Reduction of Carbon Emissions of 51% by 2030: Discussion (Resumed)

I am stepping into the place of committee Chairman, Deputy Brian Leddin, who may be able to attend towards the end of the meeting. This meeting is a part of our engagement regarding the reduction of carbon emissions by 51% by 2030 and this is the second of three sessions which are focused on biodiversity, ecosystems, the relationship between biodiversity and climate action, how biodiversity and ecosystems can play a role in achieving the reduction of carbon emissions, and the general health of biodiversity systems and ecosystems. We will today focus particularly on maritime ecosystems and water in general.

To that end, I welcome to the meeting Dr. Simon Berrow of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, and Professor Anamarija Franki and Mr. Stephen Kavanagh from Native Oyster Reef Restoration Ireland, NORRI. We are also joined by Ms Ellen McMahon from the Sustainable Water Network and Professor Ken Whelan from the Atlantic Salmon Trust. On behalf of the committee, I welcome them all to today's meeting and thank them for attending, sharing their expertise and playing an important part in this process.

Before the meeting starts and we take statements from witnesses, I must read out a note on privilege. I remind our guests of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of that person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction.

For witnesses attending remotely outside the Leinster House campus there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege. As such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness physically present does. Witnesses participating in this committee session from a jurisdiction outside the State are advised that they should also be mindful that domestic law could be applied to the evidence they give.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise, or make charges against a person outside the Houses of the Oireachtas or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind members that they are only allowed to participate in this meeting if they are physically located in the Leinster House complex. In this regard, I ask all members, prior to making their contribution to the meeting, to confirm that they are on the grounds of the Leinster House campus.

For those watching this meeting online, Oireachtas members and witnesses are accessing this meeting remotely. Only I, as Vice Chairman, and necessary staff essential to the running of the meeting are physically present in the committee room. Due to these unprecedented circumstances and the large number of people attending the meeting remotely, I ask everyone to bear with us should any technical issues arise. That is an important point because, from time to time, we have technical issues with the connection. Do not panic because we always manage to get people back online and get them through the rest of their statements. It will all be fine in the end.

It is now my great privilege to call on Dr. Berrow to make his opening statement. I remind witnesses that they have five minutes to make an opening statement, after which I will invite questions from members, who can indicate they have a question during the course of our guests' statements. Each question will have a two-minute limit and we will then go to each of our guests for a response. I ask Dr. Berrow to make his opening statement.

Dr. Simon Berrow

I thank the Vice Chairman. Renewable energy is a central pillar of climate action. The marine renewable energy industry in Ireland is expanding rapidly with a production target of 5 GW of offshore wind energy by 2030 and an ambition of 30 GW by 2050. Assuming a standard 7.5 MW turbine, up to 650 operational turbines may be deployed in the next decade, or up to 4,000 by 2050. Large sections of our coast will be transformed, impacting on our nearshore environment and coastal communities. Offshore wind and marine renewables provide significant opportunities and challenges. We need to mitigate negative impacts on marine species and habitats but we should also be looking for opportunities to enhance biodiversity and contribute to ocean management. The IWDG has worked on a number of offshore marine renewable projects, including at the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, wave energy test site off north-west County Mayo and commercial wind farm site surveys off the east and south-east coasts. We have prepared guidance documents for the SEAI and, in December 2020, we published a policy document on offshore wind farm development to stimulate debate and present policy recommendations.

The marine renewables sector is operating within an environmental vacuum. There is very little guidance on environmental assessment, acceptable risk thresholds or monitoring requirements. A suite of baseline surveys are currently under way, including risk modelling and proposed mitigation. Some approaches are good, some not so good. Each company is doing what it thinks is required to achieve planning consent. Tight environmental regulation enhances environmental protection but also brings more certainty to an industry investing hundreds of millions of euro; it is good for everybody. Potential impacts on some marine species are well-documented, for example, marine mammals and seabird but this is much less so for habitats, for example offshore sandbanks. What are acceptable levels of habitat loss, noise exposure, collision risk or displacement? Impacts are best mitigated by appropriate site selection, using best available data. Areas important for sensitive species and habitats should be avoided. Current available data are poor and often out of date. Individual wind farm site surveys must be integrated into larger spatial scales and not evaluated in a piecemeal way through the planning process. There are good examples of State-funded surveys, for example the ObSERVE programme, aiming to address some knowledge gaps. Surveys should be ongoing, as marine distributions are changing as they are influenced by climate change shifts. Projects such as EirWind have provided guidance on supply chains and constraint mapping but less on how to protect or enhance marine biodiversity and resources. A marine enhancement fund, with contributions from industry, should be considered.

Industry needs best practice guidelines, supported by legislation, to ensure site assessments and risk analyses are robust, appropriate and consistent. We can learn from countries in the southern North Sea and from the UK. The German approach is precautionary but quite prescriptive, setting thresholds for permitted noise generation and monitoring protocols. The UK takes a more site-specific, risk-based approach. What best practices could work in Ireland, with our different marine environments and biodiversity? The IWDG has recommended data sharing agreements to minimize duplication and disturbance; an open-access online database for research and future development assessment; an independent acoustic monitoring array to support monitoring and mitigation requirements; adaptive management to respond to new opportunities or identified impacts; and an integrated ocean management unit, with one regulator, responsible for marine environmental management as well as licensing. Offshore wind cannot be considered in isolation and needs to be integrated with fisheries management initiatives and marine protected areas, MPA, designation. The new marine planning and development management Bill could have addressed many of these issues but there is deep concern among many groups about whether it is currently adequate. Nevertheless, there is still an urgent need for contemporary data to support evidence-based policies.

Ireland has a poor track record of environmental monitoring and enforcement and strong policies, supported by legislation, are necessary to ensure offshore marine renewable energy does not come at further cost to Ireland’s depleted marine habitats and species. Currently, our relevant State agencies and Departments are not resourced sufficiently to meet their obligations. Planning applications will soon be lodged for an array of wind farms along the east coast, followed by the Celtic Sea over the next few years. Wind farm development is currently industry-led and the Government needs to catch up and take the lead through policy initiatives. A knowledge base for informed recommendations and policies should be built. Making decisions under time pressures and meeting renewable energy targets could lead to bad decisions, which we will have to live with for many decades to come.

Professor Anamarija Franki

I thank the committee for the invitation. Mr. Kavanagh and I represent NORRI, which we started a few years ago. The initiative did not actually come from us but from the local community, and from nature which desperately needs us now. As we know marine habitats have been seriously degraded in the past 150 years, especially in coastal areas. I worked for more than 20 years on the west and east coasts of the United States, addressing restoration of oyster habitats as well eelgrass beds and salt marshes. It is essential that these three aspects of coastal ecosystems support each other.

Often when we restore our coastal systems, we choose and compromise between several different species or habitats. NORRI is trying to address coastal ecosystem health to adapt resiliently and sustainably for climate change. To mitigate the processes we are now experiencing we definitely need to integrate coastal restoration. The role of marine habitats as an important carbon store is termed "blue carbon". Vegetated coastal habitats such as salt marshes, sea grasses and mangroves, though they comprise only 2% of ocean area, are estimated to store more than 50% of ocean organic carbon.

More and more research, especially through the Native Oyster Restoration Alliance, NORA, in Europe has shown that with shellfish blue carbon storage is very complex. Oyster reefs and oyster habitats have globally been the most degraded coastal habitats. There is perhaps between 1% and 5% of this habitat left. When I teach restoration or management of coastal systems globally and locally, I can show my students examples of mangroves, salt marshes, seagrass beds and coral reefs but I cannot show them an example of a healthy oyster reef. This is the reason we think restoration is the way to support biological diversity of coastal systems. We believe oyster habitat and reefs, as well as kelp, were abundant on the Irish coast. This is why we are trying to address the necessity of local restoration where we can become an example of this new, innovative approach - an automatic type of integrated coastal restoration of seagrasses, specifically here macro algae through kelp and the native oyster, ostrea edulis. We know this is a very complex issue of averaging and showing the qualitative data because when there is a living organism that also provides a carbon sink, it also provides a carbon source. That is why the new research showed how critical the restoration of keystone species, in this case ostrea edulis, is essential to enhance benthic and pelagic coupling. We definitely need to ensure conservation management understands the need of integrated restoration of different keystone species and the habitats that used to thrive together for millions of years, and used to adapt together to climate changes and environmental changes in general.

There is so much to learn from those systems and species. We have more and more evidence, thanks to new research and technologies, of the importance of the ecological services and functions of those missing habitats. We do not have enough time to further prove the importance of those species and habitats for the health of our coastal systems, including water and food quality and human health.

