Left to Right: Minister Malcolm Noonan, Aoife O’Mahony Fair Seas, Oonagh Duggan Birdwatch Ireland.

A coalition of Ireland’s leading environmental NGOs has strongly criticised the government for failing to publish key legislation that would protect Irish seas and help tackle the twin climate and biodiversity crises.

Presenting a petition of 11,758 signatures from Ireland to Minister of State for Nature, Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD, the Fair Seas coalition has called for the government to respect the voices of the public, who are demanding the urgent introduction of strong legislation to protect Ireland’s ocean. The petition, launched at the end of September, calls for legislation that will protect Irish waters by designating 30% of Ireland’s ocean as Marine Protected Areas (MPA), including 10% as strictly protected areas.

The petition comes just weeks after a Fair Seas survey highlighted that 76% of people believe that a lack of political will is the main obstacle to the introduction of legislation that would protect Ireland’s ocean and its rich marine life.

Fair Seas Campaign Manager Aoife O’Mahony said, “The petition and survey results are further evidence that the government is out of step with the importance the public attach to protecting the ocean. Not only do people want legislation they want legislation that will be capable of doing the job it sets out to do. We have been very clear with the government as to what needs to be included in the Bill if it is to be effective. The government now needs to  move quickly to bring forward the strongest possible legislation before the end of this year with a view to having this Bill enacted early in 2024.”

Oonagh Duggan, Head of Advocacy at BirdWatch Ireland added, “The Bill has already been through a rigorous process of pre-legislative scrutiny in the Oireachtas committee. We are calling on Ministers O’Brien, Noonan and their Cabinet colleagues to recognise the importance of this Bill in protecting our ocean. This is not a Bill that can be delayed any further. We need to see action now.”

In advance of meeting Oireachtas members as part of a Fair Seas delegation meeting in Leinster House, internationally renowned marine ecologist Prof. Mark Costello of Nord University said. “The ocean is the world’s largest ecosystem and absorbs around a quarter of global annual CO2 emissions, however in many respects its health is in steep decline. All evidence around the world shows that MPA actually benefit fisheries. It might seem contradictory, but MPA where no fishing is allowed show the greatest fishery and ecological benefits, and have the lowest management costs because their rules are simple. There is not one published example of any MPA anywhere that has resulted in any decrease in fishing catch.”

As part of the Oireachtas meeting, the group’s experts delivered a presentation on Ireland’s Marine Protected Areas (MPA) journey to date highlighting the biodiversity, social and economic opportunities of well-managed MPAs.

Dr Stephen Comerford, Marine Policy Officer at the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, urged Minister O’Brien to bring the new MPA Bill forward as soon as possible. He went on to say, “The Government needs to engage with this key legislation as a priority. The designation of MPAs within a well-defined legislative framework, and following meaningful participation of all stakeholders, will be a vital step in tackling the twin crises of climate and biodiversity”.

Fair Seas wants to see binding targets committing to effectively protecting 30% of the seas around Ireland by 2030, including 10% strictly protected. The group is calling for stakeholder engagement at every stage, clear delivery timeframes and a robust management framework, with targeted, site-specific measures to ensure MPAs deliver for nature.

To sign the petition visit https://only.one/act/30×30-ireland

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