable development, he said.
The Committee also heard that marine protection would generate job creation throughout the country, particularly in the area of research and development.
Any such restoration effort must see the fishing industry playing a central role in order to be effective, Mr. Kavanagh added.
To date, about 2.5 per cent of Irish waters are designated as Marine Protected Areas.
The current figure is considerably off the State’s target for last year, which was 10 per cent.
The Programme for Government aims to significantly ramp up MPA designation, and committed to reaching the 2020 target as soon as possible and then hit the second target of 30 per cent by the end of the decade “if possible”.