Recently I gave an international presentation on biodiversity for climate change which shows the importance of the healthy oyster systems which used to embrace every single continent. These were an essential or keystone species and habitat, providing a nexus of food, water and energy between land, coastal systems and the open ocean. We need to do everything possible to restore them locally. Projects in Wicklow and in Ireland can serve as an example of local, innovative restoration to improve our coastal waters and our environment, to adapt to climate change and to enhance the long-term health of humans.

I thank the committee for providing me with this opportunity to share some of my experiences.

Thank you so much, Professor Franki. Next we have Ms McMahon from the Sustainable Water Network, SWAN.

Ms Ellen McMahon

I thank the Vice Chairman for the opportunity to address the committee today. The Sustainable Water Network is an umbrella network of 25 of Ireland’s leading environmental NGOs, national and regional, working together to protect and enhance Ireland’s aquatic resources.

We are in the midst of a climate and biodiversity emergency. The Government's own assessment of the health of our seas in 2019 found that only six out of 11 indicators are compatible with good environmental status. Our marine territory is ten times the size of our landmass and as an island nation, our seas and marine wildlife are at the heart of our culture, well-being and prosperity but I fear that we have turned our back on the seas. Critically, our ocean is the planet's largest carbon sink. It has absorbed 93% of the heat generated by industrial-era carbon dioxide emissions and it captures nearly 30% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere every year. The marine environment plays a key role in reducing climate stress through carbon regulation and storage. It also provides opportunities for tourism and recreation, cultural heritage and education as well as physical and mental health benefits.

In 2019, the UN's biodiversity assessment stated that approximately 66% of the marine environment has been significantly altered by human actions. It also identified that while overfishing is a threat to the health of our marine environment, our seas are under increasing pressure from a wide range of stressors, such as pollution, invasive species and climate change. The situation in Ireland is stark. The latest review of the birds of conservation concern in Ireland by Birdwatch Ireland and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has shown that iconic and much-loved seabird species such as puffins and kittiwakes are globally threatened and experiencing significant declines in Ireland. Climate change, overfishing and changes to the food web are all playing a role in their decline. Approximately 13% of our seabed, which is almost the equivalent in size to the entire landmass of the island of Ireland, is disturbed by bottom fishing activity. Bottom trawling and dredging is only prohibited in three out of 90 of our marine special areas of conservation, SACs. Bottom trawling is one of the most damaging activities to our marine environment. It involves dragging heavy weighted nets across the sea floor in an effort to catch fish. In doing so, it churns up seabed sediments which are the planet's largest carbon stores. Bottom trawling is a major emitter of carbon with some studies showing that it emits as much carbon as the entire aviation industry.

At present, Ireland has designated a mere 2% of its seas as marine protected areas, MPAs. MPAs are geographically defined areas which involve the protective or restorative management of a natural area according to management objectives. We have failed to meet the UN's biological diversity target of protecting 10% of our marine area by 2020. The current programme for Government commits to realising the target as soon as practical and sets a further target for 30% protection by 2030. However, MPAs are not currently defined in Irish law, meaning our existing network only consists of EU marine sites such as SACs and special protection areas, SPAs. In 2019, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government formed an expert advisory group to determine how to expand Ireland’s MPA network and the expert group's report, Expanding Ireland’s MPA Network, was published last year. The report makes a number of strong and welcome recommendations. A public consultation on the report is under way and we hope that the result will be ambitious legislation that provides for an ecologically coherent network of MPAs. Worryingly, we have heard that MPA legislation is about two years away from enactment. While we await this crucial legislation, large areas of our marine territory will be designated as activity zones for the expansion of offshore renewable energy, leaving MPAs to squeeze into the areas that remain. This disparity between offshore wind and MPAs has been facilitated through the national marine planning framework. We recognise the role that offshore renewable energy will play in decarbonising our economy and tackling climate change but MPAs are often overlooked in the role that they can play in addressing the twin climate and biodiversity emergencies. A recent report has highlighted that globally, the rewilding of key blue carbon marine and coastal ecosystems could deliver carbon dioxide mitigation amounting to 1.83 billion tonnes, or approximately 5% of the emissions savings we need to make globally.

We are routinely failing to meet EU and international targets for the protection of biodiversity. If we look to the UK and Northern Ireland, the North has designated approximately 38% of its inshore region as MPAs. Last year the UK published the Benyon report which looked at the establishment of so-called highly protected marine areas, HPMAs. HPMAs prohibit extractive, destructive and depositional uses and allow only non-damaging levels of other activities. The panel's headline recommendation to the Government was that HPMAs are an essential component of the marine protected areas network and that they should be included in the Secretary of State waters. We need the same in Ireland. MPAs and HPMAs can work for biodiversity, climate, our fishing fleet and our coastal communities. I urge Deputies, as legislators, to carefully consider the protection and restoration of our seas and marine environment in all of their decision-making, bearing in mind their duty to our future generations and the fact that in addition to reversing catastrophic biodiversity loss, all ocean action is climate action.

Finally, I invite Dr. Whelan to make his opening statement.

Dr. Ken Whelan

I thank the committee for the invitation to make a submission on the subject of Atlantic salmon as an indicator of ocean-related climate change.

Atlantic salmon are regarded as a keystone species and play a unique and crucial role in our aquatic ecosystems. A superb biological indicator, their migration pathways traverse lakes, rivers, estuaries and the high seas. Tracking the movements and overall welfare of salmon stocks across these distinct biotopes can tell us a great deal about the health of our oceans and our freshwater resources. As they migrate across these zones or domains, the salmon absorb into their bodies chemical and biological clues as to the overall state of our oceans and our freshwater systems.

Wild salmon, in their migrations across the oceans, are one of the natural world’s most sensitive indicators of the biological and chemical effects of climate change. Research has shown quite clearly that aquatic systems are changing and changing fast. Water is getting warmer, storms are getting stronger and the availability of food resources in and from the ocean is under increasing pressure. Oceans and atmosphere are intimately and inextricably linked. Changes in the oceans are forcing unprecedented shifts in climate patterns.

Similar patterns are apparent in fresh water, where we are witnessing unprecedented rainfall events resulting in deluges which have caused massive landslides and the dislocation of tonnes of mud, silt and peat. Recently in Ireland in 2018 we also witnessed an intense drought and unprecedented increases in summer water temperatures. The impacts of severe droughts on juvenile and adult salmon may well be far more serious than the more dramatic flood events.

Such climate perturbations are also causing major biological modifications including the appearance of new fish and other animal species off our coast and the spread of non-native, invasive species around the coast and in fresh water. Atlantic salmon is an ideal bio-monitor to track and trace climate change from remote mountain streams to distant zones in the Arctic seas.

The salmon, which is equally at home in fresh and salt water, traverses large areas of the planet in a relatively short time but is endowed with an uncanny ability to find its way home. Throughout its odyssey, the salmon collects and stores a wide range of physical, chemical and biological information.

Although the science surrounding the biology of salmon and other diadromous species is complex, the take home message is very clear: adaptation to climate change is in our hands. Combating climate change requires a clear and unambiguous focus on monitoring change, responding quickly to that change, conserving biodiversity and relieving man-made stresses on the environment.

Salmon divided into the Atlantic and the Pacific forms more than 20 million years ago. They have faced huge changes on many occasion over the millennia and have shown their ability to adapt to these changes. Such biological adaptation needs time and space. Mitigation implies doing a minimum in order for a particular species to survive. On the other hand, adaptation gives the species time and space to recover and thrive.

For example, a large salmon returning to our rivers in spring takes five years, on average, to reach maturity, including two full winters at sea. Each decade that passes, therefore, only provides two full cycles of spring salmon. Genetic and biological adaptation to warmer oceans and higher freshwater temperatures will take a long time. Faced with increasingly warmer oceans, salmon may not find it possible to adapt fast enough to the areas they now inhabit and will invariably seek out colder waters. Over the coming decades they may seek out and flourish in the more northerly zones, which are currently too cold and inhospitable for them to live successfully.

If we wish to retain and increase the numbers of salmon in Ireland, we need to provide the fish with the marine and freshwater environments in which they can adapt and thrive. Cold, clean water is fundamental to the salmon’s survival. Currently, management is focused, quite correctly, on salmon conservation and protection. However, I would ask whether we have the ability to move fast enough to take advantage of any improvements that might happen in the environmental conditions in our rivers and our oceans and to implement stock rebuilding programmes. Have we the systems in place to monitor and forewarn us of these changes? Are we prepared to move quickly in adapting to the many and varied changes which the changing climate may well bring?

