The Irish Government has issued a notice warning that a French ‘missile/rocket firing exercise’ will take place in Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone to the southwest of the country from June 21 – 27. Last week Fair Seas released a report ‘Revitalising Our Seas’ that identified 16 areas of interest for Marine Protected Area designation in Irish waters. The French missile firing exercise is set to take place in one of these critically important areas for marine biodiversity.
The area of interest to the southwest of Ireland is known in the report as the ‘Whittard Canyon’ Area of Interest (page 60 of the report). The area is home to whales, dolphins, endangered seabirds, an important fish nursery and sensitive cold-water coral reefs. This canyon system is one of the largest submarine canyons along the Celtic Margin and is home to cold-water coral reefs. Across the border, the UK has designated ‘The Canyons’ Marine Conservation Zone, which is likely to support a variety of cetacean (whale and dolphin) species.
The shelf sediments included in this Area of Interest are part of a large blue whiting nursery ground. This Area of Interest has been covered extensively in recent years by the independent scientific surveys on board the RV Celtic Explorer and as part of the ObSERVE aerial surveys. Important at-risk species are frequently present here such as the red-listed kittiwake and puffin.
The exercises planned for this area present a multitude of risks for marine wildlife, including disturbance, injury and even death for vulnerable marine wildlife sensitive to high levels of underwater noise such as whales and dolphins.
Coming just one week after the National Biodiversity conference in which the Taoiseach highlighted how ‘’Nature provides the essentials for human life, and it must be treated with the respect that it deserves’’ – Fair Seas believes this naval exercise and these types of exercises should not go ahead if we are serious about tackling biodiversity loss across the island and its surrounding seas.
This is the second naval exercise planned this year within Ireland’s EEZ, but fortunately, February’s Russian exercise was relocated due to pressure from the Irish public on Government, and action from the fishing industry.
Fair Seas is urging Government ministers to take the same action as before, and immediately have this military exercise relocated outside of Irish EEZ, away from the exceptionally important area for marine wildlife off Ireland’s South West coast. Critically, the Irish Government must also take urgent steps to protect its marine environment by designating and effectively managing a network of Marine Protected Areas in Ireland’s inshore and offshore waters.
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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