Having Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are vital to the health of our ocean. These areas can offer refuge for the vast array of marine biodiversity we find in our waters. Ireland has been blessed with a wealth of marine life but unfortunately, many species are declining and MPAs are critical for their survival. They can lead to more stable and sustainable coastal fisheries and have added benefits of increased tourism contributing to the entire economy. Aside from the ecological and societal benefits, they also offer huge climate benefits. Healthy oceans can catch and store carbon as well as offer strong coastal defences against climate change-related events.

Ireland is currently playing catch-up with the rest of the EU in designating MPAs.The Irish government has a commitment of having 30% of our ocean designated as MPAs by 2030. Marine Protected Area legislation is being developed however, the process needs to move more quickly if we are to effectively meet our targets and turn the tide on biodiversity loss in the ocean. Our latest research revealed that Ireland can save its ocean biodiversity by spending approximately €55 million between 2024 and 2030 to reach its targets of protecting 30% of our ocean.

Our current MPA network covers just over 9% of our waters but there is a lack of monitoring and management which renders these areas as paper parks. It is essential that the new legislation addresses this issue as it will be fundamental to the proper protection and restoration of marine habitats, species, and ecosystems in Irish waters for decades to come. It is important we get this right!

 

Our Key Asks


1. Strengthen language defining the 30% MPA by 2030 target

The language within the bill must be much stronger than it currently is outlined in the MPA General Scheme published in December and match the commitments Ireland has already made at a national, European and international level. The text of the MPA Bill must state that ‘the Minister shall designate 10% of the maritime area as Marine Protected Area as soon as practicable after the commencement of this Act and at least 30% of the maritime area as Marine Protected Areas by 2030. 


2. Include a 10% strict protection target for Ireland’s waters

To really allow for wildlife and ecosystems to recover 10% of Irish waters must be within fully protected MPAs, meaning no human activity is permitted. It is now no longer sufficient to merely protect our remaining wildlife. As stated in the 2022 Living Planet Report by the World Wildlife Fund, wildlife populations globally have declined on average 70% in the past 50 years, due to human activity. This is why we need to remove human activity altogether from at least 10% of our ocean to ensure that the species and habitats are allowed to exist undisturbed.

 

3. Include and clearly define varying levels of MPA management protection

A hierarchy of different MPA management levels and strategies will be needed to achieve an ecologically coherent network of MPAs, meaning different MPAs may receive different levels of protection (e.g., lightly or multi-use sites to strictly and fully protected sites). To avoid confusion and conflict in the future, the ‘Marine Protected Area Bill’ must provide the obligation and framework for MPAs to reach a stated level of protection which are well defined. 


4. Include how the legislation will help facilitate greater and better management of Ireland’s current MPAs

Ireland’s current MPAs are designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) or Special Protected Areas (SPA) under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. The General Scheme indicates these sites will be deemed MPAs under the new law, therefore, it must also be made clear how their management and biodiversity outcomes will be improved through either full implementation of current Government responsibilities and Departments or the provision of additional powers to do so. Ireland has not had a good track record at effectively managing its protected areas and this is something that is vital for the success of the new MPA legislation. We must 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.

 

5. Increase focus on restoration

The word ‘restoration’ appears only three times in the MPA General Scheme. While it does allow for restoration activities to be included in MPA conservation measures, the MPA bill must go further and include a more targeted strategic approach to the active restoration of habitats, species and ecosystems within MPAs. More detail and clarity on the mechanisms by which active restoration activities would be facilitated, delivered and resourced within MPAs is needed, as well as how it relates to other national and international policy and strategies (e.g., National Biodiversity Action Plan and the forthcoming EU Nature Restoration Law).

 

6. Include detail on how fisheries management conservation measures will be progressed, particularly in offshore MPAs

Given the scale of EU member states fishing interest within Irish waters, the legislation must anticipate this as a key hurdle to overcome. The language must be clearer and stronger showing the mechanism in which Ireland will implement effective and timely fishing management measures in new offshore areas.

 

7. Include detailed timelines and limits for MPA delivery

While the timeframe of delivering 30% of Irish waters designated as a MPA is given as 2030, much more detail is needed to ensure the huge scope of work needed for the target to be achieved is done so in a transparent and accountable manner.

 

8. Adhere to stated stakeholder engagement and participation principles, and at every stage of the process

Evidence from around the world shows that the most successful MPAs are those that have local support and buy-in. Therefore, for MPAs to deliver positive biodiversity, climate and societal benefits, a substantial amount of high-quality dynamic, online and in-person engagement and participation with stakeholders will be needed at national, regional and local levels. 

The MPA bill must state how public participation elements will be undertaken throughout the process including site identification, MPA designation, MPA management and communications. These principles must at least include openness and transparency, inclusiveness, fairness, participative, early and continuous engagement.

 

9. Language relating to the duties of the Minister need to be strengthened

Language within the MPA General Scheme allows for leeway in whether the Minister must perform certain important duties and procedural responsibilities. In these instances, the language stating the Minister ‘may’ must be changed to ‘shall’. Clear language is the key to successful legislation and confusion needs to be avoided. There must not be the impression that essential elements of implementing MPAs are optional or at the discretion of the Minister.


10. Clarify important terms and concepts relating to Marine Protected Areas and offshore renewable energy

The General Scheme reflects the Government’s position that MPAs and marine renewable energy development are not mutually exclusive. However, referral to ‘appropriate development’ in MPAs should be elaborated on and explicitly defined. The MPA bill must also acknowledge that if co-location of MPAs and offshore renewable energy may be appropriate in some instances, that in other cases, they will not be, including in MPAs which are strictly protected.

 

 

You can read about our asks in more detail in our white paper, here.

 

Fair Seas hosted the inaugural World Ocean Day conference in June 2023. We welcomed ocean advocates, government, industry and key stakeholders together, to map out the next steps for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Irish waters. If you missed it or would like to revisit the sessions which took place, our conference recordings are now available to view on our Youtube channel.

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