There is an ever increasing urgent need to establish refugia, or strongholds, for the very best genetic stocks and the most resilient salmon stocks. Adaptation strategies require determined and co-ordinated efforts to reduce, mitigate and eliminate pressures on wild stocks of salmon. This will ensure that the core stock of juvenile fish is available to take advantage of the full suite of adaptation strategies.

With in excess of 60 years of detailed monitoring data from the Marine Institute’s Newport facility in County Mayo and a wide range of ocean data from the institute's offshore monitoring programmes, Ireland is ideally placed to directly monitor and advise on climate change events and likely climate change impacts. Geographically, the seas around the island of Ireland are ideally placed to study these changes, located as we are between the cold seas to the north and the far warmer oceans to the south.

I thank Dr. Whelan and all other witnesses for their opening statements. All members will agree they were incredibly interesting, educational and thought-provoking. Unfortunately, we are limited to two hours, but we genuinely could have gone on for many more hours on last week's discussion on biodiversity. There will be a lot of interest in this. As the meeting is confined to two hours, can I get agreement from members that we will limit contributions to two minutes to ask questions? There will then potentially be an opportunity for a second round of questions. Is that agreed? Agreed. That will also give the witnesses an opportunity to elaborate on their answers.

I thank all the witnesses. I could sit and listen to them for the entire day. Coming from a fisheries background, I find this absolutely fascinating.

As a broad comment, it is interesting that even though the witnesses deal with different species, the biggest risk and potential for us to make a difference is for us to properly plan what happens with our marine areas. The risk that we are not doing that is highly problematic. It appears that we are potentially putting the cart before the horse when it comes to climate mitigation in respect of renewable energies if we implement them in the absence of protecting ecological areas. That is a major problem. If we do not put in place MPAs, what is the worst-case scenario for our biodiversity? What is the potential for nature-based solutions or carbon capture in addressing our climate actions?

I have a question for Mr. Kavanagh. I find his project interesting. He is based in Arklow, County Wicklow. There are plans for three large-scale wind farms off the coast of Wicklow. The coast of Wicklow is a pilot for how we manage to roll out these programmes and infrastructure. He has worked on this project for quite a while and has the support of Wicklow County Council. What are the barriers for his project with Professor Franki in terms of ramping it up and putting it in place before we have three large wind farms off the coast? What are the synergies?

Mr. Stephen Kavanagh

One of the major issues is manpower in our team. Professor Franki is in Croatia and I am in Wicklow. We need a bigger team. We need money for salaries and experts in the area to help us to establish the first pilot project off the coast. Professor Franki has worked extensively with us on this and is very definite on how things should progress. It is important that we get the nexus between land, coastal waters and the ocean where we want to do the trial right. Site selection is hugely important. Getting licences is another major issue we are facing.

Getting the funding to put a team together to do the project is an issue. This is a major generational project which will go on for a long time. We want to model it so that it can be recreated all over Ireland and the world as an example of how this kind of restoration should proceed. Professor Franki can probably give the Deputy some insight on this as she has worked with large wind operators in the US where this has happened. She might give her some insights about what is necessary for this project to go ahead.

Professor Anamarija Franki

I thank everybody. We should all work together. We all want the same for our coasts, including the MPAs for salmon, oysters or anything that nature used to have but does not have any more because of us. Our initiative is to work with wind farms and all of the other development activities together and engage with the network of MPAs.

I was fortunate to work on establishing marine protected areas in other parts of the world. That is essential. I could share the experiences of science in areas where we showed how restoration is successful if those areas are no-take zones. If we do not have areas as no-take zones we cannot have adaptations for climate change, biodiversity enhancement or healthy coasts, oceans and the world in general.

How can we work together, with coastal managers, as Mr. Kavanagh said? It is not just a question of funding. Money is out there. We need to work with developers and coastal managers, along with a political approach and vision, on how we want to go forward. In Europe, we are beginning a large biomimicry network to learn from and base our solutions on nature, including how we can incorporate large wind farms that can become sources of biological diversity. We tried that in the United States. It worked in certain areas but not others. We have enough science, technology, power and knowledge of how to do this.

This is the moment for all of us to work together and we have a couple of pilot projects.

Dr. Simon Berrow

That was very eloquent. I am quite new to offshore wind farms. As a group, we have concerns about their impact on whales and dolphins. There was a lack of guidance for wind farm companies in that regard and that is why we produced our policy document, as well as to stimulate debate. The reaction we have had from individual companies has been interesting. We have been working with Wind Energy Ireland. Many companies have thanked us and said that now they have something to discuss. They can say that the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group recommends this and decide what they think about it. There has been a lack of discussion at national level about how we want to roll out wind farms. They are coming at us and they are a good thing. They could be a negative thing or a neutral thing but I think they can be a very positive thing. We are not giving guidance or putting baselines down. We are not building capacity in our research community, not only to roll out pilot studies such as the oyster restoration project, but we are also not building capacity to monitor the effects. We also need the adapted management Dr. Whelan talked about so we can feed back in real time and have a dynamic process. To be honest, we are pushing an open door. The wind farm companies we have spoken to are very open to all sorts of suggestions. Ultimately, they want to harness the wind, get on the grid and make money. They can make a lot of money. The opportunity there is to work together to make sure it is a win-win situation.

There is great concern about how MPAs fit into this process because we are way behind. We are ten years behind on the MPA roll-out and we are paying catch-up. How we marry those different conflicts will be a challenge. Ultimately, we need to support our planners and regulators, not just with research and science but with people on the ground. It is quite shocking how long it takes to get a foreshore licence in Ireland at the minute. A foreshore licence is the very basis of things. If it takes 12 to 18 months to get a licence to deploy a simple device, how are we going to make informed decisions about wind farms and operational issues? How will we integrate the positive biodiversity impacts that have been discussed? We seriously need a national conversation about where we are going with managing our inshore marine sites. A lot of the legislation is coming a bit late. The question is how legislators can influence this process and what legislative incentives can be put in. That is the challenge. What power do members have to push this journey down the road we would like to go down?

Dr. Ken Whelan

I agree with all the comments made about MPAs but I also want to make a call for coastal zone management because the two have to be integrated. I echo Dr. Berrow's sentiments. Ten years ago, when I was working with the Marine Institute, we were talking about integrated coastal zone management in a very sophisticated sense. We have not actually achieved that. The integration of coastal zone management with the MPAs, with a clear focus on biodiversity, is really urgent at this stage because we have lost a full decade. I was recently involved with a very innovative study carried out in Wales, where there are designated marine areas for marine renewables. We have been looking at diadromous fish, which include eels, salmon, shad and so on, and seeing what can we do and how we can track the animals we are concerned about when putting a turbine into the marine area. Those reports will be out very shortly and I have referenced them in my submission. As Dr. Berrow said, we need to push the boat out here as regards research and development, but it must be integrated. For too long, our science has been in silos and we need to start integrating this in a very real sense. The ultimate goal here is marine resilience and we have to make sure MPAs have an integrated resilience to face into the issues we are facing as a result of climate change.

Ms Ellen McMahon

We are very concerned about offshore renewable energy preceding the MPAs. We know that the marine environment is in a completely degraded state and is on a downward trend in a lot of areas. The national marine planning framework is facilitating that disparity. What will eventually underpin that is the marine planning and development management Bill. MPAs are not included under the current heads of that Bill. The Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage made some very welcome recommendations on that Bill, including two specific ones. First, it recommended that MPAs be allowed under that legislation so we could designate through it. The second recommendation was that interim protections be provided using sensitivity mapping. That is something we want to see included. We would look at the features, habitats and species we need to designate in our network and could do sensitivity mapping to look at the pressures that act on those features. Then we can steer offshore renewable energy away from those sensitive areas. That is what we need here, quite urgently.

Following on from what Deputy Whitmore and other speakers said, we hear a great deal about the potential of offshore wind. Everybody welcomes that to reach our climate targets but also as employment for rural coastal communities. What we hear less of is the potential for jobs in biodiversity, natural capital and research. I was particularly interested in Dr. Whelan's statement about the Newport facility in County Mayo. Do we need investment in that facility to ramp it up? Do we need other similar facilities in coastal areas to boost Ireland's reputation for marine research, as well as for job creation in natural capital? Responses from the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications show that Ireland is way below the EU average when it comes to research and development funding. Are there issues we should push as legislators to steer this? As Professor Frankic said, the funding is there but people have to have the political will to put the plan in place and look for that funding. What should we be doing in that regard to create potential from our marine habitats, not just to protect the biodiversity but for those coastal communities?

