In October 2022, a new NGO partnership – The Irish Sea Network launched a report reviewing the activities and pressures across the Irish Sea region. The Network brings together conservationists from the 6 administrations surrounding the Irish Sea. Fair Seas partner, the Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) are a member of the Network. Other members include, the Manx Wildlife Trust, North Wales Wildlife Trust, the North West Wildlife Trusts, Scottish Wildlife Trust, The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales and Ulster Wildlife.
The network was founded in response to the urgent need for greater cross-national collaboration and knowledge sharing. The network’s aim is to improve understanding of marine conservation activities and pressures across the Irish Sea. It provides a forum for communication, co-operation and greater advocacy for better management of the Irish Sea.
The new network is looking to turn a tide of inaction to ensure the Irish Sea is protected and managed sustainably. Our vision is for ‘a healthy and resilient Irish Sea, enabled by collaborative, cross-national action; where marine wildlife and blue carbon habitats thrive, supporting multiple environmental, social and economic benefits’. Along with the new Report, we have also published a set of vision statements, looking at a range of topics from Marine Planning to Sustainable Fisheries. As well as technical facts and figures there are numerous case studies within the Report which give a real insight into both the issues and opportunities our shared marine space is facing.
The Irish Sea is incredibly diverse. Its geology and geographical location result in a number of different marine and coastal ecosystems that support a huge variety of wildlife. To date, 36% of the Irish Sea is designated as a Marine Protected Area (comprising various types MPAs such as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and national designations in the UK known as Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs)). However, of that 36% only 5% has management measures in place meaning that the level of effective protection for habitats and species is much lower. Ireland contributes a mere 1.4% to that 36% figure.
It may come as no surprise but the new Report makes it clear that the Irish Sea is under sustained and increasing pressure from a range of activities such as development and damaging fishing practices. In a relatively confined sea space, spatial conflict is one thing that must be resolved with a cross border approach at the heart. Strategic and effective marine planning that takes an ecosystem based approach with cross-national collaboration is vital in reducing the impact on sensitive wildlife and habitats. Strategic planning across the jurisdictions is something that has not been happening to date. Our wildlife doesn’t adhere to boundaries so planning at an Irish Sea scale is the direction we must be moving towards.
Millions of people around the Irish Sea rely on it for food, employment and well-being, but many overlook its role in fighting against climate change and its importance for wildlife. Few know about the incredibly diverse habitats that support a huge amount of amazing wildlife such as, giant basking sharks, leatherback turtles, beautiful starfish and jellyfish, dolphins, porpoises, seal and tope sharks, as well as internationally important seabirds like Manx shearwater and guillemots.
Without protection and proper management, much of this wildlife faces an uncertain future. We must ensure that damaging activities like dredging, development and unsustainable fishing methods are managed to ensure that vitally important areas for the environment are protected and we give space for nature’s recovery.
This guest blog was written by Ellen MacMahon, Fair Seas Steering Committee Member/Policy Officer at Sustainable Water Network (SWAN).
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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