On the 22nd of June, we saw the publication of a new proposal from the European Union for a Nature Restoration Law. The new law will set legally binding targets for nature restoration both on land and at sea. The new targets would apply to every EU member state and complement existing laws and targets.
Highly or fully protected Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are known globally as the best way to restore marine environments. By setting up large no-take zones, where no industrial activity is permitted, Ireland can implement this new law to meet its full potential for biodiversity recovery and climate stabilisation.
The law states that habitats and ecosystems with the ‘greatest potential for removing and storing carbon and preventing or reducing the impact of natural disasters such as floods will be the top priorities.’ These criteria put Ireland in a prime position as our marine ecosystems like seagrass meadows and kelp forests offer both storm protection and store large amounts of carbon. The sediments of our continental shelf area have also been identified as areas with enormous carbon storage capacity if undisturbed by industrial activity.
Only 6.4% of the ocean globally is covered by MPAs and less than 2% are no-take MPAs, where full protection is given to the ecosystem and species at risk. The new ecosystem restoration bill offers Ireland the opportunity to revitalise our seas. No-take MPAs offer the entire ecosystem the chance to recover, from the seafloor to the shoaling surface waters and the rocky outcrops of nesting seabird colonies.
Currently, only 2% of Ireland’s seas are protected, however, there is no active monitoring or management in place to ensure they are actually protected. Fair Seas is calling for 30% of Ireland’s waters to be placed within MPAs by the year 2030. This aligns with our government’s previous international commitments and would satisfy our new obligations within the Nature Restoration Law.
“The Nature Restoration Law proposed by the European Commission today will herald a significant and important change in how we treat, use, value and respect nature. These proposals will create legally binding targets that go beyond existing environmental legislation to protect species and wildlife, and require us to take proactive measures at a sufficient scale, to restore and recover nature from decades of overexploitation. Yet, like all legislation, it will only be successful if implemented and delivered effectively. In the face of the ever-worsening biodiversity and climate crises, we need urgent action and restoration now. There is no time to wait” – Dr. Donal Griffin, Policy Officer at Fair Seas.
At the launch of Fair Seas’ new report ‘Revitalising Our Seas’ Minister for Housing, Local Government & Heritage Darragh O’Brien said: “We are the first generation to fully understand the risk and threat to our planet and we’re the last generation that can do something about it. We know what we need to do, and we’ve got to get on and do it.”
It is encouraging to hear this message from Minister O’Brien, and more so the new Nature Restoration Law will ensure this sentiment is backed up with legally binding targets to ensure that action follows words.
“This law is a much-needed addition to existing EU environmental legislation, because it recognises that mere protection of our marine environment is no longer enough. Too much has been lost in Irish waters over decades of industrial fishing. We could rebuild the long-lost oyster reefs in the Irish Sea or strictly protect areas of Irish shelf sediments from bottom trawling, so that the carbon storage potential of these areas is not hindered. The potential for restoration is therefore vast.” Regina Classen, Marine Policy and Research Officer at The Irish Wildlife Trust:
The Fair Seas campaign is led by a coalition of Ireland’s leading environmental non-governmental organisations and networks including Irish Wildlife Trust, BirdWatch Ireland, Sustainable Water Network, Friends of the Irish Environment, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Coomhola Salmon Trust, Irish Environmental Network and Coastwatch. It is funded by Oceans 5, Blue Nature Alliance, BFCT and The Wyss Foundation.
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.
Revitalising Our Seas, the new report by Fair Seas identifying areas of interest for Marine Protected Area designation can be read here: tinyurl.com/FairSeasReportPDF
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