Offshore wind farms are going ahead on the east coast. Is there a remit for some sort of independent inspection system for them in order that the operators will be compliant when they are being developed, while in operation and further down the line if they are ever dismantled? Do we need some sort of system to monitor their compliance with the applications to protect the marine environment?

Dr. Simon Berrow

I am also a lecturer in GMIT so I am very much aware of the research capacity and potential we have. There is no doubt that we are lagging way behind. We have some good initiatives in our third-level institutions but there is not enough there and not enough people working on them. There are so many questions we could answer but we are not doing so. It takes a few years. If a PhD student is on a project, it will take three or four years to get answers on management issues or how to enhance biodiversity. We need to start this now because my fear is that planning applications will drop on people's desks for offshore wind farms along the east coast very soon, if not this year. How are we going to evaluate them, and how do we then build in more progressive enhancement projects, if we are playing catch-up? There is no doubt that offshore wind is driving the whole process in Ireland with our policy initiatives but the Government needs to take the lead, perhaps through guidance and showing people how it wants them to do things.

I agree with the Senator about building capacity in our coastal communities to support those wind farms jobs, as well as research and monitoring. It all goes hand in hand. That is important. I have forgotten her other question.

I asked whether we need some sort of independent body to monitor these wind farms.

Dr. Simon Berrow

Yes. From speaking to wind farm companies, they want certainty but they are not getting it from the Government. They are investing hundreds of millions of euro but they are not even sure whether they will get planning permission or what the monitoring or decommissioning obligations are. It is not helpful to them either. They would like a lot more certainty when they are investing hundreds of millions of euro over 20 or 30 years. It would be good for everybody.

How do we build policy to try to enhance what we have been speaking about? I was struck by a new project in Scotland, the Scottish marine environmental enhancement fund, which is supported by the wind farm companies. They are putting money into a fund for the type of projects we are speaking about. They are directly involved and it is directly relevant. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. There are many experiences we can gain from other countries. What fits well for Germany does not necessarily fit well in Ireland. What fits in the UK may not be appropriate here. Let us use what has happened elsewhere and make it fit for purpose for Ireland.

Ms Ellen McMahon

Jobs can exist in the biodiversity sector, especially when it comes to restoration projects and the need for active restoration in the marine environment. Nature-based solutions provide approximately one third of climate change mitigation globally but they attract less than 3% of the funds to address climate change. There is definitely a need for investment to support job creation in the sector. In terms of an independent agency for monitoring enforcement of offshore renewable energy, under the marine planning Bill, the maritime area regulatory authority, MARA, will be established. This regulatory agency will look at compliance with regard to offshore renewable energy. What the exact remit or functions of the agency will be I do not have to hand but certainly we need an independent agency that can monitor the effects of these sites on the marine ecosystem and to look at decommissioning. It will be a learning experience but having an independent regulatory or enforcement agency would be very beneficial.

Dr. Ken Whelan

I want to pick up on a point Dr. Berrow made on the paradigm and the model we use for research. We really have to think laterally. Through the Atlantic Salmon Trust we set up another group, the Missing Salmon Alliance, to fundraise privately for the big issues that are facing salmon. We are funding the likely suspects framework through which we are trying to identify exactly what is happening and what we can do to try to mitigate it.

I very much agree with what Professor Franki said earlier. There is a lot of money but at present what we are doing is following the old method of approaching the research. The answer to the question as to whether we need more Newports is that we do. We have a huge opportunity here. We have two opportunities. We have a national need, as we have been outlining, and we also have an international opportunity. We are sitting on the edge of climate change. Climate change is happening in the ocean off the west coast. We are sitting on the very edge of this change. We really have a fantastic opportunity to roll out research and development so we can support it. Certainly in the context of marine renewables, there are all sorts of models, as Dr. Berrow mentioned earlier, that we can follow in terms of integrating the finance available through venture capital and new businesses with our research needs, and make absolutely certain that the biodiversity component is at its core, which, in the past, may not have been the case.

A few years ago, I was privileged to be part of a Government review looking at the whole question of aquaculture licensing, which has been very difficult down the years. Dr. Berrow mentioned the question of foreshore licences and how slow it is to issue them. I am really fearful that we are beginning to repeat the errors we made in the past in the development of other marine industries. We really need to be fleet of foot and look at these things laterally, and be highly creative in terms of looking at the opportunities and going for them with a modest amount of State investment but an awful lot of intellectual investment.

Professor Anamarija Franki

As an educator, I thank Senator Boylan for speaking about the next generation. We need to create not just jobs for today but for the future, which is why I am optimistic when I see my students. There is a solution for every problem we have today. We have to see it, as Dr. Whelan said, as an opportunity. We have to work together on this.

We created a programme to adopt a student for a green job, for which someone does not have to be aged ten or 70. My students can be 85 years old. This is where we need to work together to create the circular economy we speak about so theoretically. When my students leave my classroom, I do not know where they go and whether they find a job. Through adopt a student for a green job we can follow them when they stop studying. They can find their niche.

We need to start working with companies so these students can find their niche, support their local communities and find the solutions and be part of them, and not constantly be depressed with what is going on in the world today. Between the pandemic and climate change, my students ask me how I can smile. They ask me what I am on. I ask them to think about how we can use these circumstances as an opportunity to go back to nature and the human race, and be positive and use the resources of which we have more now than ever. Let us think about what we have today. We have knowledge, technology and resources. Even nature, which is screaming for help, will work with us. This is why we have to be positive and use this opportunity to build.

What is missing is an example. If we take Wicklow as an example, NORRI received a small grant for educational purposes with regard to everybody from kindergarten to the elderly. The elderly would love to contribute because they have traditional cultural knowledge that we are missing from the story. It would be great if we could create an example in Ireland or any other country, and I also speak about this when I am in Croatia, whereby we could show what we mean by sustainable development, resilience and linking science with technology and solutions. We do not have a living laboratory such as this. This is why Mr. Kavanagh and I put this together in Wicklow. We have the money and we would like to work with the committee to showcase the living laboratory in the local community. If we do not show the solutions to local communities, we will cause even more damage and depression than ever.

I thank Professor Franki. I apologise if I sometimes cut across witnesses but many members are indicating. We will try to facilitate everybody.

Mr. Stephen Kavanagh

I will speak about jobs and the restoration project we are looking at. All of the witnesses are marine biologists and scientists. The near coastal environment 1 km or 2 km out is a nursery ground and it is extremely important. The wind farms we are speaking about in Wicklow start at six or seven miles out to sea but the couple of kilometres that are very close to shore are vital nursery grounds, particularly the kelp forest. When the mussel reefs and oyster reefs establish underneath them, they are phenomenally beautiful and biodiverse ecosystems.

The kelp forests off the coast of Sussex, for example, were hundreds of square kilometres but less than 5% of them remain because of trawling. These were vitally important to north Atlantic herring. The herring laid their eggs on the kelp fronds. Following the herrings were sea birds, whales and dolphins. There were entire ecosystems that migrated around Britain and Ireland but they have been wiped out and destroyed. These ecosystems start with the near shore environment. The kelp forests and oyster reefs are the basis of what we are trying to do.

With regard to jobs and what the Senator said, if we have these ecosystems close to shore, the potential for biotechnology, local fisheries, marine tourism, study and science is phenomenal.

A huge number of jobs will come from that but we need a belt around Ireland. We talk about green belts around cities and urban centres but Ireland, as a country, needs a green belt. Rather, it needs a red, brown and green belt, which are the colours of our seaweed, a couple of kilometres deep around our coastline. That belt needs to be protected, not just dots of marine protected areas. We need that belt right around the Ireland that will be a nursery ground for our fisheries and the sustainable development of our marine economy.

Mr. Kavanagh made his point well. We will move on to Deputy Smith who has two minutes.

I thank the witnesses so much for their contributions. It was really interesting listening to them and reading what they sent to us in advance. There is significant benefit to what they are telling us, because the national marine planning framework is being rushed through the Dáil. We had little time to discuss it. We had a row about the lack of allocation of real time to discuss it on the floor of the Parliament. We will be voting on it next week or the following week. It is causing significant frustration for those of us who are on this committee and want to see these things as connected.

Unfortunately, we know the way parliamentary democracy works in that one Department does this and the other Department does that and they do not join the dots. They must join up because if they do not, we will make a bags of this.

