Razorbills on the Saltee Islands by Vincent Bradley

A coalition of Ireland’s leading environmental organisations says the creation of Ireland’s largest Special Protection Area for seabirds off the south east coast should be a cause for celebration. However, Fair Seas says a lack of proper community engagement, no coinciding management plans and no sign of the promised Marine Protected Area bill is risking public trust in the process. 

Minister of State for Nature, Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD today announced the new ‘Seas off Wexford Special Protection Area (SPA)’ covering more than 305,000 hectares of important marine waters. It extends offshore along most of the coast of County Wexford and aims to improve the protection for 20 species of birds.   

Fair Seas says although the news is welcome, proper consultation with local fishers, industry, communities and other stakeholders is vital to ensure its success. The group is campaigning for strong and ambitious Marine Protected Area (MPA) legislation to be introduced as a matter of priority. 

The Government committed to introduce a Marine Protected Area bill to protect Ireland’s seas before the Dáil summer recess in July 2023, and subsequently to introduce the legislation before the end of 2023. Both targets have now been missed. 

Fair Seas campaign coordinator Dr Donal Griffin said, “The new Special Protection Area for birds off the coast of Wexford is good news. However, the Government has failed to consult with local stakeholders in this instance. It is not good enough to designate parts of the marine environment as conservation areas without talking to the people, groups and businesses which use and depend on the area for their livelihoods and recreation on a daily basis. The effectiveness of Ireland’s management of SPAs has already been called into question by the European Commission which is why proper consultation and the implementation of conservation measures are so badly needed. Out of 10 countries, Ireland scored lowest in planning, implementation, site management, monitoring and conservation outcomes. We need proper management, monitoring and enforcement for these areas to truly protect nature.”

The list of protected species includes the Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver, Fulmar, Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Shag, Cormorant, Kittiwake, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Little Tern, Roseate Tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Sandwich Tern, Mediterranean Gull, Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot.

 

Fair Seas Communications Officer, Jack O’Donovan Trá said: “In August 2023 we met with many coastal community members in this Wexford area while shooting for our upcoming film ‘Fair Seas: The Celtic Sea’ and it was clear that everyone wants to ensure that the health of our seas and wildlife and restored, but local communities want to be a part of this process. This new SPA designation is a positive sign of the government’s intent to protect wildlife, but consultation with coastal communities must be a central part of this process to ensure local support for new measures. 

 

Karin Dubsky, Founder and International Coordinator of Coastwatch said: “With the status of Ireland’s birds in such a bad state, new protected areas are certainly welcome, although we strongly urge the process is changed to have stakeholder engagement at its core to ensure proper implementation, enforcement and compliance.” 

 

Dr Donal Griffin added, “Increased protection for these seabirds is vitally important. The most comprehensive census of seabirds, the Seabirds Count survey, has found that more than half the seabird species breeding on Irish and British coasts have declined over the last 20 years. There was some good news in that five species out of 21 have increased because of targeted conservation efforts. The ‘Seas off Wexford’ and other sites need to be properly managed with effective conservation measures put in place to ensure they deliver the required boost for biodiversity.”

 

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group welcomes Minister Noonan’s announcement of a new SPA off Wexford. Dr Stephen Comerford, Marine Policy Officer, stated, “while additional protection of marine species and habitats is to be applauded, the lack of any consultation with the marine sector throughout the designation process is worrying. Designation of Natura sites or MPAs in the future must involve all stakeholders if the process is to successful. 

 

Fair Seas is calling for 30% of the seas around Ireland to be effectively protected by 2030, including a target for 10% strict protection. Strictly protected sites are the gold standard in MPA networks. Participative stakeholder engagement at every stage, clear delivery timeframes and a robust management framework, with targeted, site-specific measures will be vital to ensure MPAs deliver for nature.

Sign the petition calling for Ireland’s MPA legislation to be published without delay here: https://only.one/act/30×30-ireland 

 

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