Looking back on the first year of the Fair Seas campaign, it’s safe to say that Ireland’s coastal and maritime communities lack no ambition when it comes to ensuring healthy seas are passed down to the next generation. The positive public response to Fair Seas and our work over the past 12 months has blown us away. Fortunately, there is a huge appetite among the people of Ireland for greater protection of our seas and all the extraordinary wildlife that lives in them.
After all, this blue planet does not belong to us, we have it on loan from our children. So if that is the case, why shouldn’t we do everything in our power to safeguard it? The Atlantic Ocean is vast and exciting. So too are the solutions it can provide us with in tackling climate change or reversing biodiversity loss. All the while continuing to support the rich culture and sustainable economies of our thriving coastal communities.
What a year it has been.
Over the course of 2022, we have met with brilliant people, produced new research, gained thousands of followers online and have been fully engaged with the legislative process that will deliver Ireland’s new network of Marine Protected Areas.
The government have acted on their commitment to progress Ireland’s Marine Protected Areas by beginning to draft new MPA legislation. Having this national legislation will be key to how well we can designate and manage our protected areas to ensure they become havens for biodiversity and deliver the greatest benefits to our coastal communities.
Looking back on the last twelve months, one thing is for sure, we wouldn’t have gained such powerful momentum without your support, the support of our funders and our dynamic network of partners. To quote the seanfhocal, “Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine”, which literally translates as “we live in each other’s shadows”. The real meaning behind it is that we need to look after each other in order to bring ourselves through tough times to a better place. This seanfhocal seems very apt when developing Marine Protected Areas to support our natural environment by working hand in hand with communities, industry and research for our collective healthy future.
Fair Seas key stats for year one:
- Fair Seas content was seen online 28 million times by over 7 million people.
- Through features on TV, radio and in newspapers, the Fair Seas message has reached millions of viewers, listeners and readers.
- Our report ‘Revitalising Our Seas’ had been widely shared and communicated with the public and key stakeholders.
- We have written 61 blogs.
- We have submitted to over 10 government consultations.
- We have engaged in an MPA project with over 100 third-level students.
- The first and second editions of the legal handbook to MPAs have been published.
- A white paper on our asks of Ireland’s MPA legislation has been published.
- The Fair Seas team presented at a Joint Oireachtas Committee meeting.
- The Fair Seas team held an MPA briefing event in Dáil Éireann for TDs and Senators.
- The Fair Seas team attended the UN Ocean Conference, the fifth International Marine Protected Areas Congress and presented at many more conferences and events in Ireland and overseas.
- We have produced 3 Real Voices videos, 2 short film films, featured in two film festivals and won one film award.
- Online we have grown a following of over 8,500 people.
- We led on the establishment of Ireland’s first Irish Hope Spot, the Greater Skellig Coast.
- We became the first Irish signatory to the EU Mission Charter.
This list could go on and on but we just wanted to share with you a short recap of some of the key outputs from the campaign in the past year.
We understand how human activity negatively impacts the ocean.
Now it’s our duty to work together using the best scientific data, local knowledge and a shared sense of community to implement ambitious actions that will ensure our children grow up with healthier seas than the ones we have today.
Marine Protected Areas, if managed effectively, restore ocean life. This restoration is necessary because biodiversity has declined significantly in recent decades due to human impacts such as over-exploitation, habitat loss, pollution, and climate change. Conserving and restoring biodiversity is vital for society. We depend on a healthy environment and the ecosystem services it provides, including carbon sequestration, food provision, storm protection, pollution control and recreation. Nature also has an intrinsic value and should be protected and restored regardless of its value to us.
Encouragingly there are very high levels of support for greater protection of our seas. According to online polling, 78% of Irish people say they would support greater legal protections for the sea and a similar level of support for a campaign for greater marine protection, like Fair Seas. What’s more, out of 2,311 responses to the public consultation on the Government’s MPA Advisory Group Report (2020), 99% supported MPAs. Respondents also showed strong support for the Irish government’s 30% by 2030 target.
After attending the Seafarers conference, the Skipper Expo and the Irish Farmers Association Aquaculture Conference, we can also say that the ambition to safeguard our seas is one that is deeply shared by our fishing and aquaculture sector. We look forward to working together with those industries to implement robust management plans for Ireland’s new MPA network and ensure that respect and a sense of stewardship are fostered among all members of our ocean community. We all have a vital role to play in Ireland’s MPA process and together we can become a prime example of what good ocean stewardship and collaboration can look like.
So what do we need now?
Well, we often talk of hope, we even now have our first ‘Hope Spot’. The Greater Skellig Coast was recognised as one of 148 Hope Spots around the world by Mission Blue. This was certainly a huge moment of celebration in year one of Fair Seas. Important as hope may be, Britt Wray, author of Generation Dread and researcher working at the forefront of climate change and mental health, talks about hope as a tool that must be used in a precise order. She says how hope is often used in isolation in white western countries as a vague disconnected tool that evokes a hands-off approach in the face of problems, that lacks action. In countries where climate breakdown and the biodiversity loss crisis are already having significant effects on human life, Wray says that hope must be preceded by both courage and action.
“Without courage, we cannot act, without action, we will not make change.”
Once we have realised our potential to act together, we create the conditions for real, meaningful and lasting hope that allows us to continue with the vital work needed to safeguard life on our blue planet.
Until 2022 Ireland’s Marine Protected Area ambitions seemed to be based solely on this vague, hands-off form of hope. However, now we have seen courage from members of government, researchers, industry and NGOs to engage and encourage the actions that the government have started taking towards creating our new MPA network. This network is set to cover at least 30% of our ocean territory by 2030 including at least 10% highly protected areas.
In our short film, Fair Seas: The Kingdom of Kerry, Mick Sheeran, a former fisherman turned whale-watching guide put it best when we visited him in Ceann Trá (Ventry), Co. Kerry and said – “Nature has a great way of coming back if it’s given a chance”.
So here’s to an inspiring year one of the Fair Seas campaign and to the swell of ocean stewardship across Ireland that will only grow stronger in the many years to come.
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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