I particularly want to ask Ms McMahon what she thinks of the marine planning guidelines. Why is our protection of marine biodiversity areas so poor and unenforceable and what impact that will have on climate mitigation in the longer term? We all fear that the guidelines before us and the Bill that may follow will do long-term harm to climate action, never mind biodiversity and the tragedy unfolding before us in terms of our natural resources and wildlife.

I want to ask the panel about one issue which bothers me. What I see happening in terms of the marine planning framework is the wholesale privatisation of our natural resources. In Ireland, we are blessed to live on the edge of the Atlantic, not just because, as Mr. Kavanagh said, we have this wonderful biodiversity and nature sitting on our doorstep which is the solution in many ways for the future to address climate change, but we can also harness renewable energies at a rate at which probably very few other countries can do, if we do it right.

My worry is the wholesale privatisation of that project is not overseen, funded, run and led by the State, rather it is a free-for-all in terms of what companies want to compete for what bits of our ocean they can grab up. It is a dangerous prospect for the future. I would like to hear comment from the other witnesses on that.

The first question was directed to Ms McMahon and the second question on the privatisation of our natural resources was to the entire panel.

Ms Ellen McMahon

The biggest issue at present, in terms of marine protected areas, MPAs, is they are not enshrined in law, so we have the provisions under the Wildlife Act but they are limited in terms of their geographical scope. They only apply to the foreshore, so areas beyond 12 nautical miles are limited to designations under the habitats directive or the OSPAR Convention. The habitats and species which are not listed in these directives but might be locally, nationally or internationally important cannot be afforded the necessary protections.

The biggest issue we have with the national marine planning framework is that the plan we have at present does not meet the objectives of the marine spatial planning directive. Under article 5(2) of the directive, the objective is that these plans should contribute to "the preservation, protection and improvement of the environment, including resilience to climate change". However, by leaving out MPAs, that objective will not be met. That is why we recommend, at a minimum, there be sensitivity mapping to guide the development zones away from these sensitive areas.

There are other issues with the plan in that there are data gaps. The plans also need to take into account the temporal and spatial distribution of all activities, current and future, which is not there for all sectors in the current plan.

In addition to the lack of legislation for MPAs, enforcement is a huge issue. The European Court of Justice is taking Ireland to court over our failure to implement management plans across all of our current designated sites. Whether that is from a lack of resources, I am not 100% sure, but it is of massive concern. We need to get management sites in for the sites we have, get on with designating our MPAs and address the disparity between the national marine planning framework or we will exacerbate the issues that exist.

On the second question on the privatisation of natural resources, we will start with Mr. Kavanagh.

Mr. Stephen Kavanagh

The wind resources of the nation are massive. There is huge potential there. It is the job of Government to make sure a good percentage of those resources are going back to the local communities and the Irish economy. We do not want a situation in which all those profits are going overseas. Absolutely, there is a danger they can be privatised with all the profits going overseas. They could be traded on the Stock Exchange and Ireland could get very little out of it.

We have had meetings with the developers of the Codling Bank and SSE Airtricity which are developing the Kish Bank off Arklow with wind farms and they are both extremely interested in working with us and doing some kind of environmental restoration around the wind turbines, so there is a good opportunity for us to work with the wind industry.

However, because, we assume, the locations of the wind farms will become no-fish zones, they are excellent areas for all kinds of marine restoration. We are also interested in the near-coast habitats such as kelp forests and so forth as a means of protecting vital nursery grounds for offshore fisheries.

I work in the fishing industry, in processing. There is a huge interest on its part. It is incredible people talk about the fishing industry as being the enemy sometimes but it is very important. Especially in terms of oyster restoration, it is important some of these beds and reefs are worked, fished and managed for them to succeed, so there is a huge tie-in with the industry. The fish processing industry is also interested in what we are working with. It has been invited to our workshops to partake in discussions on how the industry can work together with farms and everyone involved.

Dr. Ken Whelan

In the context of the question on the privatisation of resources, the elements we have out there, along and off our coast, are all part of the national biological capital we have in our oceans. When looking at it in that way, we obviously need the private sector to come in and invest in those areas. In my experience, part of the problem often is when a plan is presented and discussions start at the planning stage.

In reality, the concept stage is when one needs to integrate the long-term needs of the nation with, perhaps, the short-term to medium-term needs of an industrial involvement. It comes back to planning and coastal zone management. I agree completely. That is what I had in mind for seaweeds and those areas close to the coast.

We need to do what we cleverly did with Galway Bay when we designated it as a smart bay with a view to getting industry to look at it as a test bed. We need to be designating smart bays and coastlines, starting the discussions at the conceptual stage and bringing those private sector industries with us so that we do not have any conflict in the future between the resources which belong to the State and the need to be able to utilise them for our energy needs.

Dr. Simon Berrow

I wrote down "the wholesale privatisation of our marine environment". "Our marine environment" is probably the key part of that sentence. I have written down here "wind farm companies do not own the wind" and they do not own the waves. However, as Dr. Whelan said we need them to invest because it is a high-risk business, especially when coming off the south, east and west coasts. Fixed turbines are the only show in town.

Floating offshore wind is a minimum of ten years away, with huge capital costs. We need these companies to come in and invest in capturing that resource and that potential.

Dr. Whelan asked what our vision is as an island nation. At the moment, consultation with stakeholders, be that coastal communities or, more importantly, the fishing industry tends to run through the planning process. By the time a project has gone out to consultation, the plan is already in place. One is asked one's opinion but it is very late to influence what is going on. We need to take one step back and have a vision for how we want to manage our coastal resources through coastal management.

What is the engagement in terms of our fishing industry? Certainly, inshore fishers are very fearful. They do not know what is happening. They are fearful of marine protected areas, MPA, and offshore wind farms. In fact, they should be one of the biggest supporters and champions of it going forward. They are not consulted, however. They do not know what it looks like. As Deputy Smith said, it is almost like we are selling off the resource, telling them "Off you go" and saying we will pick a few crumbs up at the end.

To take that step back and look at the vision takes that big planning perspective. My fear is that we are slow in doing that and we are running away with ourselves. To take that one step back and have that vision is difficult. Obviously, the national marine planning framework gave us that opportunity. The concern, certainly within the NGO community, is that there is no room and space for debate and that it is being rushed through. It is a huge opportunity to provide that legal framework for planning the next 20 to 30 years of how we manage our inshore resources. It is a race against time, however. It is a very good question and one that we need to discuss in a national conversation, not just with people who live on the coast. We are all islanders. Even a person who lives in County Offaly is an islander and only an hour and a half from the coast. We, therefore, need that national conversation.

I thank Dr. Berrow. Would Professor Franki like to make a brief comment?

Professor Anamarija Franki

I agree with the comments that have already been made. It is very hard for me to say because I work on both sides of the legislation in trying to understand the need for MPAs and private ownership. We sometimes need to start understanding it from the side of nature instead, however.

I often raise my hand and say that I represent an oyster or a whale. Who owns them? How are we going to have this relationship honestly between nature and private ownership, community ownership and access and public access and everything else?. In the end, all species, including humans, need healthy oceans, healthy food and healthy energy. That is all I can say. Private ownership can become a problem if it is greedy and unhealthy.

I thank Professor Franki. Five members are indicating that they want to ask questions. We have less than 15 minutes left in the session. Again, forgive me if I interrupt witnesses in mid flow. I am just trying to be fair to everybody. I call Deputy Bruton.

I will confine my questions to two speakers. That might speed things up.

I agree completely with Dr. Berrow that this is a race against time. We must devise the correct role for the State, which is to align public and private activity in the delivery of the public good. Does Dr. Barrow believe the State currently has the capacity within it, by which I mean the skills and ability, to do the sort of model to which he referred, that is, early consultation leading through to perhaps the State itself becoming a platform provider? I know that has been mooted as a possible way to manage this effectively, quickly and safely. Dr. Berrow might furnish us with information about the optimal State strategy.

Given the urgency of climate action, Professor Franki might respond as to whether there is capacity in the marine environment to quickly enhance the capacity to absorb carbon. Can that be included in the inventories of the Paris Agreement? Is there, to use that awful phrase, low-hanging fruit in the marine environment where we could start to deliver greenhouse gas mitigation quickly and safely?

The first question is for Dr. Berrow.

Dr. Simon Berrow

I thank Deputy Bruton. It is a difficult question. Clearly, I do not believe we have the capacity in the key agencies that are charged with responsibility for the marine and biodiversity. It is very welcome that a review of the National Parks and Wildlife Service is under way. It is badly needed. It has been pushed between Departments for many years and it is chronically under-resourced. That is welcome but it will take time. Do we have the time to build that capacity? I am not sure.

