Summer is fast approaching, and right on cue, we are seeing the first reports of huge basking sharks lazily swimming in our coastal bays and under cliffs along our Wild Atlantic Way. As an island nation, we are emotionally and culturally intertwined with the sea and coast; report after report have all demonstrated how the people of Ireland value and wish to protect our marine environment and wildlife.
The Marine Institute’s Ocean Citizen Survey in 2020, showed that 92% of respondents strongly agreed that more action needs to be taken to improve the health of the ocean. While earlier this year, Fair Seas’ own research found almost 4 out of 5 people would support more legal protections for our seas.
It is clear that now is the time for the Irish Government to begin engaging with all the people, groups and communities invested in our seas. Using the best available evidence, as well as the wealth of experience and knowledge of people around our coasts, together we can help shape national Marine Protected Area (MPA) legislation designed to protect our marine environment and biodiversity, in a fair, open and transparent way.
The good news is that this legislation is already being drafted, and according to the Government, will be ready for public scrutiny later this year. New MPA legislation is vital for securing the health of our seas and will shape marine conservation policy in this country for decades to come. Therefore, it’s past time that interested stakeholders have a say on its content and development.
What’s more, the government needs to lay out a detailed and ambitious delivery plan for not only the finalisation of new legislation that will allow Ireland to create its own new MPAs, but also the all-important timeframes for their eventual designation and management.
Over a year ago, the Government consulted on the ‘Expanding Ireland’s Network of MPAs’ report, and last week they published a summary of all the 2,311 responses they received. It is one, albeit small step towards more MPAs in Ireland, but critically, the desire for ‘urgent action’ to conserve and protect Irish seas shone through loud and clear.
An incredible 99% of submissions supported MPAs, and meaningful public stakeholder engagement was highlighted repeatedly by the whole spectrum of sectors, industries and individuals that responded, as being key to the success of new protected areas in Irish waters.
It is now the perfect opportunity for the Government to catch up with public opinion on safeguarding our seas, and prioritise the effective protection and management of our marine environment and wildlife. Building towards a fit for purpose and well-managed network of MPAs, we need urgent stewardship and ambitious action to protect what we have and drive the recovery of those habitats and species already in decline. As we face the twin biodiversity and climate crises, healthy, resilient and productive seas are a benefit to everyone, so why wait?
We also welcome you to join us in Cork on 8th June, where we are hosting our inaugural World Ocean Day conference. We are bringing ocean advocates, government, industry and key stakeholders together to map out the next steps for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Irish waters.
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