The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien, and the Minister for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, today launched a public consultation on the process of expanding Ireland’s network of marine protected areas (MPAs). MPAs are geographically defined maritime areas with certain protections for conservation purposes. The Government aims to expand Ireland’s MPA network from 2.13% to 30% of Ireland’s maritime area by 2030.
Creating an MPA regime will constitute a major change in marine environmental protection in Ireland. At present, there is no definition of an MPA in Irish law. Environmental protections under the Wildlife Acts only apply to the foreshore. Protection in marine areas beyond 12 nautical miles is limited, both in terms of space and species.
Ministers O’Brien and Noonan are asking the public, stakeholders, industries and others for their views on the final report of the MPA Advisory Group, which was chaired by Professor Tasman Crowe of UCD’s Earth Institute. In addition to conserving marine species and habitats, MPAs can support maritime economic activity and reduce the effects of climate change and ocean acidification. The report quotes economic data showing Ireland’s ocean economy has a turnover of €6.2 billion and provides stable, sustainable work for 34,132 full-time equivalent employees.
Launching the consultation, Minister O’Brien said:
“Ireland, along with the rest of the world, faces the twin crises of climate change and accelerating biodiversity loss on land and at sea. The Government has a vision of clean, healthy, diverse and productive oceans and seas around Ireland. This report is a solid basis for a national dialogue on how we progress that vision. I urge all with an interest in our seas – whether you live in a coastal area, earn your livelihood from the sea, want to protect our marine life or simply value our seas – to have your say by the end of July. Once again I’d like to thank Professor Crowe and the expert group for this excellent report.”
Minister Noonan added:
“By expanding Ireland’s Marine Protected Area network, we will give vital protection to vulnerable marine species and habitats, and also support the functioning of these ecosystems to provide us with a whole host of benefits including climate change mitigation and enhanced resilience for fisheries into the future. By realising this vision to expand our MPA network, Ireland will play an exemplary role in global efforts to protect marine ecosystems, the extraordinary species and habitats they hold, and the benefits they provide to people.”
In parallel with plans to increase Ireland’s MPA network, the Government will soon publish Ireland’s first Marine Spatial Plan – the National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF) – and the Marine Planning and Development Management Bill 2021. The NMPF is the national plan for Ireland’s maritime area setting out how we want to use, protect and enjoy our seas. It will outline the national approach to managing Ireland’s marine activities and ensuring the sustainable use of marine resources to 2040. The Marine Planning and Development Management Bill will serve as the cornerstone of the marine planning system in Ireland and it brings together and creates the legal foundation for forward planning and streamlined development management and enforcement. Both the new forward planning model envisaged by the Bill, and a future MPA regime, will secure the objectives of the NMPF.
The public consultation on the MPA process launched today by Ministers O’Brien and Noonan will inform development of new legislation on the identification, designation and management of MPAs, to begin later this year.