The marine sector is fragmented. To get a licence for this or permission for that, it is all over the place. For many years, different governments have suggested that we need a proper Department with responsibility for the marine and a proper marine sector. Obviously, the Marine Institute has grown hugely in recent years and has been playing a very important role in co-ordinating marine strategy and research. It is only an agency, however. How do we pull those together in a timely fashion to address the very urgent issues? I am not really too sure, to be honest. It is probably a bit beyond my pay scale. The bottom line is, no.

I look at the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which has three or four marine people who have to cover everything from benthic to marine mammals to sea birds, and all planning applications, and comment on it in a knowledgeable way. They do the best they can. Many of us, including Ms McMahon, have called for perhaps an independent agency that represents all parts of it, which can take on that responsibility, including monitoring. I am not sure if that is the best answer but I am afraid it is the best I can come up with at the moment.

I thank Dr. Berrow. That was very comprehensive. Professor Franki might respond on quick carbon capture and "low-hanging fruit", as Deputy Bruton described it.

Professor Anamarija Franki

I thank the Deputy for that great question. We have done much regarding carbon sinks on land and to paraphrase my colleagues, carbon dioxide in science is not pollution in nature for any species or organisms. They thrive on it and we need to start understanding that. On the land, we are trying to restore the soil with micro-organisms, fungi and bacteria. We are now understanding how important that is for carbon sinks and nutrient replenishing. It is the same in the ocean. We need to start understanding how oceans and coastal systems work. Our historic data used to show what used to thrive in our coastal waters, for instance, where and how abundant Atlantic salmon was and the nexus between the land, coast and ocean.

To make it short, in certain areas where I worked closely on this, specifically Chesapeake Bay, we have already shown that it is necessary to restore systems together and not separately in silos. That is how they support each other. I am talking right now about eel grass beds, oyster beds and salt marshes, for example. Then on the other side we have mangroves, oysters, coral reefs, etc.

Our case, and Mr. Kavanagh also mentioned a blue belt around Ireland, is that we need to select, together with Ms McMahon and everybody else, the sites in which we can create marine protected areas, restore and enhance what we used to have there and showcase how important that is for not only carbon sinks, which are not only thriving and supporting life, but also nitrogen and nutrient sinks.

I could go on and on, by the way.

We would all like to hear Professor Franki go on and on. It is a very interesting session; I must point that out. Our next speaker is Senator Higgins.

I thank witnesses very much for their really interesting presentations. I was extremely struck by the heat aspect in that this is not simply around carbon being absorbed or not, and the very direct impact that temperature has in terms of marine life and habitat. I would be interested to see any further notes the witnesses have on that heat aspect because that is the very direct impact of climate change.

I was also very interested in the projects. The Cuan Beo project in Galway, of which Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, GMIT, and others will be aware, is similarly trying to look at Galway Bay. I want to ask about three areas.

I wanted to ask about three areas, one of which is public research. I heard a really strong call for public research and development and indeed possibly public-public partnerships. Dr. Berrow mentioned the idea of open access information - the exchange of information. Again, we are looking for the research and development to be partly State-led and public body-led and engage with communities around how we drive this so we create a context in which public-private partnerships may happen. It is about the importance of a really strong and open exchange because these same issues are happening across the world and it is important that there be a public exchange of information between states and public actors on this. Do the witnesses have any comments to make on that?

Regarding the industry-led piece not being enough and the dangers of a case-by-case approach, the witnesses described companies trying out different approaches in good faith but how ad hoc that can be. We heard from Wind Energy Ireland about how it changed what it did in terms of noise in response to community engagement but in the case of seismic activity, which is the underwater equivalent of that, we will not hear submissions from dolphins and marine life. Could the witnesses comment on that seismic issue and the importance of the precautionary principle, particularly with regards to that? It speaks to that precautionary principle. We have a situation where the planning framework exists in advance of the protected areas. What are the interim protections we put in right now for even that two or three-year period to ensure we do not do damage that is hard to reverse? Is it around using the German noise thresholds? Is it around limiting bottom trawling? Is it around the mapping of sensitive areas? Is it a very strict limitation of foreshore licences, as Mr. Kavanagh mentioned, during the period of time during which we look very carefully at foreshore development? What can we do in the next two years to ensure that huge ground has not been lost and species have not been lost?

I think Professor Franki commented very eloquently in terms of nature-based solutions and the importance of them not being simply seen as storage units. When I go to climate talks, they talk about mangrove or kelp and not those little interconnections - the ecosystem. It is about the importance of habitat versus simply nature's service so that nature-based solutions are about habitats.

Dr. Ken Whelan

The question about the involvement of community is very interesting. This is really important in the context of trying to look at what I mentioned earlier, which is the new vision for trying to plan this. I mentioned earlier than I am a very firm believer in getting people together at the conceptual stage. There is also the fact that we need to show people how effective this can be. A first-class article in The Irish Times some years ago was written by a colleague of mine, Mark Costello. He worked in New Zealand for many years and encountered groups of fishermen who were hugely sceptical about marine protected areas. In the article, he described how he won them over through demonstrating to them the effectiveness of marine protected areas and how their communities were able to benefit from that. Perhaps it is time for representation from our various coastal communities to see what we are talking about in terms of not just scientific papers but practical results. If enthusiasm was building as a result of that sort of connection between the discussions where enthusiasm was building for different sorts of marine renewables and marine protected areas, it will alleviate a huge amount of the delay that is ongoing in our planning process. If I understand it correctly, the message from us all is to think about what comes before planning because that is critical in terms of getting people on board and moving forward.

Mr. Stephen Kavanagh

I think that question about biomimicry was directed at Professor Franki.

Yes, it was directed at Dr. Berrow and Professor Franki.

Professor Anamarija Franki

Biomimicry has been my passion for the past 20 years. We are creating a large European council of purpose to bring nature-based solutions to public knowledge and showcase what solutions exist and where they can find and implement them. This relates to the Senator's question about public research and participation, the precautionary principle and nature-based solutions. It is all connected in how to live resiliently and sustainably and not compete with each other. I was always told that in nature, competition leads everything and it does not. We are now learning more and more that it is collaboration. It is sharing. That is how we need to start seeing nature and start learning from systems around that.

Regarding public research, this is something Mr. Kavanagh and I included in the NORRI Biomimicry LivingLabs we are starting everywhere - wherever students want to participate and include their research because all of the research we are doing is trying to address local community needs. This is where public participation is necessary because if we are doing the research, publish the papers and give us the PhD student, that is not the goal anymore. We need to figure out how those researchers in science and technology will solve local problems. This is where the Biomimicry LivingLabs were very helpful because students were working with different stages and ages of education together with the local community. They were translating their knowledge - each other's knowledge - and working together to solve the problem. This is how I see this working in future.

Dr. Simon Berrow

Senator Higgins touched on some really important issues. We need to remember that wind farm companies are competing for licences. There is a bit of a scramble to get in there first in some ways. Some of the areas of interest overlap so we are seeing that in terms of site surveys, one company will go out one day and on the following day, the same team of observers on the same vessel will go and survey the site next door to it. There is significant duplication of effort and a significant increase in disturbance so that this seems crazy. I appreciate that there is commercial competition here so they need all their own data. Where does the State obligation begin and end and where does that of private companies begin and end? We suggest that if there were some data sets that were common to all and could be shared, one would not need to go and do it again. This suggestion has been quite well received by the wind farm companies. It could be whale and dolphin surveys, sea bird surveys or benthic surveys. This approach makes sense.

There is a lot of pressure on them for acoustic monitoring because a lot of the impact of offshore wind would be acoustic affecting acoustic creatures like whales and dolphins. It has been increasingly shown that fish and crustaceans are very acoustic. What is the point in each company having its own acoustic monitoring? Why do we not have an independent acoustic array where each company can tap into that data so they are not duplicating the effort? Does the State step in there and run that array? Is it State-run with industry funding? Can we piggyback other issues such as Dr. Whelan's transponders for tracking salmon through these monitoring stations? Can we meet marine strategy framework directive obligations at the same time? One array can achieve a lot of objectives in everybody's interests. That would be far more efficient for them and far more beneficial for the State. There are examples out there that we should consider.

We mentioned the observed contract. A new contract has been put out for inshore aerial surveys. This is State-funded so the data is freely accessible because it has been paid for by the taxpayer. Everyone can tap into it. This will enable these site surveys but on a larger spatial scale. There are examples that can be done. Perhaps the State needs to be a bit more aggressive in pushing these initiatives.

