A large area in the North-West Irish Sea designated to safeguard birds.

Fair Seas is seeking reassurance over the management of a newly announced ‘Special Protection Area’, covering 230,000 hectares in the North-West Irish Sea. The group represents leading environmental non-governmental organisations and networks in Ireland.

Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD has announced the creation of a new Special Protection Area (SPA) stretching offshore along the coasts of counties Louth, Meath and Dublin. SPAs are designated areas of protection under the European Union Birds Directive and are in place to protect rare and vulnerable bird species, migratory bird species, and wetlands that are deemed to be internationally important.

Earlier this year, the European Commission published a report on the effectiveness of SPAs and highlighted Ireland’s poor performance in this category. Out of 10 countries assessed, Ireland scored lowest in planning, implementation, site management, monitoring and conservation outcomes.

Fair Seas wants to see all Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) properly managed with the speedy implementation of effective conservation measures which will allow these designations to truly protect the nature within them.

Ireland currently has 8.3% Marine Protected Area (MPA) coverage, but with today’s announcement of the new SPA that number will increase to over 9%. The new site will be of special conservation interest for the following species: Common Scoter; Red-throated Diver; Great Northern Diver; Fulmar; Manx Shearwater; Shag; Cormorant; Little Gull; Kittiwake; Black-headed Gull; Common Gull; Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Little Tern, Roseate Tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot.

Dr Donal Griffin, Marine Policy Officer with Fair Seas said, “I’m delighted at the news that as of today, Ireland has a huge new Marine Protected Area. This SPA designated to protect seabirds is badly needed, considering we know that 63% of Ireland’s bird species overall are in decline. In terms of spatial coverage, this designation moves us closer to our 30% of Ireland’s waters in a MPA by 2030 target. But even more important is that we manage our protected areas in the right way so that they can deliver the boost to biodiversity they are created for in the first place. Without proper management, monitoring and enforcement, we can’t rely on these areas to truly protect nature, but with proper implementation of MPAs, we can really give nature at sea the opportunity to survive and thrive.”

Ireland is one of more than 190 countries who have committed to protecting or conserving at least 30% of the planet’s land and ocean by 2030. To fully meet Ireland’s 2030 ambitions, Fair Seas says strong and ambitious new national Marine Protected Areas legislation is vital.

In recent weeks the organisation published the ‘Sustainably Financing Ireland’s Marine Protected Area Network’ report. It estimates that €55 million will be needed to adequately fund MPA designation and ongoing management until 2030. Approximately €7 million would be required over the next 12 months to reach the target of fully protecting 10% of Ireland’s ocean and seas.

Dr Donal Griffin added, “The MPA legislation is critical for protecting nationally ecologically important, rare, vulnerable and threatened marine species and habitats. Unfortunately, there is still no sign of the new legislation being brought before the Dáil before the summer recess. Therefore, all eyes must turn to the new bill being initiated as soon as possible when the Dáil reconvenes in September. Time is running out to properly protect and restore our oceans and to meet our biodiversity targets for the ocean. We need to ensure that in the new legislation, a target for 10% of Ireland’s seas to be strictly protected is included, which would sit as the top tier of MPA management, allowing every opportunity for nature to rebound away from the harms and pressures of human activity.”

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