All eyes are on Ireland’s plans for Marine Protected Areas on World Ocean Day as the Fair Seas inaugural conference takes place in Cork. The event at City Hall will heard how three-quarters of Irish people believe the Government should prioritise fully protecting valuable marine ecosystems. Pic: Clare Keogh

Fair Seas reveals survey results during World Ocean Day Conference in Cork.

The inaugural Fair Seas World Ocean Day Conference on June 8th 2023, herd how three-quarters of Irish people believe the Government should prioritise fully protecting valuable marine ecosystems. World-leading experts, Irish stakeholders and officials are gathering at Cork City Hall today to discuss the next steps for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Ireland.

MPAs are areas of our seas and ocean legally protected from human activities that damage the habitats, wildlife and natural processes that occur there. Legislation to provide a statutory basis for the identification, designation, and management of MPAs in Ireland’s maritime area is currently being prepared and is expected in the coming weeks.

Ahead of the conference, Fair Seas has revealed the results of its latest RED C survey, carried out to learn about Irish people’s connection to the sea and ocean. It shows that three-quarters of people believe the government should prioritise fully protecting valuable marine ecosystems. More than half of people surveyed say they would be more likely to vote for a party or candidate that takes an interest in the health of our seas and ocean.

Over 1,000 adults were surveyed by RED C for the online poll between May 19th and 24th, 2023. Data was weighted across gender, age, region and social class to ensure a nationally representative sample.

Some of the findings include:

–   Just over a third (39%) of people surveyed believe Irish seas are healthy.

–   Almost two-thirds of people (62%) believe Irish seas have worsened in the past decade.

–   A majority of people (77%) agree that restoring the seas and ocean will protect marine biodiversity and help to tackle climate change.

–   Three-quarters (74%) of people agree that protection and restoration of marine wildlife, populations and their habitats must be a priority for the government.

–   Three-quarters (74%) of people believe that up to 10% of Ireland’s Marine Protected Areas should be fully protected where no damaging activities occur.

–   72% of people believe all fishing activities in Ireland should be low impact and within scientific advice limits.

–   More than half (56%) would be more likely to vote for a party or candidate that takes an interest in the health of our seas and ocean.

Aoife O’Mahony, Campaign Manager for Fair Seas says, “It’s amazing to see that most people care for, value and respect our seas and ocean, with the majority of people saying in repeated surveys that they want to see more and improved protections for Ireland’s marine habitats and species. Ireland’s new Marine Protected Area legislation is due before the Oireachtas in the coming weeks. This will allow Ireland to meet its national and international target of protecting at least 30% of our waters by 2030. This legislation must not only detail how we effectively manage any new MPAs in the future, but how we better implement protected sites that currently exist. It’s only by having effective MPAs and using all our sea and ocean areas sustainably, that we can  address the biodiversity and climate emergency.

The Fair Seas World Ocean Day Conference will hear from ocean economist Professor Rashid Sumaila from the University of British Columbia who is the keynote speaker; Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, TD; Dr Micheál Ó Cinneide, former director of the Marine Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency; and Eimear Manning Youth & Climate Justice Development Officer with the National Youth Council of Ireland.

There will be online addresses from environmentalist and former US Vice President Al Gore and Dr Sylvia Earle, National Geographic explorer and Mission Blue founder. Other speakers and panellists include Valerie Hickey, Global Director of Environment, Natural Resources and the Blue Economy at the World Bank and Brian McSharry, Head of Group, Biodiversity and Ecosystems at European Environment Agency.

“Our fisheries are vanishing and the ocean is in trouble for all sorts of reasons. We have to abandon the notion that we can take everything, from everywhere, all at once.”

– Prof Rashid Sumaila

Prof Rashid Sumaila continues, “We have enough agreements and laws, now we need action. Environmental NGOs, civil society, scientists and business all need to come together to make sure we implement the agreements that have been reached. We have the capacity, we have the brains, the resources and empathy to turn things around and make the ocean sustainable. It’s not impossible, let’s just get going.”

Karen Ciesielski, CEO of Irish Environmental Network added, “Ireland has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get this right and show leadership by adopting legislation that will protect marine habitats and species for generations to come. We are calling on Minister Malcolm Noonan to deliver the ambition that the Irish people are clearly demanding through robust legislation without delay.”

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