The Senator mentioned seismic surveys. There are guidelines for that. I will leave it at that and come back later.

Could I get a written note around seismic activity?

Ms McMahon did not get to come back in, so if she has any written comments on my questions, I will be happy with that.

Ms Ellen McMahon

The Senator asked about the interim protections I touched on earlier. We need a list of the features, habitats and species we want to designate within an MPA network and we have the criteria that would make it an ecologically coherent network. We have an awful lot of data, both at a national level and from citizen science, about what features we need to protect. We would like them to be listed and identified by location, with an assessment of the pressures to these features. That is where interim protection measures can be provided in the absence of the MPA legislation, which is so far down the line. That is how we would go about getting the interim protections in place in the meantime.

I thank our guests for their contributions. I am again struck by how none of this can be done in isolation and the era of siloed thinking is over. Do our guests see in governments - I mean governments globally - the humility to accept this and the imagination and emotion to create the transformation we need, even though it is backed up by hard data and evidence?

The story of the salmon is very powerful and is the way in which we should engage on this, in terms of hearts and minds, especially in Ireland. The salmon means so much to us, going back to the days of the bradán feasa. Has the narrative yet to be exploited fully? I refer to public engagement to overcome political siloed thinking and to put a cultural ownership stamp on this as opposed to the purely business and industrial aspect. Dr. Whelan might comment on that.

Dr. Ken Whelan

We are really enthused by what has happened in recent years. The year 2019 was designated the international year of the salmon and it gave us an opportunity for the first time to talk in detail with our colleagues in the Pacific, where similar cases to that which we are seeing in the Atlantic are occurring. It also offered us the opportunity to start thinking about how we can utilise the iconic nature of the salmon to get across the information about the changing ocean situation and climate change impacts in fresh water. That has been extraordinarily successful and I will send to the committee some website links to material put together through the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization and a sister body in the Pacific. When this iconic creature was used, people suddenly started to engage with the reality of ocean climate and the commonalities between the Pacific and the Atlantic. That is a key point. It does not rest just with the salmon. We need to start utilising other creatures, both aquatic and terrestrial, to highlight to people how indicative they are of the circumstances we as humans may face in future.

Will our guests comment on whether governments globally have the humility to accept what is ahead of us? Have they seen evidence of that?

Ms Ellen McMahon

The narrative is changing dramatically. There has been a shift even in the past three years. The high nature ambition coalition this year is calling on governments throughout the world to increase the levels of ambition in regard to marine protection. It is about capitalising on that, continuing on that trajectory and, ultimately, inspiring coastal communities. In future we might see the roll-out of coastal partnerships. It is about giving a voice to those local communities in order that we will have a two-pronged approach, from the Government and the coastal communities. That is how we will drive change.

There are some brilliant examples. I worked in New Zealand for a year on marine protection, and the way in which that country wins that hearts and mind argument is very successful. In Ireland, I would love our legislators to be species champions, that is, people we can look to as champions for habitats and species who can help to win those hearts and minds. I am optimistic. The narrative is changing and let us keep going down that track.

Professor Anamarija Franki

I totally agree. Sometimes it is a struggle that we have constantly to repeat our message because politicians change every two or four years, and we have to waste a lot of time and energy.

To respond to Deputy Cronin, I do not know of any specific place where it is working or any country that can show they live sustainably and have managed resources in the way in which we are talking about. We are all connected with those resources. That cannot be isolated. There cannot be one country that is working with something we all depend on and share, and degrade. That is why Ireland is a perfect example of an island where those issues can be presented in an exemplary manner to the rest of Europe and the world.

Mr. Stephen Kavanagh

In our case study in County Wicklow, there is the example of an oyster fishery in 1860 that yielded 60,000 barrels of oysters a year. In today's money at the restaurant table, that would be worth somewhere around €90 million. It was resourced and managed by local fishermen and protected for more than 100 years, but in the end, bad management and legislation from the government at the time led to the destruction of the entire fishery.

We are trying to bring local people back into touch with what is happening offshore. What is under the water is usually out of mind and that is a big problem. We want to restore kelp forests. In County Wicklow, there are Avondale and Kilmacurragh, famous forests that everybody knows, and we should have the same in the ocean. We should have forests with names that people can identify with and cameras that can show them the beauty and diversity that is down there under the water. Ordinary people cannot connect with it, whereas in the 1860s, the fishing communities on the east coast could do so because they were so tied to it and it was so vital for their survival. It no longer is and this is a different time. Helping people reconnect with the marine and coastal environment is vital.

I do not necessarily believe the Government will do that, given that governments change regularly, but rather local communities. Governments can certainly help with legislation and the laws regarding trawling and so on, which could destroy those local habitats, but ultimately the local communities, when they have pride in and knowledge of what is out there, will protect it and it will self-sustain from there.

Dr. Simon Berrow

Ms McMahon is correct that the narrative has changed. People are demanding it now. They want circumstances to change and need to see some positive things happening, and Covid has made that even more the case. Perhaps the inertia stems somewhat from vested interests. Our challenge relates to how the Government should give power and responsibility to those who are most affected. Can we give them the mechanisms to take responsibility and manage their local patches, as Mr. Kavanagh was saying? It is something the Government can do and I implore it to go down that road.

I have a few questions and comments. I have found this session very interesting. For anybody who has an interest in the maritime and aquatic world and marine ecosystems and wildlife, it has been essential viewing, as is probably the case for anybody interested in the future of this country and our oceans.

I thank all the witnesses for their incredible contributions. I have a few specific questions for specific witnesses and I will start with Dr. Berrow. Could I have a few more specifics on the potential impact of offshore floating wind farms in terms of their construction? Are any studies being done on how that will impact on cetaceans? I ask Dr. Berrow that because he is representing the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, IWDG. I ask also about the actual structure itself, including the hanging anchors which will, I suppose, be like the spokes of a wheel from the actual turbine. From the science we know, will the impact be negative or will there be potential for little ecosystems to form underneath those wind farms? I would like Dr. Berrow to elaborate on that.

Apparently, there is an increase in the number of cetaceans, such as the humpback whale. Four or five years ago, I kept a keen eye on the IWDG's humpback whale catalogue. Three or four years ago, the number was 33 animals. That number has increased to well over 100 in the space of approximately four or five years. There is clearly something happening there. Are more people observing them? Is there more food here for them and, if so, is that a result of climate action? I would like a comment on that because a record number of basking sharks have been reported this year. I spoke to the IWDG's sightings officer, Pádraig Whooley, recently, and there has been a peak in the sightings of basking sharks. Is this all connected? Is there something happening there in terms of food, particularly off the south-west coast?

This question is to Dr. Franki, and Deputy Bruton asked my question on carbon capture. In terms of oyster reefs and kelp forests, is there potential there for the prevention of coastal erosion? We are seeing more severe weather events and more storms and waves battering our coasts. Do these become really important not just in terms of carbon capture, but in terms of stopping our coastlines from flooding and eroding? I would like to hear a comment on that.

I would like to ask Ms McMahon about sensitivity mapping, which has to happen. How quickly can that happen? Is the data out there? Obviously, we are talking about where our inshore fishing fleet fish and where cetaceans gather. Although the IWDG provides a fantastic cetacean atlas, it is still very dependent on citizen science. How quickly can we get the appropriate sensitivity mapping that can enable us to make decisions on, for example, the location of a large offshore wind farm?

My next question is to Mr. Kavanagh. Obviously, we cannot talk about things maritime if we do not talk about the fishing sector. I had very interesting meeting last night with members of the inshore fishing sector. It seems they are very keen to work with NGOs and with Government in regard to areas that have been productive in the past for inshore fishing fleets. This relates to boats under 18 m and whitefish and non-quota shellfish. For them, the variety of the catch is very important. For example, if there was a ban on a certain whitefish, there is a fear the fleet would then target non-quota shellfish and that that could have a negative impact. I would like some comments on where the inshore fishing fleet fits in terms of a healthy marine environment.

There are a lot of specific questions there. I am sorry I left Dr. Whelan out. His presentation was incredibly interesting but, unfortunately, we are pressed for time.

Dr. Ken Whelan

That is fine.

