A na­tional ma­rine plan: Mak­ing the sea work for us, and us for it

Pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion is un­der way on a ma­rine plan for Ire­land, and ev­ery­one agrees on one prin­ci­ple

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - Lorna Sig­gins Ma­rine Cor­re­spon­dent

If one pic­ture can still paint a thou­sand words, a post­card printed by a State agency 20 years ago is proof of that. Some say there are no books, doc­u­men­taries, opin­ion ar­ti­cles or multi-me­dia clips that have had quite the same sus­tained im­pact as “the real map of Ire­land”.

Still in cir­cu­la­tion, the Ma­rine In­sti­tute im­age de­lin­eates this is­land’s ac­tual size, em­brac­ing an area 10 times that of the land, at more than 220 mil­lion acres. Com­pass points north, west and south of the four green fields point to at least 10 blue ones – over­lay­ing sub­ma­rine canyons and chan­nel sys­tems carved into the Ir­ish Con­ti­nen­tal Mar­gin dat­ing back 250 mil­lion years

That area may ex­pand to 12 times the land size and three times the size of Ger­many if a claim lodged by the State with the United Na­tions in 2009 is re­alised. Thanks to two decades of in­ten­sive seabed map­ping – Ire­land’s ver­sion of space ex­plo­ration – we now know the “re­source” en­com­passes much more than fish, and sev­eral ma­rine spe­cial ar­eas of con­ser­va­tion have been des­ig­nated to pro­tect frag­ile ar­eas, such as gar­dens of cold- wa­ter coral formed over thou­sands of years.

Ire­land’s ju­ris­dic­tion over one of Europe’s largest ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zones is com­ing into sharper fo­cus at a time of ris­ing pressure on oceans to pro­vide for ex­pand­ing pop­u­la­tions. Price­wa­ter­house­Coop­ers’ Econ­omy of the Sea Barom­e­ter, pub­lished last year, de­scribed Ire­land as hav­ing “po­ten­tial” in both fos­sil and re­new­able en­er­gies, and is among the top 15 in the world for off­shore wind en­ergy de­vel­op­ment.

Ire­land’s rel­a­tively shal­low shelf area might also be a tar­get for deep-sea min­ing, while deep-wa­ter sponges and other fauna may have bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion. All this at a time of in­creas­ing knowl­edge on the toll taken by hu­man im­pact on the sea – warmer seas, ris­ing lev­els and ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion.

Highly flawed

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, ar­chi­tect of the highly-flawed Com­mon Fish­eries Pol­icy, is pro­vid­ing some lead­er­ship now, through sev­eral new di­rec­tives which may, at a glance, seem at odds with each other.

The Ma­rine Strat­egy Frame­work di­rec­tive im­poses a duty on mem­ber states to achieve good en­vi­ron­men­tal sta­tus in four re­gional seas by 2020, while the Ma­rine Spa­tial Plan­ning di­rec­tive fo­cuses on how best to “har­ness” ocean wealth with­out con­flict.

Nei­ther takes prece­dence over the other, ac­cord­ing to the Depart­ment of Hous­ing, Plan­ning and Lo­cal Govern­ment, which has been charged with im­ple­men­ta­tion of both.

Prin­ci­pal of­fi­cer Philip Nu­gent is co-author of a base­line re­port on ma­rine spa­tial plan­ning, which has been pub­lished in ad­vance of a se­ries of pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions held over the past month. Nu­gent says he has been struck so far by the mo­ti­va­tion and pas­sion of ma­rine stake­hold­ers, and the “clear con­sen­sus among all groups that with­out en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity, there is no re­source”.

The map for the ma­rine plan ex­tends from the mean high- wa­ter mark to 200 nau­ti­cal miles in parts, and does not quite match the “real map of Ire­land” as it does not in­clude sea ar­eas still the sub­ject of a claim. The base­line re­port is a “snap­shot” of ac­tiv­ity which aims to in­form con­sul­ta­tion on a draft, with fur­ther pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion be­fore a fi­nal plan in late 2020/2021.

Two eco­nomic tar­gets have al­ready been ar­tic­u­lated in the State’s Har­ness­ing Our Ocean Wealth strat­egy ini­ti­ated in 2012 – dou­bling the value of our ocean wealth to 2.4 per cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, and in­creas­ing the turnover of the ocean econ­omy to ex­ceed ¤6.4 bil­lion by 2030.

Sta­tus re­ports pub­lished by NUI Gal­way’s So­cio- Eco­nomic Ma­rine Re­search Unit in­di­cate Ire­land’s “ocean econ­omy” is head­ing in the right di­rec­tion, with turnover at ¤5.5 bil­lion in 2017. How­ever, as par­tic­i­pants at the Gal­way meeting pointed out, ma­rine spa­tial plan­ning must be in­clu­sive, rather than ex­clu­sive, and re­cent near- shore con­tro­ver­sies over fish farm­ing and re­new­able en­ergy test­ing have high­lighted a dom­i­nance of sec­toral lob­by­ing over ef­fec­tive coastal zone man­age­ment.

Bantry Bay

It is 18 years this au­tumn since then environment min­is­ter Noel Dempsey pub­lished a coastal zone char­ter for Bantry Bay in west Cork which in­volved painstak­ing work to se­cure con­sen­sus on a stake­hold­ers’ char­ter. The ini­tia­tive was never fol­lowed through by the State, and in the in- ter­ven­ing years there have been bit­ter dis­putes over aqua­cul­ture, lo­ca­tion of mari­nas, ma­rine ag­gre­gate ex­trac­tion and man­age­ment of wild sal­mon, to name a few.

There have also been pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments at com­mu­nity level, such as the re­cent for­ma­tion of Cuan Beo in south- east Gal­way, which has drawn up an en­vi­ron­men­tal char­ter to help pro­tect the aquatic environment.

Ro­bust struc­ture

For­mer En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency di­rec­tor Micheál Ó Cin­néide points to the need for ad­e­quate re­sourc­ing to avoid mis­takes made dur­ing the early stages of the Wa­ter Frame­work Di­rec­tive. A ro­bust plan­ning and li­cens­ing struc­ture for the ma­rine which avoids cur­rent over­lap­ping and du­pli­ca­tion could be mod­elled on Ma­rine Scot­land, he be­lieves.

De­fence Forces chief Vice- Ad­mi­ral Mark Mel­lett, an ad­junct pro­fes­sor at Univer­sity Col­lege Cork, with a PhD from NUI Gal­way fo­cus­ing on sovereignty and sov­er­eign rights, notes that Ire­land’s sea area en­com­passes “one of the rich­est food-pro­duc­ing ecosys­tems and re­new­able en­ergy en­vi­ron­ments on the planet”. It also has some of the world’s rough­est sea ar­eas – a wave of al­most 30m mea­sured off this coast in 2000 is one of largest such recorded by sci­en­tific in­stru­ments.

Mel­lett be­lieves “an ap­pro­pri­ate ma­rine spa­tial plan­ning regime should serve to re­in­force the prop­erty and sov­er­eign rights of the cit­i­zens of the State”, but notes that “like prop­erty rights, sov­er­eign rights that are not up­held are more imag­i­nary than real”.

Ire­land has one of the rich­est ma­rine eco-sys­tems and some of the world’s rough­est seas. PHO­TO­GRAPH: GETTY IMAGES

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