On the 8th of June 2023, a very special meeting of people, organisations and marine stakeholders took place in Cork City Hall. The Fair Seas coalition hosted its inaugural World Ocean Day conference with the aim for the first time, of bringing people ‘into the one room’ to discuss Ireland’s forthcoming Marine Protected Area (MPA) legislation. Buoyed by a frank and upbeat conversation the night before at the drinks reception in the Montenotte Hotel, the energy in City Hall on the morning of the main event was palpable. 


Fortunately, a beautiful and sunny Cork greeted over 175 participants in-person, while a further 50 attendees logged in online to hear from scientists and marine experts from across Europe and the globe.  

Professor Rashid Sumaila from the University of British Columbia, and recent joint-winner of the prestigious Tyler Prize for the environment, captivated the audience with his keynote presentation ‘Not Everything, Not Everywhere, Not all at Once’.

Professor Rashid told the audience;

“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. We have enough agreements and laws, now we need action…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.”

Watch Professor Rashid Sumaila’s talk here. 

At the first coffee break of the day, everyone delighted at the chance to catch up with old friends and colleagues, many of whom hadn’t seen each other in person for quite some time.  The chance to network in the bright and tall surrounds? of Cork City Hall was appreciated by everyone.

After the break, Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, TD highlighted the progress made in advancing Ireland’s new forthcoming MPA legislation, with the General Scheme published last December, and the MPA bill due in front of the Dáil in the coming weeks. The importance of effective stakeholder engagement was also underscored by the Minister, in what turned out to be one of the main threads raised by many speakers throughout the day.  

Watch Minister Noonan’s full address here. 

The first panel session of the conference titled ‘Healthy Seas: how are we faring?’ featured four short eight-minute presentations from Professor Mark Costello of Nord University, Dr. Valerie  Hickey of the World Bank, Brian McSharry of the European Environment Agency, and myself Dr. Donal Griffin from Fair Seas

The range of different perspectives on this panel offered a fascinating insight into the benefits, costs, myths, misunderstandings and opportunities of implementing an ecologically coherent, well-managed and effective MPA network globally as well as here in Ireland. On the financing of marine protection and the need to balance ecological and social needs, the message from Dr. Valerie Hickey rang particularly clear in the room – ‘we can’t have a world without poverty in a world without a healthy ocean’.  

Watch Session One, from the Fair Seas World Ocean Day Conference 2023 ‘Healthy Seas, How Are We Fairing’, here. 

The first panel discussion of the day began after a wonderful virtual address from Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue, highlighting the international conservation organisation’s role in featuring The Greater Skellig Coast off Ireland as a global ‘Hope Spot’ for marine biodiversity protection. Questions piled in for the speakers, and yet again, the need for action, the need to do things differently, and the need for full and proper stakeholder engagement came to the fore. 

The fantastic Susan HayesCulleton, our master MC for the day closed the morning session and attendees made their way to lunch. The mood in the room was jubilant and hopeful, I sensed that people were relieved there was finally a space and forum to discuss these important issues in a public way. 


Session One at the Fair Seas World Ocean Day Conference 2023. Left to Right, MC Susan HayesCulleton, Brian MacSharry European Environment Agency, Professor Mark Costello Nord University, Dr Valerie Hickey World Bank, Dr Donal Griffin Fair Seas.

To hear more about the second panel discussion, including the afternoon keynote presentation from Eimear Manning of the National Youth Council of Ireland, check out the next in our series of blogs detailing the Fair Seas World Ocean Day conference.

We’ve uploaded all the amazing photographs from the conference on our Facebook page. Go check them out and feel free to tag yourself, share and download them.

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