Dr. Simon Berrow

I thank the Vice Chairman. There were a lot of questions there. To start with the question on floating offshore wind, clearly fixed wind is the main gig and people are quite aware of the impacts of construction operations in terms of acoustic impacts. Floating offshore wind is much more of an unknown. A few floating offshore wind farms have been in deployed in Scotland and I think there is one in Portugal but they are quite small. Therefore, we are speculating to a certain extent on the potential impacts. They seem to be more benign. There is still debate on how to best fix the turbines with drag anchors, which obviously can have an impact on the benthos, but it is quite limited, on whether there is an entanglement risk, on what species would be most at risk, on the noise of them, on what they would sound like, on what frequency band they would be in, on how far it would travel and on which species would be most sensitive to those noises. In terms of running the cable ashore, there would be concerns about electromagnetic fields and whether that would impact on elasmobranches, which would be particularly sensitive and about how far that would travel. We are still very much in the unknown, and that is where the research comes in. We deploy, we monitor, we feed back, we change, and we work with the designers to try to be as efficient as possible and minimise impacts.

Ireland could lead the way. We have the wave energy test site off north County Mayo and there is a project called Afloat, which aspires to deploy a full-scale floating offshore wind device by 2023, so that we can see what they look like, what they sound like and see what the drag anchors do and do all that kind of primary research.

At the moment, the impact of floating offshore wind is unknown. There will be large areas that are excluded from some activities. Will that be positive? Will they act as fish aggregating devices? Will they create artificial reefs? Can we put mechanisms in place to enhance that biodiversity?

There are lots of questions. The members, as decision-makers, need to have a knowledge-based decision-making process. We need to have that empirical data, the research, the monitoring and the baseline reference values, so that we can say with a certain level of confidence that if we do something, we think something might happen or will happen. The members can then make an informed decision. At the moment, I do not think the research is there for members to make an informed decision. We have been borrowing things from other countries and, perhaps, some of them are not appropriate.

In terms of humpback whales and basking sharks, these are charismatic megafauna, which people can relate to. They are bringing good news stories to Ireland. The number of humpback whales is increasing worldwide. They are showing incredible resilience, as a result of protective measures. As human beings, if we do the right thing and make the right management decisions, marine species can respond. In some ways, they will respond much more quickly to those on land. This is not the case with all species. Some species and habitats are, in some ways, beyond recovery. We talk about champions that people can relate to. We are privileged in Ireland to be among these species. We need to value and treasure them, not just for tourism, but for those of us who live here. Seeing a humpback whale bubble-netting is an unbelievable lifetime experience. We do not need David Attenborough to tell us about that and we do not need to see it on National Geographic. We can go out on a boat off the coast of Ireland and we can experience and connect with them. If we do not treasure these things, we will not protect them. That is the flowery bit.

What do they feed on? What are the pressures? What are the more sensitive? Where are the best places for them to be? In which seasons do they naturally occur? Where were the sharks which appeared off the Cork coast going? Why did they not go to west Clare, where I was? I was waiting for them and I was going to sample them, but they never arrived. Why was that? They seemed to have gone to Mayo. These are fundamental questions which are important so that we have informed management. We need to build that capacity in Ireland.

There are good examples of mapping marine species, but we have to remember that we are living in a changing world. We are living in unprecedented times. Therefore, data that we might have collected ten years ago is out of date because things have changed. Sea-level temperatures are changing very rapidly. The underlying physical oceanography, the zooplankton, the basking sharks, the forage fish and the humpback whales are all feeding the larger higher predators and are all changing. We, therefore, need an ongoing research and monitoring technique which feeds into management and human beings-----

Thank you. I could listen to this forever but, unfortunately, Deputies and Senators might want to come in for a second round of questioning. I thank Dr. Berrow for that very comprehensive response. Will Dr. Franki address coastal erosion?

Professor Anamarija Franki

I thank the Acting Chairman for the question. In our written statement, we explained the importance of ecological services and functions of those missing habitats, such as kelp and oyster beds and oyster reefs. Those forests were once vast and those reefs were high. We find evidence of 7 m high reefs along the coasts of the United States. We talk about erosion issues. In the last ten years, the living shorelines has become a part of the restoration and the adaptation to climate change. The living shorelines are scientific proof that we need to restore the habitats to protect our shorelines, and not just from erosion but from storms and to mitigate sea energy.

The effects of waves can sometimes be attenuated by 70% through benthic structures constructed by engineers, depending on their vastness. Imagine an 80 km long oyster reef that is 1-mile wide and I do not know how many metres high. What will that do to mitigate and share this energy? I think that is the best. We are talking about artificial wind farms. It is from the way that nature captures, creates and shares the energy that we need to learn. We should not only focus on one source of energy, such as wind, wave or solar.

Living shorelines are now also part of the analyses of insurance companies. In certain coastal areas in the US, if you choose to incorporate the living shoreline as part of mitigation for the rise of sea level caused by climate change, you will be insured better than if you used a hard structure. This is something to consider in the future in the context of restoration. It is not only for biological diversity, there is a complex and cumulative effect from all these species and habitats when we restore them and bring them together, or when we protect them by designating them maritime protected areas.

I call on Mr. Kavanagh to speak about the fishing sector.

Mr. Stephen Kavanagh

First and foremost, fishing pressure needs to be balanced with the resource that is being fished. To give the committee an example from the restoration world, Chesapeake Bay is now in year ten of its oyster restoration. The worth of blue crab fishery has increased by $5 million and the fishermen are ecstatic about that. Blue crab is a major fishery for them and a local culinary delight. Whelk fishermen in Wales are calling for oyster reef restoration because they know that whelk catches will increase if oyster reef restoration goes ahead. The fishing industry can be brought along, including, importantly, the processing side of the fishing industry. We must ensure they can see the benefits of the restoration of kelp forest and oyster reefs and are educated about the spillover effects from these areas and the catches that are by-products. Whelks and crabs are natural predators of oysters. There is a beautiful synergy there between the fishing fleet on the east coast and what we are trying to do. Those fishermen will protect the oysters and, ultimately, if the oyster reef and oyster beds can be restored, they can, in turn, also be fished because if an oyster bed is not fished, it can become a tenement where disease can be rife. They must be fished. That is what we are trying to restore. The fishing industry must be central to all our restoration efforts. It has to be on board. There is no point in us going out and putting reefs out there just before they get started because fishermen will wipe them out with a trawl. The fishing industry absolutely must be a part of the solution.

I call on Ms McMahon to speak about sensitivity mapping.

Ms Ellen McMahon

I am not sure what would be a realistic timeframe. I would want to speak to our members and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, IWDG, and get those timeframes for specific species and habitats. A considerable amount of data has been collected through the marine strategy framework directive. Sensitivity mapping and interim protections could start tomorrow. If we look at our mud and sea floor habitats, we have a great amount of data on them. For example, circalittoral mud offshore occupies approximately 32,000 sq. km and yet 73% of it is highly disturbed. We have a lot of data about our sea floor integrity that we can go straight to and begin to reduce the pressures impacting on those areas. We can get started tomorrow and do not have to wait to have data for all the habitats, species and features we want to protect. We can start tomorrow with the ones for which we have data and then, as has been said by many of the witnesses today, start resourcing the monitoring of those other features we are going to want to protect.

We have only five minutes left, so I am nervous about going through a second round of questions because it could lead to an onslaught of questions for which we will not have time. We must adhere to the time limit. Are members okay to wrap up, even though I know they may have further questions? If there is anything that our guests wanted to say and did not get the opportunity to say during the session, perhaps they would send it to us in writing to. We will take any such submissions and make them a part of the overall report we will produce at the end. Would Dr. Berrow like to add something in the remaining time?

Dr. Simon Berrow

It would be helpful would be to start running some pilot projects in coastal islands. We need to engage with coastal communities - not consult with them, but engage with them. We need to identify the pressure points and key issues, their concerns and fears. We must listen to their voices and find out where the synergies are. If we can roll out some pilot projects in three or four locations around Ireland and see what the commonality is, it would be useful in informing where we go in the future. That could be started straightaway. It might take two or three years to roll it out properly but that can be done tomorrow and would be very positive.

I thank all our guests for what has been an incredible session. We have an emissions target that is quite ambitious and it will not be easy to achieve. Renewable energy is going to play an important part in that. At the same time, we also have an incredible coastline and unbelievable ocean and marine ecosystem. That has been clear, listening to what our guests have said. We need to protect and enhance our coastline and ecosystem and we must ensure that will inform part of the direction in which Ireland is going in terms of our economy, tourism and reaching our emissions targets. The discussions we have had today have helped us, as policymakers, in terms of how we form those decisions. I thank our guests for attending; we appreciate it.

The joint committee adjourned at 2.27 p.m. until 11 a.m. on Tuesday, 18 May 2021.